Review: Anonymizer For Safe, Mobile Firefox Browsing

An original Web security service has been updated and simplified to fight spyware and provide safe, anonymous Firefox browsing at hotspots.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 16, 2005

4 Min Read

Anonymizer was first created when the earliest inklings surfaced that our identity was exposed as we surfed the Web. It was a service that masked us so we could surf without leaving traces of ourselves, but it wasn't always easy to use.

Things have changed since those early days. Now, surfing occurs from many places, including notoriously insecure wireless hotspots. There is great concern that spyware can be dropped onto our computers that threaten data, privacy and smooth operation. And an increasingly popular option for browsing is Mozilla's Firefox.

As a result, Anonymizer has morphed into a series of services that are comparatively simple, can be controlled from within Firefox and that protect your identity and data while no matter where you are, including hotspots. I tested the Firefox versions of Anonymizer's Total Privacy Suite, which integrate into the browser as toolbar items. These same applications, however,, also can be used as standalones.

Staying Safe

The three applications are Anonymous Surfting, Anti-Spyware and Digital Shredder. Installing the software is trivial and straightforward. After relaunching Firefox, the browser has three new buttons on the main toolbar and an additional toolbar that can turn Anonymous Surfing on and off, scan and update Anti-Spyware and run Digital Shredder, which destroys stored tracking information.

Anonymous Surfing is from the direct descendant of Anonymizer's original service. Now, however, it's relevant to mobile users. It uses an encrypted Web proxy connection to tunnel your Web surfing through the vendor's servers. Besides encrypting data, it prevents individually-identifiable information from being passed in either direction. You can turn off the encryption, but this is a nice plus for Wi-Fi hotspot surfers to protect otherwise in-the-clear Web browsing.

Because Anonymous Surfing redirects your traffic through their Internet addresses, it keeps your own network's information private. This doesn't eliminates cookies used for tracking, but it does mean that services that track demographic or surfing details by network identity are incapable of following you.

If you want to regularly delete other traces of your online behavior, Digital Shredder can dump all cookies, cached pages, history items, and other information about you.

I tried the most obvious case with this feature: logging into with Anonymizer active and found that the site worked fine. After viewing various pages and my account details, including recently shipped items, I click the Digital Shredder button and dumped all items. When I clicked the "Glenn's Store" link on the still-visible page, I was taken to a generic page: Digital Shredder had thrown away Amazon's notion of who I was.

While Anonymous Surfing and Digital Shredder work in tandem, Anti-Spyware is not directly related to those two applications. Compared to Pest Patrol or Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (formerly Giant AntiSpyware), Anonymizer Anti-Spyware is quite simple. It has one button to launch a scan and a few preferences that let you control spyware.

But its simplicity makes it slightly flawed, too. In particular, the Firefox version isn't configurable enough to simply ignore (and never mention again) items that you mark as acceptable. For example, while I checked preferences on my system to always trust cookies, it insisted on listing several tracking cookies from sites I trust were being as spyware and included those cookies in its spyware count.

If I clicked Kill All Spyware, those cookies weren't destroyed, but the on-screen explanation simply said: "0 out of 4 detected spyware files have been removed from this computer." Running the standalone application more clearly shows that the items have been marked ignored, but this area could use improvement in the Firefox version.

Many spyware experts recommend running multiple anti-spyware products on top of anti-virus and firewall tools in order to ferret out the many different kinds of spyware, some of which can defeat any given single application. Anti-Spyware is definitely another good addition to that arsenal.

Anonymizer's Total Privacy Suite is certainly worth $49.95 for a one-year subscription, especially for those who have switched to Firefox because of Internet Explorer's security problems. And, for mobile users, this is a must-have add-on to ensure privacy and security on untrusted networks such as public hotspots.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights