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How to Set Up Firefox for Privacy

Originally published on 17 FEB 2021.

This is a guide for tweaking the Firefox browser for enhanced online privacy. We explore the "normal" and the "advanced" tweaks here.

This guide is intended for desktop users across all platforms such as Windows, macOS, and Linux.

This guide is based on Firefox Ver 93.0.

Preface

mozilla firefox logo 2018

Across the online privacy community, you'll find that Firefox is frequently touted as the one of the - if not the - best browsers for privacy.

This is because it has been around for a long time, open source, free, and has many privacy friendly features baked right in.

Additionally, Mozilla (the main contributor to Firefox) has always encouraged developers to contribute directly to its code, or to create truly privacy preserving (and respecting) extensions.

FUN FACT: the official TOR browser is a fork of Firefox's source code.

With all of that said, not all of Firefox's privacy features are enabled from the start. Also, privacy friendly extensions aren't installed by default.

But we're here to fix all of that, aren't we?

Download Firefox

Consider your threat model

In short, your threat model when it comes to securing your online privacy is answering the question:

  1. "Who are you attempting to conceal your data from?"

and you'll want to heavily consider:

  1. What resources are you willing to commit to doing so?

For example, are you...

  • Trying to limit the invasiveness of hyper-personalized marketing and highly targeted ads?
  • Looking for alternatives to Big Tech, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook?
  • Concealing online activity from the government (ditch the assumption that this is for "criminal activity only.")
  • Trying to limit what information about you is easily found/searchable by the average Joe?

NOTE: There are many, many other valid reasons for wanting to preserve one's online privacy.

This is definitely not saying you need a "valid reason for privacy" because the need for privacy is a fundamental human right. However, you should be aware of just who's eyes you're trying to protect your data from and the resources you're consuming to do so.

"Resources" for most people frequently include...

  • Your time
  • Your effort
  • Your money
  • Your sanity

Above all else, you should be (1) aware of what genuinely does not work for your threat model and (2) realistic about your expectations and the resources you're willing to commit.

Not everything works for everybody.

A word on fingerprinting...

Be aware that more add ons/privacy settings does not necessarily protect you from more tracking/surveillance methods.

In fact, the more add ons you have, then the more unique your browser fingerprint is.

You'll want to strike a balance between blocking tracking methods (such as scripts and cookies) vs blending in with "other users'" browser signatures. This can be tricky and is much easier said than done.

The easiest way not to stand out like a sore thumb is not installing a bunch of add ons and disabling Do Not Track (DNT).

It's unrealistic to think you can prevent all fingerprinting there ever was or ever will be.

However, you can certainly minimize what tracking/fingerprinting methods work on you and what information is collected about you and your devices.

These are the settings that we can adjust straight from Firefox's standard menu, without going into more advanced settings about in the about config section.

Custom search settings

Mozilla has an agreement with Google that the default search engine is set to Google Search.

Hopefully, you're aware that Google Search is not at all privacy friendly. Many of the other search engines included with Firefox aren't too privacy friendly either, except for DuckDuckGo.

To access the search settings, go to Menu > Options > Search. You should be brought to a screen that looks like this:

firefox search settings

You'll want to be sure to choose a private search engine as your default. You can add them to Firefox by clicking the Find more search engines link near the bottom of the page.

For a list of suggestions, you can visit our recommendations for private search engines here.

Additionally, you may want to consider disabling Search suggestions as well. This comes enabled as a default.

A valid reasoning for disabling this setting is for the fact it sends real-time data to your default search engine about what you're searching; that's how you get your suggestions for what to search from the engine itself.

This shouldn't be necessary if you're using a private search engine, but you may want to consider disabling it regardless.

Firefox DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH)

Firefox introduced DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) from within the browser sometime ago. DoH helps ensure that your DNS lookups - in this case, those only generated by Firefox itself) are secure. Additionally, Firefox partners with some "privacy-friendly DNS providers," in order to accomplish this.

(An easy way to access this setting is by typing "network settings" into the search bar of the settings/preferences page of Firefox.)

As of recent Firefox versions, DoH within Firefox is enabled by default depending on a number of criteria that the browser itself assesses:

  • Locale
  • Presence of parental controls
  • Default DNS server's filtering of malicious content
  • Enterprise policies for custom DNS settings

If the last 3 points aren't "detected," then Firefox will enable its DoH setting by default.

