Private Web Browsing

This article is intended to be a brief, concise, guide for beginner and intermediate web users regarding privacy while browsing. You may also want to check out the Safe Browsing Tips article as it has closely related information.

Please note that nothing will make your browsing completely private if you are browsing a site outside of your control!

If you go to site XYZ.com you are giving information to that site just by visiting the site (e.g. your IP address, web browser info, Operating System info, etc.). The site may or may not have the best intentions with your information but also keep in mind if they have your information and they were to get hacked, the hacker can get your information from them! This is why I believe it is important to always guard your information to the best of your ability at all times.

This article presents a few key items which can help in preventing inadvertent sharing of information.

  • Use a good browser - see the Safe Browsing Tips article for more info. Basically, if your browser is insecure or full of flaws you will be fighting an uphill battle. Extensions are also key, noteably Ghostery and NoScript will keep sites from adding or executing things at your end of the battle which helps considerably
  • Use Private Browsing and/or Profiles - private browsing mode is supported by most, if not all major web browsers. Its simply a mode where the browser has little to no information about you and can therefor share very little info about you. See below for more info.

More on Profiles

Private Browsing and Profiles are two very important and easy features to use that help mitigate privacy concerns. Web browsers often save bits of information (called cookies) on your computer to help them identify you if you come back to a website. This began as a friendly feature of websites and still has that goal in mind but sites and hackers have many tricks at getting at this valuable information. Private Browsing is a basic concept where the browser is started with a clean slate, no cookies, no info about you, nothing. This eleminates the threat of sites or hackers from accessing cookies or history information you may have as there is none!

Private browsing works well but has one flaw in my view. All of your bookmarks, start page, settings, are all gone. If you change something in Private Browsing mode and close the browser, the next time you start it, it is all gone and you are back to square one! This is where Profiles come in. Profiles allow you to create separate "profiles" in your browser. Each profile has its own configuration, bookmarks, cookies, and info.

I usually like to create a profile for frequently used/visited site. For example, if I were to have 3 gmail accounts, I would create a profile for each gmail account and could then be logged in and use all three gmail accounts at the same time. I have a profile for webtv with all my webtv bookmarks. I have one for my work webmail, Twitter, and even my local weather radar.

There are two reasons I like using separate profiles:

  • Segregation of website information - this means SiteA.com cannot and will not ever be able to get to SiteB.com's information (e.g. cookies) as SiteA.com has its own profile. A good example here is often Google likes to know that you visited Facebook.com. Google can check for facebooks cookies (I know this is generally disallowed by browsers but trust me - there are ways to do it) and if they exist, Google knows you have been to facebook.
  • Quick website access - I make a profile specific to my local weather radar. I add only the Extensions and features that I need for that site and remove all the rest. I can then make a shortcut key (say Ctrl+Shift+W) that launches this profile. In a matter of 3 seconds I can press Ctrl+Shift+W and I am looking at my local radar (see image below for an example).

There are numberous reasons for Profiles, give it a try and see if they fit for you!

Summary

Your browser, its features (extensions) and Private Browsing Mode/Profiles can help you browse the internet much safer and with more Privacy. I hope the above information helps or at least makes you consider the subject in more detail. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

As a final note, I would like to mention Tor. Tor is "Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis" - https://www.torproject.org/. Tor provides a complicated mechanism for subverting network surveillance and bundles it all in a simple, easy to use application. Simply download the application and run the browser. Tor bundles itself with the Firefox web browser, upon starting the browser, Tor starts a small application that does all the work for dealing with the complicated things. You can find out more about what it does from Tor's About page.

 

local weather radar