If eyes are the window to the soul, browsers are the window to, well, everything on the internet. But that window goes both ways—leaving it open means your information is vulnerable to “bad actors” and hackers. Luckily, there are ways to put the virtual curtain up, so to speak, and protect your digital privacy. Is anyone else getting tired of this metaphor?
While there’s not just one catch-all browser extension to safeguard your online privacy, using the following tools all in conjunction can boost your confidentiality online.
The different ways a browser extension can help with your online privacy:
To block ads: Not only does blocking ads make your browser work faster by using less bandwidth, it also protects you from malware and ads that hand over your data to developers and advertisers. Not to mention an online experience sans ads is more enjoyable.
The best ad blocker extension: AdBlock Plus
What it works on: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Android, iOS
Why it’s the best: It’s free and open source, meaning it can be distributed and the source code can be modified. They also allow “Acceptable Ads,” which are ads that are unobtrusive and don’t inhibit your ability to view content on a webpage. For certain sites that rely on ads for revenue, this makes it so everyone wins, especially if you care to see that site succeed. AdBlock Plus also prevents any third parties from tracking your activity by only allowing Acceptable Ads without third-party tracking. Overall, the extension provides a better and safer online experience.
To manage cookies: Cookies track your activity when you browse a site. They are essentially messages sent from the website to your browser in the form of small text files, and can determine which pages on a site are visited most often. If you provide information to a site and return to that site, cookies will make it so you don’t need to fill out the information all over again. But only the page that created the cookies can read those files, so an outside server will not be able to access the information collected on a site through cookies. As you may have noticed, websites often ask you to “accept cookies,” meaning you’re opting in to let them store those text files. Cookies may be gathered from the site itself, from banner ads, or social “buttons.” Social buttons are third-party cookies, and can be “dropped” onto your computer to track your activity all over the internet.
The best extension for managing cookies: Cookie AutoDelete
What it works on: Chrome, Firefox
Why it’s the best: This extension automatically clears your cookies, except for the ones you’ve whitelisted. (You might want to keep certain cookies so you don’t lose progress on a form or an interactive game, for example.) The cookies can be deleted without having to clear your entire browser, so you don’t have to start from scratch. It’s an easy way to browse safely, and faster.
To encrypt your searches: When it comes to encrypting your internet searches, the answer doesn’t lie with an extension, but instead is dependent on the search engine you use or your browser.
The best search engine for encrypting searches: Tor
What it works on: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android
Why it’s the best: Tor routes your browsing through a chain of computers, reinforces your anonymity and keeps your activity private. This may cause some websites to not work at all, for example if they rely on your IP address being visible. It also slows down searches because of all the steps it’s taking to get you around the internet, and websites may ask you to prove that you’re not a robot.
The best browser for encrypted searches: The best browser for privacy’s sake might not be the one you’re using—we’re looking at you Chrome users. FireFox and Safari, however, have both made a concerted effort to improve their built-in privacy features, and Safari supposedly has a new update coming soon to make things even more secure—TBD.
Ghostery is another highly lauded privacy browser, especially for its Ghostery Midnight extension which, like Dashlane Premium, has a built-in VPN that both hides your IP address and encrypts your web activity. Learn more about everything a VPN does to help keep you secure online.
To make your activity on websites more secure: HTTPS is a form of encryption available on many websites to protect users’ privacy. (HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol; the ‘S’ stands for Secure.) This encryption is your best defense against your information being stolen, such as personal info you enter onto a website.
The best browser extension for website security: HTTPS Everywhere
What it works on: Firefox, Chrome, and Opera (it’s automatically included in Tor and Brave browsers)
Why it’s the best: With the extension installed, your activity on most major websites will be encrypted. It works around sites that default to or reroute to unencrypted pages.
To securely store your passwords: If all your cookies are deleted but you don’t want the hassle of reentering information, you can store your passwords and personal info in a password manager extension on your browser. Of course, we recommend Dashlane, which works on Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Linux, and Chromebook. Dashlane’s password storage is unlimited on our Premium plans and works across multiple devices. Dashlane also uses industry-leading security architecture so that we never see or transmit your data—only you have access. We also have a patent to prove that your information is secure in the Dashlane extension.
To bring back our tortured metaphor: It’s great to be able to keep your digital “windows” open. The tools above just give you a screen for stopping the bugs.