The goal of this is well and all, but this could prove exceedingly problematic for users who actually want Firefox to utilize their network's DNS settings.

firefoxdoh

For example, users who have spent some time setting up a PiHole or other network wide adblocker would want Firefox to use it - and not circumvent the network DNS settings with its built-in DoH settings. Users that fall within this general category should disable DoH within Firefox. Otherwise, Firefox can circumvent your network (and device) settings.

Generally, I recommend enabling DoH within Firefox if you aren't running any kind of network-wide ad solution (or related) or haven't configured your home network (or specific device, where applicable) to use secure and privacy-friendly DNS servers.

Ideally, you'll want to enable DoH when you're connected to any kind of unfamiliar network (for most people, outside their home network), especially if you can't set DNS settings on the device itself.

In some cases, you can configure your network to tell Firefox to disable DoH on its own. More information from Mozilla.

Content blocking

Firefox has content blocking capabilities baked right into it.

It can block:

  • Social media trackers
  • Tracking cookies
  • Cryptominers
  • Fingerprinters

Navigate to Menu > Options > Privacy & Security.

There are 3 different content blocking profiles to choose from: Standard, Strict, and Custom:

content blocking in firefox quantum

It's up to your personal threat model to choose which profile works for you. Standard works for most users - especially if you're using privacy friendly add ons.

You should be aware that Firefox's built in content blocking isn't the best, which is why I still highly recommend installing a trusted tracker blocking add-on.

If Firefox's content blocking feature breaks a website, it's easy to add an exception for it at your discretion:

firefox content block exception

Telemetry

By default, Firefox is configured to send some telemetry data from your browser to Mozilla.

Even though Mozilla has a decent privacy policy, privacy conscious users are wise to disable these telemetry settings.

firefox quantum telemetry

HTTPS-only mode

Firefox ships out with an HTTPS-only mode, but it's disabled by default.

You should definitely Enable HTTPS-Only Mode in all windows.

firefox 84 https only mode setting

HTTPS provides a secure and encrypted connection between your browser and the sites you visit. Enabling HTTPS-only mode forces an HTTPS connection (if available) with every site you visit.

Firefox's built-in HTTPS-only mode does the same job as the well-known HTTPS Everywhere add on!

Browsing history

Firefox is configured to remember your browsing history and store site cookies between browsing sessions.

Some may wish for Firefox to wipe browsing and history and cookies when exiting a session.

To do so:

Under Cookies and Site Data enable the box "Delete cookies and site data when Firefox is closed"

clear cookies firefox

Under History enable the box "Always use private browsing mode."

clear firefox history

Disable Autofill

Autofill stores information you previously input into fields on various webpages. This can include stuff like your name, address, and phone number(s).

If you're not careful, sometimes Autofill can store your credit card numbers and other more sensitive information.

Unfortunately, what's "remembered" is often not stored securely. This information is typically stored unencrypted -- AKA stored in plain text. It can be harvested via what is known as an Autofill attack.

Rogue, scam, phishing, and overly invasive websites can lift what's stored by Autofill in these types of attacks.

To disable Autofill:

Disable Autofill logins and passwords under "Logins and Passwords."

Disable Autofill addresses and Autofill credit cards under "Forms and Autofill."

autofill setting firefox

If you choose to keep this setting enabled, then this issue can be mitigated by enabling HTTPS only mode. Additionally, if wanted, it appears that Firefox has now introduced required authentication for autofilling credit card information - however, this currently seems limited to just credit card information for now.

It also becomes far less of an issue if you choose to block all JavaScript, but there are a number of different instances where users might not want or particularly need to go that far.

Address Bar - Firefox Suggest

With Firefox version 93.0, Mozilla has introduced "sponsored suggestions" for the content you may type in your address bar.

This appears to be a monetization move on Mozilla's end, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, ads - and AdTech in general - have earned a quite... horrid reputation within both the privacy (and by extension, cybersecurity) communities. And all with good reason(s) too.

So, in other words, Firefox will now display "ads" when you type into the address bar, by default.

Fortunately this can be disabled right from within the settings:

firefox new address bar settings

about:config (Advanced settings)

These are the more advanced settings within Firefox that you can tweak for privacy.

For each of these settings, you'll need to type about:config into your address bar. You'll more than likely receive a warning; click the equivalent of the "I accept" button to continue.

firefox about config warning

Double click on each setting to change it.

