8 Firefox extensions towards safer browsing
Web 2.0 has (re)introduced a wide variety of attack vectors that can be used against Internet users to steal sensitive information, control the web browser, and more. The security industry has seen a shift from concentrating on the servers that house data to protecting the data itself. Many web applications and social-networking sites today exhibit flaws that expose them to all sorts of attacks, with much focus on XSS, CSRF, exploiting the same-origin policy and malicious code execution.
With insight from a couple of web security experts and some further research, I've compiled a list of must-have Firefox extensions that help ensure safer and more secure browsing with Firefox. Many of us have agreed that the security "functionality" these extensions provide should be built right into Firefox (*cough*Mozilla Security Team*cough*). Below, I outline the risk and how each extension goes about mitigating it.
- Risk: Spammers and advertisers are increasingly using more malicious ways of getting advertisements to you. We saw in the past hacked ads on MySpace and other sites serving malicious code to infect users.
- Use Adblock Plus to block advertisements. You can right-click an advertisement (or image) and add it to your blacklist. There are also subscription filters you can subscribe to that will remove almost all advertisements automatically. The subscription filters are maintained by individuals like you and I, who hates ads just as much.
- Risk: Some sites set cookies for tracking browser behavior of their users across multiple sites. These are cookies usually set by third-party advertising companies that have banner ads on the site you visited. This can be a privacy risk for Internet users who accept cookies globally and are not more selective in which sites they allow to set cookies.
- With CS Lite, you can easily control cookie permissions on a domain basis. You can allow, block, or termporarily allow a site to set cookies. Initially, set CS Lite to deny cookies globally, and then enable them on a per site basis. Using this method, you can eliminate all those pesky tracking cookies served by third-party advertisers.
- Risk: When you visit a website, your IP address is recorded in an access log (unless the site specifically does not keep access logs). Sites such as Google tie your search records to your IP address. That means every search for information, be it medical remedies, hobbies, porn, etc, provides some piece of information about you. This poses an ever greater privacy threat than tracking cookies.
- Use FoxyProxy to manage proxy settings within Firefox. FoxyProxy can also be used with Tor, which tunnels your browsing sessions through multiple servers around the world. It is much harder to trace your browsing habits back to your original IP when you proxy through multiple systems as you do on the Tor network.*For more information on proxies, see the Wikipedia entry.
- Risk: When you click on a link or open a tab to a new site, that site can see what page referred you to them in their logs and analytics software. This can be a privacy risk since this site now knows where you were coming from. Some sites instruct users to post non-clickable links or disable HTML in posts to prevent their site from showing up in other sites' referrer logs. This could even be a liability for some sites, especially those that host links to questionable material.
- Use an extension like RefControl to disable Firefox from sending information on the referring site. You can enable referrers on a per site basis, if you need too. I have enabled for just such an occasion, on digg.com, since clicking on a link to duggmirror.com relies on the referrer to redirect you to the appropriate site mirror.
- Risk: Web sites using various scripting languages to increase functionality of their websites. Unfortunately, these scripting languages open us up to a wide range of attacks such as XSS, XSRF and CSRF. Since the script is executed locally versus server-side, malicious scripts can be used to compromise the web browser.
- Risk: Your browser caches various files when it visits a website to make subsequent visits load quicker. What we've seen though, are ways of tracking users via caches and cache timing attacks.
- SafeCache segments browser cache by the originating document, preventing Site A from using a timing technique to determine if you've visisted Site B.*
- Risk: CSS can set the color of a link based on whether you have clicked or visited the site previously. This can be used against you in a CSS History Hack as demonstrated by Jeremiah Grossman.
- Like SafeCache, SafeHistory segments the marking of visited links on the basis of the originating document.* You might notice that NoScript protects you in the POC for both SafeCache and SafeHistory. That's true, but go ahead and disable NoScript for the site and you're not protected anymore. We need to be careful which sites we trust, because though the author may be ethical doesn't mean an attacker who compromises their site will be.
Further Reading: *Protecting Browser State from Web Privacy Attacks
Edit: Changed No-Referrer extension to RefControlblog comments powered by Disqus