20140604 Security and Personal Privacy – getting rid of history previews in new tabs in Firefox.

Tired of the security (and personal) implications of Firefox’s default settings that show a “quick dial” image of recent pages when you open a new tab?

“Hiding” it on the current tab does not fix the problem: it can be unhidden by Firefox’s own on-screen invitation. Worse, hiding it hides it in the current tab: open a new tab and it’s back.

For security and personal reasons, it’s important that this facility be disabled, not merely partially and termporarily hidden. SysAdmins may wish to ensure that this is fixed for all installations around the company.

Here’s a seven step program to remove it.

The solution is on the web – if you have hours to read lots of different pages and string them together – not because they are wrong but because each is written by someone who knows what they are talking about and assumes their readership knows what they know. We don’t.

So here is my layman’s guide to fixing the problem.

1. open a new tab. In the address bar type “about: config”

2. Click through the warning – but pay great attention to it. You are going into deep dark places where you can really mess things up.

3. Scroll down until you find a group of entries all starting “browser” (it’s an alphabetic list)

4. Keep going until you find “browser.newtab.url” . We are going to change it. To change it right click which opens a menu, then left click on “Modify.” Change that to “about: blank” and save your change by clicking OK. Don’t worry: it’s not going to do that infuriating Microsoft thing of putting “about: blank” in the URL space every time you open a window or tab. Also, this does not change your homepage i.e. the first page that is opened when the browser opens: that’s controlled somewhere else.

5. Immediately above that setting is “browser.newtab.preload” which is shown as a boolean filter. For our purposes that means that it has only two settings: true or false. If it shows “false”, then do nothing. If it shows “true” then right click and on the menu left click “toggle” which changes it to false.

6. Now we are going to get out before you accidentally do real harm and break it!

7. To quit the about:config page, just close the tab. There’s no need to reboot the machine or restart Firefox. Just open a new tab : there will be no visible history in the page and the hide/unhide control button has gone.

Note: this DOES NOT disable the history in the drop down nor affect the cache: they present the same benefits and risks as they have always done. Also, the data is still there and if someone knows how to change the settings back, they can easily do so. The about:config page is not protected in any way.

© 2014 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
All rights reserved


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