Disabling WebRTC

WebRTC can leak your true IP address - even if you're using a VPN. This is due to a vulnerability, typically exploitable via JavaScript, that has yet to be properly addressed...

Read more about WebRTC leaks.

To disable WebRTC in Firefox:

  1. Search for media.peerconnection.enabled
  2. Change the value to false

Tracking and Fingerprinting

  • Set privacy.resistFingerprinting to true; This tells Firefox to be more resistant to browser fingerprinting. Part of the Tor Uplift effort.
  • Set privacy.trackingprotection.fingerprinting.enabled to true; Another setting that tells Firefox to resist fingerprinting. More than likely, this is already enabled if you're running any of Firefox's content blocking profiles from the regular menu settings.
  • Set privacy.trackingprotection.cryptomining.enabled to true; Blocks pesky cryptominors. More than likely, this is already enabled if you're running any of Firefox content blocking profiles from the regular menu settings.
  • Set privacy.trackingprotection.enabled to true; Blocks tracking where add-ons cannot, or may be configured to not block trackers on specific pages.
  • Set browser.send_pings to false; Helps prevent websites from tracking visitors' clicks. For some users, this may already be set to false.
  • Set beacon.enabled to false; Stops the sending of additional analytics to web servers.

Cookies and Referrers

  • Set privacy.firstparty.isolate to true; Isolates many different types of identifying data that may be stored in the browser. This mostly helps to prevent tracking across varying domains. Part of the TOR Uplift effort.

COOKIES: While we can control cookie settings from Firefox's regular menu settings, we have the ability to fine tune them more in the advanced settings. These specific settings are controlled with integers, outlined below:

Set network.cookie.cookieBehavior to 4 where...

  • 0 = Accepts all cookies
  • 1 = Blocks 3rd party cookies
  • 2 = Blocks all cookies (will break many websites!)
  • 3 = Blocks cookies from unvisited sites
  • 4 = "Cookie Jar Policy" which prevents storage access to known trackers. Like 2, this can potentially break websites.

Set network.cookie.lifetimePolicy to 2 where...

  • 0 = Stores all cookies indefinitely (or until you wipe browsing data)
  • 1 = Prompts you to set storage duration for each cookie encountered
  • 2 = Stores cookies for the length of your current browsing session only
  • 3 = Stores cookies for X amount of days

REFERRERS: To keep things very simple, your browser sends a referrer header to the server(s) of whatever website you're connecting to. The referrer usually tells the new server where you were before connecting to it. The level of information provided and subsequently read may vary.

Generally, referrers are governed by universal rules (for example, no referrer will be sent if you're connecting from a page using HTTPS to one only using HTTP). Some websites may choose to request even more information from referrer headers; hence why you may want to limit what cross-site information they can access.

These referrer settings in Firefox are also changed with integers, as outlined below:

Set network.http.referer.XOriginPolicy to 1, where...

  • 0 = Send referrer in all cases
  • 1 = Send referrer to same Top-Level Domain sites
  • 2 = Send referrer only when hostname is a match (This can break some sites)

Set network.http.referer.XOriginTrimmingPolicy to 2 where...

  • 0 = Send referrer with full URL (this means your browsing can even forward sensitive information such as session tokens)
  • 1 = Send referrer with URL minus query string
  • 2 = Send referrer with only scheme, host, and port information

Read more about Referrers (external).

Session and Device Data

  • Set dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled to false; Prevents websites from collecting data about what you may copy, paste, or cut from a webpage. Read more about clipboard security.
  • Set media.navigator.enabled to false; Prevents websites from retrieving information about the status of your microphone and camera on your device.
  • Set webgl.disabled to true; Disables WebGL. WebGL is an ever-present security risk and can be used to track/fingerprint your device.
  • Set geo.enabled to false; Disables geolocation tracking. Be aware that even when this is enabled, Firefox will prompt you when a site wants to use your location. Disable this if the usage of Google Location Services concerns you. Read more about Firefox's usage of Google Location Services (external).
  • Set media.eme.enabled to false; Disables auto playback of DRM-controlled HTML5 content. When enabled, it automatically downloads Widevine Content Decryption Module, which is run and maintained by Google.

Firefox can store extra data about a previous session. For example, "normal" storage about a previous session may include tabs you had open. Extra data can include information like contents of web forms, your scrollbar position, and etc.

This setting is controlled by integers, as outlined below:

Set browser.sessionstore.privacy_level to 2 where...

