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8 essential privacy extensions for Firefox

Protect your online life from prying eyes with these key Firefox privacy add-ons.

By Logan Kugler
September 23, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - They say privacy doesn't exist on the Web -- but that doesn't mean you can't try to safeguard your personal information. Our computers are loaded with details about our personal and business lives, and it's definitely not acceptable to reveal them haphazardly. With hackers becoming ever more sophisticated, you have to take precautions.

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One threat to privacy on the Web is the use of cookies and other technologies to track your browsing, clicking, searching, social networking and buying habits as you move from site to site. These tracking technologies build up an online profile of you that can be used not only to send you ads designed to appeal to you (useful to some, intrusive to others) but could also be used for identity theft if the information fell into the wrong hands.

Another threat is the vast number of files that accumulate on your hard drive -- your browsing history, log-in cookies, cached pages and more -- that could be accessed either by someone who gets physical control over your machine or remotely by hackers who have installed malware on your system. This information can include banking details, credit card numbers, Web site passwords and records of your visits to potentially embarrassing sites.

The current versions of all popular Web browsers offer some sort of "private browsing" feature -- you activate it and surf as you normally would, but your cookies, passwords, Web history and browser cache are erased when you close the browser at the end of your session. Private browsing offers some degree of protection if you're willing to forgo the convenience of having your Web history and saved passwords at your fingertips. But researchers from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University have found that no browser actually removes every trace of private browsing sessions.

In this regard, Firefox's vast library of browser add-ons is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the researchers found that some add-ons, such as those that enhance searching, may store information that's supposed to be purged after a private browsing session.

On the other hand, a number of Firefox extensions (some of which are available for other browsers) can protect your privacy to a degree that's far above and beyond what private browsing can do. For comprehensive control over your privacy, install and use at least some of these eight Firefox extensions.

[Also see: 10 must-have Firefox extensions for business.]

PasswordMaker

A basic security rule is that you should use a unique, un-guessable password for each site you visit. But how do you remember LV307gbH(* every time you log into your Web mail account? PasswordMaker solves that problem by generating a new password for each site -- all you have to remember is your own master password to unlock the extension.

PasswordMaker uses an algorithm based on your master password, the URL of the site, your username and six other factors to generate the password on the fly every time you visit the site. That means it never needs to store passwords on your computer (or on a central server) -- so even if someone gets access to your computer, your passwords are safe since they're not actually stored on the computer anywhere.

PasswordMaker Firefox extension
Generate safe passwords on the fly with PasswordMaker.

Obviously, it's vitally important not to forget your master password if you use PasswordMaker. It's also important to remember or back up your account settings and configuration; the algorithm uses those settings for password generation, so you'll need to re-create them if your system crashes. The PasswordMaker site offers some planning tips so that you can recover from a system crash.



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