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Mozilla Tutorial - How to configure Mozilla's and Netscape 7.1's privacy and security features

Table of contents:
- Introduction, Taming the Cookie Monster (you are currently here)
- Images and Ad Banners
- Popup Windows
- Passwords
- Scripts and Plugins

People have various reasons for choosing Mozilla, be it that they want to try a "different" browser, they like Mozilla's features such as tabbed browsing or because they appreciate Mozilla's privacy and security features such as the Cookie Manager, encryption of saved data, the Spam filter and much more.

Mozilla and Netscape 7.1 are in my opinion very secure browsers, even in their "out of the box" state. Still, with the right settings, you can make them even better at preserving your privacy and security while you are surfing the Net. This tutorial will show you how. Please note that there probably is not such a thing as perfect security, i.e. there may be security-related bugs that have not yet been discovered. Plus, safe use of the internet is always also the individual user's responsibility.

Step one - Keeping the Cookie Monster in check:

Cookies are small bits of information your browser remembers for a web site. Your browser saves your cookies in a text file on your harddrive. Cookies by themselves pose no security risk: They cannot contain a computer virus, nor can they be used to spy on you by reading your harddrive's content. They can be very useful and make surfing the Internet easier when used properly by making sites remember who you are and in some cases what you like. However, some companies use cookies to track you across various websites, thus recording your user behavior. What makes it worse is that often those are companies you never directly dealt with, which means that you neither gave them the permission to track you, nor do you know what you get out of the deal. 
With older browsers such as Internet Explorer 5.x or Netscape 4.x, you only had the choice of either completely disabling cookies, losing their benefits, allowing all cookies or having to say "Yes" or "No" to endless alert windows asking you if site "x" was allowed to set a cookie. Fortunately, newer browsers like Mozilla, Netscape 7, Opera 7 and to some degree Internet Explorer 6 give you the option to selectively allow and disallow sites to set cookies.

Mozilla's Cookie preferences
Mozilla's Cookie Preferences Window

IMHO, the ideal setting is to check "Enable all cookies" and "Ask me before storing a cookie". This will make you answer "yes" or "no" to quite a few cookie dialogs, but with Mozilla you only have to do it once per site. Simply make sure "Use my choice for all cookies from this site"" is checked.

Mozilla's Cookie dialog
Mozilla is asking if a website can set a cookie

There are several alternatives, depending how you surf the web:
  • If you don't visit sites that need to remember who you are, or if you don't care for that feature, but you visit sites who only allow you to enter with cookies enabled, select
    "Enable all Cookies", check "Limit maximum lifetime of cookies to - current session" and uncheck "Ask me before storing a cookie".
    This way, Mozilla will accept all cookies but they are automatically deleted once you session is over (i.e. you close Mozilla).
  • As an alternative to the general recommendation, you can also select "Enable cookies for the originating website only" or "Enable cookies based on privacy settings". This should work in most cases and especially with larger sites, but it may not work properly with all sites.
If you have accidentally blocked or allowed cookies from a site, you can easily change that by using Mozilla's Cookie Manager.

Opening Mozilla's Cookie Manager
Opening Mozilla's Cookie Manager

Either open Cookie Manager by selecting "Manage Stored Cookies", which will show you all cookies that are currently set and site permissions ("Cookie sites"), or (un-)block cookies for the site you are currently visiting by selecting "Block Cookies from this site" or "Unblock Cookies from this site".

Now that we have optimized our Cookie settings, lets move on to images and ad-banners.

Next step: Images and Ad Banners.

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