|Mozilla Browser Privacy & Security Settings|
This page presents a guided tour of the major privacy and security preferences within the Mozilla browser. You will learn how to:
- find the Version of Mozilla you're running
- clear the History & Location Bar
- clear the Cache
- disable Automatic Software Installation
- disable Popups
- disable, filter, and selectively manage Cookies
If you need more information about the key privacy and security issues that we'll cover on this page (the browser cache, the URL history, active content, and cookies), then see THIS page, which provides a short introduction to these several topics.
Browser Versions Covered
The screenshots you'll see are from Mozilla 1.7, which was the latest version of Mozilla at the time of writing. Previous versions of Mozilla are quite similar to Mozilla 1.7, though some of the settings you see below may be slightly different. In some cases (esp. the cookie settings), earlier versions may not have the full range of options that Mozilla 1.7 does.
Also, because the newer versions of Netscape are built from the Mozilla web browser, Netscape 6.0 and 7.0 also offer similar settings -- again, with minor differences here and there. See THIS page for a discussion of the privacy and security settings in Netscape 7.0. And for a discussion of the privacy & security settings in the Mozilla Foundation's other web browser, Firefox, see THIS page.
|First Things First: What Version Do You Have?|
|Before we get started, let's figure out what version of Mozilla you're running. You should know this information.|
|To find your version of Mozilla, click Help >> About Mozilla on the Mozilla menu bar...|
|A web page should open up with version information.|
|Right there is big bold letters is your version of Mozilla -- Mozilla 1.7, in this case.|
|When you have the information you need, close this version page to return to the web page you were on.|
|Configuring Mozilla's Privacy & Security Preferences|
|Compared with Internet Explorer, Mozilla's privacy and security settings are simpler and easier to manage, though they're more limited and less powerful.|
|1.||Open the Mozilla Preferences Box|
|Open the Preferences box from w/in Mozilla (Edit >> Preferences). Mozilla lets you access most of its configuration options here.|
|The first thing we'll do is clear the URL History to protect the confidentiality of what we've done on the Net. For more information on the privacy issues involved with the URL History see THIS page.|
|2.||Clear History & Location Bar|
|When you open the Preferences dialog box from w/in the
Mozilla browser, you start on the Navigator menu option. We select categories from the tree menu on the left --
Mozilla displays the corresponding options on the right.
To clear the URL history, select the History menu item under Navigator.
|From this page we can clear the History, set the History to be kept in number of days, and clear the Location Bar (URL dropdown list). Once you hit the Clear History or Clear Location Bar buttons, they will be greyed out, as the Clear Location Bar button is above.|
The Advanced options
sub-menu also gives us the Java settings. (You
won't find ActiveX settings here, unlike Internet Explorer,
because Mozilla can't run ActiveX controls.)
Uncheck the Enable Java checkbox to disable Java.
|Note that with Java disabled, some web sites may not work properly. In those cases you can re-enable Java as needed.|
down to the Scripts & Plug-ins sub-menu. (You may have to
click on the Advanced menu to expand it before you can see
the Scripts & Plug-ins sub-menu.)
