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The Computer Corner

Mozilla Web Browser Working Toward Total Privacy for Its Users

By Charles Miller

REG COMPUTERS

A recent story in the tech news demonstrates that improving security on the Internet does not please everyone. Some people have their own agenda.

The Domain Name Service (DNS), commonly referred to as the telephone book of the Internet, is where your computer and phone go hundreds of times per day to ask, for example, “Where do I find Charles Miller?” The DNS server tells them my domain, smaguru.com, and my IP address, 216.222.194.171.

That system has never been secure, because it dates back to the Internet’s inception, when only a few dozen engineers and academics who all knew each other were using it. Today we still have a DNS system handled over insecure connections.

Your DNS is probably now provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). This means the provider can see you went to First National Bank at 1pm. Then their view into your business went dark as you entered First National’s HTTPS-encrypted website. At 1:30pm, they see you went to Gmail, then things go dark again. This is because most web browsing traffic is now handled securely over HTTPS-encrypted connections, but DNS is not. So your ISP knows where you go, though not what you do there.

The Mozilla Foundation has been experimenting with allowing DNS queries in its Firefox web browser to take place over the same HTTPS-secured connection used by banks and secure websites, meaning your local ISP, already blocked from reading your email, could no longer be able to tell when and how often you connected to your email.

Naturally, this doesn’t enthuse some ISPs: after all, they sell data about your browsing habits to advertisers. The most vociferous complaint came, however, out of the United Kingdom, where the authorities are engaging in a mild form of censorship in an attempt to control users’ ability to access some parts of the Internet. For this reason, the UK’s Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) named Mozilla one of three finalists for their Internet Villain of the Year.

That does it for me. If the ISPA says that Mozilla Firefox is an enemy of the Internet, then Firefox is the browser I want to use. A lot of Brits apparently feel likewise. By planning to support DNS over HTTPS, Mozilla is throwing a monkey wrench into some people’s plans to snoop on what websites users visit.

Interestingly, British Telecom (BT) has shown some public support for Mozilla. That could mean that BT is not snooping on its customers or selling information on their activities to advertisers.

All of this boils down to the fact that it simply feels creepy to be spied upon. It begs the question of whose business is it of anyone else what websites we visit, how often, and for how long.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com

 

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