September 23, 2010, 10:32 AM — They say privacy doesn't exist on the Web -- but that doesn't mean you can't try to safeguard your personal information. Our computers are loaded with details about our personal and business lives, and it's definitely not acceptable to reveal them haphazardly. With hackers becoming ever more sophisticated, you have to take precautions.
Another threat is the vast number of files that accumulate on your hard drive -- your browsing history, log-in cookies, cached pages and more -- that could be accessed either by someone who gets physical control over your machine or remotely by hackers who have installed malware on your system. This information can include banking details, credit card numbers, Web site passwords and records of your visits to potentially embarrassing sites.
The current versions of all popular Web browsers offer some sort of "private browsing" feature -- you activate it and surf as you normally would, but your cookies, passwords, Web history and browser cache are erased when you close the browser at the end of your session. Private browsing offers some degree of protection if you're willing to forgo the convenience of having your Web history and saved passwords at your fingertips. But researchers from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University have found that no browser actually removes every trace of private browsing sessions.
In this regard, Firefox's vast library of browser add-ons is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the researchers found that some add-ons, such as those that enhance searching, may store information that's supposed to be purged after a private browsing session.
On the other hand, a number of Firefox extensions (some of which are available for other browsers) can protect your privacy to a degree that's far above and beyond what private browsing can do. For comprehensive control over your privacy, install and use at least some of these eight Firefox extensions.