|4.||Clear the Cache|
|The next thing we'll do is clear the Cache -- again to protect the confidentiality of what we've done on the Net. For more information on the privacy issues involved with the Cache see THIS page.|
|Still further down on the Advanced menu is the Cache sub-menu, which allows us to clear the Cache and set the Cache size in KB. (You may have to click on the Advanced menu to expand it before you can see the Cache sub-menu.)|
|Click the Clear Cache button to clean your Cache.|
|Where is the Cache Really Stored?|
Note that the Cache page of the Preferences box tells us where the
Cache is located on our hard drive -- see the Cache
Folder: box above. (If the entry is too long to read, put your cursor
inside the box and highlight the entire text, which you can then copy to
the clipboard by right-clicking and selecting Copy from the context
If you're using Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Me, the location on the hard drive is probably:
|...where <user> is the username of the person currently using Mozilla and <num> is a randomly generated directory name (these can look a bit strange). Doublecheck the Cache Folder: box to be sure.|
|If you're using Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the disk cache will be located here:|
|C:\Documents and Settings\<user>\Application Data\Mozilla\Profiles\<user>\<num>\Cache|
|...where <user> is the username of the person logged on to Windows and <num> is a randomly generated directory name (again, a bit strange-looking).|
|Browser cache files can be viewed and manually deleted from this location, just as they can be viewed and manually deleted in Internet Explorer's \Windows\Temporary Internet Files. Keep in mind, though, that the \Temporary Internet Files folder that you see in your \Windows or \WINNT directory is for Internet Explorer only, not Mozilla.|
|5.||Disable Automatic Software Installation|
|Mozilla can install software automatically from web pages, however, this can be a dangerous option to leave enabled, esp. given that web sites are now starting to tailor their spyware and adware packages to be installed through the Mozilla, Netscape, and Firefox browsers (previously spyware and adware were automatically installed primarily through Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser).|
|Drop down on the tree menu to the Advanced sub-menu. The Advanced options sub-menu gives us the Software Installation settings. Uncheck the Enable software installation setting to disable automatic software installation.|
|Once you've disabled this setting, you should keep a few
things in mind:
One other related setting that you might consider disabling to reduce annoying intrusions on your online work is the Plug-in Finder Service, which you can find back up on the Navigator sub-menu under the Helper Applications settings.
|Again, you can re-enable this setting on a site-by-site basis.|
|The Mozilla browser allows us to turn off or disable popups, those annoying, obnoxious mini-windows that many web sites use to bombard you with advertising.|
|To access Mozilla's popup controls, expand the Privacy & Security menu tree in Preferences, then select the Popup Windows menu option.|
Mozilla gives us two basic approaches to popups:
The easiest and most effective approach to popups is to select Block unrequested popup windows and then specify exceptions.
There may be web sites that you frequently visit that use popups for
legitimate reasons -- to display additional information about an item, for
example. To allow those web sites to use popups, you can add them to the Allowed
Web Sites list.
Click the Allow Sites... button to open that list.
|To add a web site, type the domain name (e.g., uiuc.edu or cnn.com) and then click the Add button.|
|The ability to suppress popups is a wonderful feature of the Mozilla browser (Opera also has this ability), one that you'll appreciate almost immediately.|
|Working with Cookies|
|Cookies are small "data tags" that allow web sites to recognize us when we return to those web sites. While cookies can be useful -- say, for being recognized at a web site with which we've registered -- they can also be used by advertisers to track our movements and behavior across the Net. To protect our privacy, we need to configure Mozilla's cookie settings so that the browser stores only cookies that we find useful. For more information on the privacy issues involved with cookies, see THIS page.|
Mozilla provides us with a rich set of options for dealing
with cookies. We have two initial, main choices, each of which offers us range of
options. We can:
Additionally, we can use the Cookie Manager to manage, delete, and block cookies selectively on a case-by-case basis.
Let's look at each of these main choices or strategies for dealing with cookies in Mozilla and detail what options they present us.
|1.||Basic Cookie Configuration Options|
|To get to Mozilla's cookie options, double-click on the Privacy & Security menu item to expand it, and then select the Cookies sub-menu.|
On this menu Mozilla gives us a basic set of options for handling cookies:
|While these three basic options can be useful tools, those tools are a bit blunt. We may want more control over how Mozilla handles cookies from web sites.|
|2.||Using the Cookie Manager to Manage, Delete, & Block Cookies|
If we simply disable Cookies, some web sites may not work properly. One
solution to this problem is to leave Cookies enabled, but selectively manage and delete cookies
after they're accepted. That way, we keep only the cookies we find useful.
We can easily manage and delete cookies in Mozilla by hitting the Manage Stored Cookies button, which brings up the Cookie Manager:
The Cookie Manager allows us to view and delete the cookies which
have been stored on our system.