  • 0 = Store extra session data for all sites
  • 1 = Store extra session data for unencrypted (HTTP) sites only
  • 2 = Never store extra session data

Containers

CONTAINERS: Container tabs force the website's you visit to only have access to a specific "part" of your browser's total local storage. Ultimately, this means that site preferences, login sessions, advertising/tracking data, and browsing history within a container won't "transfer" over to another.

Containers can also be enabled by installing the Multi-Account Containers add-on. This is preferable and recommended, but some users may only wish to enable containers in the advanced settings without help of the extension.

  • Set privacy.userContext.enabled to true.
  • Set privacy.userContext.ui.enabled to true.
  • Set privacy.userContext.longPressBehavior to 2.

Prefetching

  • Set browser.urlbar.speculativeConnect.enabled to false; Disables Firefox's preloading of URLs that you may want to visit based off what you're typing in the address bar; these aren't necessarily URLs you have connected to before. Helps prevents unwanted connections to sites you may not want to visit.

To disable the entirety of Firefox's prefetching service, you'll have to change a couple of different settings. Prefetching enables sites to load faster but may load unwanted data on your browser (such as cookies) before you've even loaded the site. It's a classic case of security versus convenience.

  • Set network.dns.disablePrefetch to true
  • Set network.predictor.enabled to false
  • Set network.prefetch-next to false

JavaScript

Some users may wish to totally disable all JavaScript from being executed on their device.

Disabling JavaScript:

  1. Type javascript:enabled
  2. Switch the value to false
  3. Restart Firefox

NOTE: Disabling JavaScript will break many sites you visit!

Recommended Firefox privacy add ons

Many of the add-ons in this list provide redundant functionality. Therefore it's likely that you won't need to install and run all these add ons at once.

You may want to consider installing one add on from each category "type" and explore different combinations.

Tracker blocking

Name Description Download Repo
uBlock Origin
ublock origin official logo
uBlock Origin is a wide-spectrum blocker that blocks ads and trackers while being light on system resources.
Advanced: uMatrix
A point and click matrix-based firewall. Enables you to directly control any elements your browser attempts to connect to, what is can download, and what it can execute. Has been discontinued.


Additional blocking

Name Description Download Repo
LocalCDN
localcdn official logo
LocalCDN intercepts middlemen connections from Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and serves them locally to help preserve your privacy. Forked from Decentraleyes.
ClearURLS
clearurls official logo
Uses over 250 rules to remove the tracking elements that are frequently found in URLs. Can also prevent some tracking injections.
Advanced: NoScript
no script official logo
Blocks all scripts, to include JavaScript and other content from executing automatically or according to specific rules you set. You can whitelist sites you trust.


Storage Management

Name Description Download Repo
Multi-Account Containers
multi container add on logo
Enhances Firefox's (ver 84) vanilla container handling of cookies (if enabled via about:config settings). Containers can be created for different websites and are isolated from each other. An official plugin from Mozilla.
Temporary Containers
temporary container logo
A container plugin that focuses on isolating temporary storage (such as cookies and other site data) from the rest of your browser. This add on is automatic, and will create temporary and separate containers for links you or a program might open. The containers are deleted automatically when you close your browsing session.
Facebook Container
facebook container add on logo
A container plugin that is focused on specifically containing Facebook-related cookies and persistent storage. Helps limit what data Facebook automatically gathers about you and Facebook's tracking. Official Mozilla add-on.


Functionality

Name Description Download Repo
Terms of Service; Didn't Read (TOSDR)
official tosdr logo
TOSDR is an online user rights initiative that aims to breakdown long Terms of Service agreements while assigning ratings to each reviewed policy.

Additional resources

Final thoughts

Firefox has always been a reliable, open source, and more privacy-friendly browser throughout the years.

It becomes far more private when properly configured at the "normal" and advanced" levels and with the help of trusted 3rd party privacy add-ons.

Please be aware that while you may have a "hardened" Firefox, or a Firefox tweaked for privacy, you are not immune to all

Always be aware that your browser is the weakest link of the privacy (and frequently, the security) chain, even when configured for privacy. You are not immune from all forms of tracking, nor all forms of fingerprinting.

Remember what was said earlier: more is not always better when it comes to preserving privacy. You'll want to try to balance your approach, and tailor it to your needs and threat model.

Just know that you can ultimately help preserve your privacy in the long run by making these tweaks in the first place.

Download Firefox

As always, stay safe out there!

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