Three essential security add-ons for Firefox, Chrome, and IE

The free extensions for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer thwart trackers, block ads (in Firefox and Chrome), and rate the safety of links before you click them: Ghostery, Adblock Plus, and Web of Trust, respectively.

Web of Trust installation wizard
The free Web of Trust add-on for Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer provides a visual cue of a link's reliability. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

If you ask people what they like least about the Internet, the three items at the top of their list of complaints will likely be trackers, ads, and viruses.

While you may not be able to eliminate these and other Web nuisances, you can minimize their effect on your browsing via three free add-ons for Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer: Ghostery, Adblock Plus, and Web of Trust. (Note that Adblock Plus is not available for IE; blocking ads in Internet Explorer 10 is accomplished by using the program's Tracking Protection feature, as explained below.)

Do-it-yourself do not track with Ghostery
Yesterday's post on how to improve security in Firefox, Chrome, and IE explains the shortcomings of the do-not-track options built into the three browsers. You don't have to rely on browser developers and online advertisers to prevent having your Web activities tracked.

The free Ghostery add-on lets you see who's tracking you and block their attempts. The program is available in versions for Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer.

After you install the program and restart your browser, Ghostery steps you through a set-up wizard. The initial screen explains how the program works, and the second asks you to participate in the GhostRank program by sending anonymous data to help maintain the tracker database. You can also opt in to receive automatic updates.

Ghostery set-up wizard
The free Ghostery add-on for Firefox, Chrome, and IE identifies and blocks Web trackers. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

By default, the blue Ghostery icon is set to appear in the top-right corner of the browser window. You click it to view a list of the trackers on the current page. On the third screen of the installation wizard you're given the option to have Ghostery run in the background, which hides the program's icon.

Ghostery installation wizard Alert Bubble option
The Ghostery installation wizard lets you disable the program's Alert Bubble to have it work in the background. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

On the next screen of the wizard, you choose which of the five categories of trackers you want to block: Advertising, Analytics, Beacons, Privacy, and Widgets. You're warned that blocking may cause some Web pages to break.

Ghostery installation wizard blocking options
Choose which categories of trackers you would like to block on the fourth screen of the Ghostery installation wizard. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

After the wizard completes, you're prompted to restart your browser. If you left the defaults unchanged during the installation, the blue Ghostery icon appears in the top-right corner of the browser and displays the number of trackers it detected on the current page. For a few seconds the program lists the trackers in a small pop-up and indicates whether they've been blocked. Click the Ghostery icon to show the trackers it has identified, along with a button that pauses blocking and other options.

Ghostery tracker-detection list
Click the Ghostery icon in your browser to display the trackers the program detected on the current page. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

When I tested Ghostery for IE by blocking all trackers, the program initially generated an IE error message stating that the browser had to restart, but the message soon disappeared and the IE home page loaded. That page and the dozen or so other pages I visited worked without any problems. However, Ghostery didn't scan either www.google.com or www.gmail.com.

Give ads the boot in Firefox and Chrome with Adblock Plus
Yesterday's browser-security post also includes instructions for enabling JavaScript on a site-by-site basis using the free NoScript extension for Firefox and NotScripts add-on for Chrome.

Many people prefer the script-blocking approach taken by the free Adblock Plus add-on, which is available for Firefox and Google Chrome.

After you install Adblock Plus and restart your browser, you'll see an "ABP" stop-sign icon in the top-right corner of Chrome or the bottom-left corner of Firefox. What you won't see are the ads on the Web pages you visit. You get many more options when you click the ABP icon in Firefox, including the ability to adjust your ad-blocking filters, unblock items on the current page, and disable blocking on the page, the site, or everywhere.

Adblock Plus for Firefox
Adjust the options in the Firefox version of Adblock Plus by clicking the program's icon to open its settings. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The Chrome version of Adblock Plus provides only two options when you click the ABP icon: disable blocking on current site, or "Easy create filter," which lets you click or right-click an item on the current page and add it as a filter. Right-click the icon and choose Options to adjust your filter list, add or remove domains from your whitelist, hide the icon, and reset other onscreen elements.

Adblock Plus for Chrome settings dialog
Access settings in the Chrome version of Adblock Plus by right-clicking the program's icon and choosing Settings. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

To block ads in Internet Explorer 10, click the gear icon in the top-right corner of the browser window and choose Safety > Tracking Protection. Select "Get a Tracking Exception List online" to open the Internet Explorer Gallery. Click the Add button next to a list to add it. Two recommended lists are EasyList Standard and Easy Privacy.

Internet Explorer 10 Tracking Protection options
Internet Explorer 10's Tracking Protection feature lets you enable ad blocking by installing a database of blocked sites. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Martin Brinkmann describes IE 10's Tracking Protection feature in an article on Ghacks.net.

Get an indication of a link's reliability before you click it
Nearly all Web-borne malware works by tricking you into clicking what you think is a trustworthy link. Computer crooks are adept at making dangerous links look innocuous. The Web of Trust (WOT) is one of several free link-checkers that place a rating next to the links in search results and on the pages you open to indicate how safe the links are.

The add-on is available for Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer.

WOT's ratings are based on feedback from other users. It shows one of six reliability icons for the current page, next to the links that appear in search results, and when you right-click any link on the page: Excellent, Good, Unsatisfactory, Poor, Very Poor, and No Rating. You can also click the icon for the current page to add your own reliability rating.

Web of Trust rating window
The free Web of Trust add-on for Firefox, Chrome, and IE displays a reliability rating for the current page and lets you add your own rating to the service's database. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Click the WOT icon for a link or page to open the WOT Reputation Scorecard for that site. In addition to numerical and graphical ratings for the site, the scorecard rates the site's popularity, shows its ranking and server location, and lets you comment on or rate the site.

Web of Trust Reputation Wizard entry
The Web of Trust Reputation Scorecard shows the site's rating and lets you comment on or rate the site's reliability. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The WOT support page explains the basics of the service for new users, provides video tutorials and an FAQ, and lets you post your question to the WOT community.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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