If we check the Don't allow removed cookies to be reaccepted later box at the bottom before removing cookies, the web sites which placed those cookies will be added to a "block list" (a list of sites blocked from placing cookies on our system). This block list can be viewed and edited on the Cookie Sites tab of the Cookie Manager box:
|This block list gives us the power to leave cookies enabled on the main cookies page (see above) while still blocking cookies from web sites that we'd prefer not to deal with.|
|3.||Using the Privacy Settings to Filter Cookies|
|If we don't want to disable cookies outright, we have still other choices. Instead of enabling or disabling cookies, we can use Mozilla's Privacy Settings to filter cookies based on the privacy policies of the web sites that attempt to place those cookies on our system.|
|To access the Privacy Settings, select the Enable cookies based on privacy settings option.|
|Once this setting is selected, we can hit the View button (which is now enabled) and work with a rich menu of Privacy Settings in the dialog box that pops up.|
|Privacy Levels & Cookie Acceptance Policies|
In this Privacy Settings box, we can select a predefined Level
of Privacy at the top. Each of three predefined levels of privacy
(low, medium, high) corresponds to a different Cookie Acceptance Policy,
which is displayed in the bottom of the Privacy Settings box. You
can see the Cookie Acceptance Policy settings change as you select
different predefined levels of privacy.
The Cookie Acceptance Policy consists of rules for handling cookies from web sites. These cookie acceptance rules based on two main criteria:
The Mozilla help files (click the Help button) summarize the three predefined levels of privacy and the Cookie Acceptance Policy each uses as follows:
Again, what you see above is merely a summary of the Cookie Acceptance
Policies for each of the three predefined levels of privacy
(low, medium, high). Let's look a bit more closely at the Cookie
Acceptance Policies, what they consist of, and what they mean.
As we just noted, each of the predefined privacy levels corresponds to a different combination of settings for the Cookie Acceptance Policy. These settings incorporate of several important criteria, which we discussed briefly above.
First, Mozilla distinguishes between first-party and third-party cookies (which we defined above).
Second, Mozilla also classifies the web sites that attempt to place those cookies into four categories, based on their privacy policies (which we also defined above). Those four categories are:
|These four categories (which are, again, taken from the Mozilla help files) employ a few terms and concepts that may be unfamiliar to you. Before we move on, let's define some of those key terms:|
|While you should understand these concepts, you don't have to analyze and classify web sites' privacy policies yourself, a process which would be time-consuming. Mozilla analyzes the privacy policies of web sites for you and quickly classifies those privacy policies.|
|To summarize briefly: Mozilla classifies the web sites that attempt to place cookies on your system as first-party or third-party and then analyzes the privacy policies (if any) of those web sites. Based on what it finds in those privacy policies and whether the web sites are first-party or third-party sites, it then takes the appropriate action specified by the Cookie Acceptance Policy.|
|We can use predefined combinations of settings for the Cookie Acceptance Policy by selecting one of the predefined levels of privacy (low, medium, high). As we noted earlier: if you switch between the three predefined privacy levels, you can see the Cookie Acceptance Policy settings change (even though they're grayed out) accordingly.|
|Custom Cookie Acceptance Policies|
|There's a fourth level of privacy that we can select, though: the custom level. If you select the custom level, you'll notice that you can change the individual Cookie Acceptance Policy settings, instead of relying on predefined combinations of settings (which correspond to the low, medium, high privacy levels).|
|The custom level gives you more control over the actions that Mozilla takes with cookies in response to web sites' privacy policies, but not every user will want to spend the time tinkering with these individual settings. Most users will probably find that the three predefined privacy levels (low, medium, high) provide an adequate amount of control over cookies. For those who demand the utmost control, however, the custom level Cookie Acceptance Policy settings will be most welcome.|
|To further enhance Mozilla's protection of your privacy and security, you might also consider installing and using one of the several add-on or plug-in applications that are available from other Mozilla users. These optional applications can block banner ads and handle other annoyances that you frequently encounter on the web.|
There are even utilities to allow you to control Flash, a popular technology with advertisers.
|I hope you've found this short tour of Mozilla's privacy and security features interesting and helpful. If you need more assistance or still have questions, check the following web pages for links to information about web browser privacy and security:|
© 2002-2004 Eric L. Howes
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