If you want to safeguard your privacy, a VPN is certainly the best tool to use. And if you don’t, you should! The Internet is a jungle where everyone is after your personal information. Advertisers want to know what you’re browsing, your ISP wants to make sure you don’t violate their terms and conditions, authorities want to uphold the law and criminals want to rob you. We’ve found the five best VPN extensions for Firefox to protect yourself from any and all of these threats and more.
By encrypting all data in and out of your computer, a VPN helps protect you against all sorts of individuals and organizations trying to snoop on you. Even better, an extension built right into Firefox makes using a VPN a simple, unintrusive task. We’ve searched the web for Firefox extensions that are easy to use and offer a great level of security and privacy. Some will protect you for free, others require a subscription. Some providers offer both options.
Today, we’ll start off by discussing Virtual Private Networks, what they are and how they work. Then, we will go over the primary uses of VPNs. Then, with all of us on the same page, we’ll reveal the five best VPN extensions for Firefox.
- 1 Virtual Private Networks In A Nutshell
- 2 Why Use A Firefox VPN Extension?
- 3 To Conclude
Virtual Private Networks In A Nutshell
Often referred to as simply VPN, Virtual Private Networks are systems that allow you to keep your online activity private. They not only hide your data but also its destination. Let’s see how they accomplish that.
A VPN works by encapsulating all data in and out of your computer sending it to a VPN server through an encrypted virtual tunnel. Data in the tunnel is encrypted using strong encryption schemes. Anyone intercepting your data would only see meaningless gibberish. At the other end of that virtual tunnel, the server decrypts your data before sending it out to its intended destination on the Internet. The server then waits for the response to comes back and when it does, it encrypts it before sending it back to you through the same tunnel.
Although the data is not encrypted between the VPN server and its destination on the Internet, your privacy is still protected for several reasons. Anyone spying on your end of the connection would only see encrypted data going to the VPN server. There’s no way they could know what the data is or where it’s going. And if someone was to intercept the unencrypted traffic between the server and the destination, they’d see traffic coming from the server rather than from you with no possibility of tracing it back to you.
The only danger is when accessing unencrypted websites (HTTP rather than HTTPS) and filling some personal information in a form. This could leave you exposed. This is why it’s always better to use protocols that encrypt data from end to end–such as HTTPS–even when using a VPN. When you do, you get the best of both worlds.
Different Uses Of Virtual Private Networks
The primary advantage of Virtual Private Network is the security and anonymity they provide. They were originally invented specifically for that and were originally used mainly to provide remote access to corporate networks through the Internet.
But Virtual Private Networks have a few “side effects” which have recently become the primary reason why many people use them
Removing Access Restrictions
Today, you can access the Internet from almost everywhere. Many office environments offer WiFi service for their employees, public places like libraries, schools, stores and shopping malls often offer free WiFi Internet access. However, this access is often limited in terms of what you can do. Public places like hotels, libraries and commercial locations want to enforce some code of ethics, blocking you from accessing download sites or pornography, for example. Perhaps they also want to block users from using high bandwidth applications and hogging the service. Offices and schools also do it for similar reasons but they also possibly want to avoid employees and students spending too much time browsing the net or using social networks.
There are a few ways these kinds of restrictions are enforced. Often a transparent proxy will be used that intercepts all traffic and either allows it or blocks it based on a set of rules. The rules could be based on IP address and, for example, the system could be set to block any traffic going to the Facebook servers’ IP addresses. Proxies also do traffic inspection and will block or allow based on the content of the request. All traffic to facebook.com could thus be blocked. Blocking can also be based on protocol, allowing for easy blocking of peer-t0-peer networking, for example.
A VPN lets you bypass all these restrictions by sending all your traffic to the IP address of the VPN server rather than to a blocked IP address. And your data will resist packet inspection because it is encrypted. Even if you’re downloading from torrents, the actual traffic in and out of your computer will be VPN traffic.
Of course, organizations could block the IP addresses of VPN servers or their URL. They could also block any VPN traffic. And to be totally honest, some do. This is especially common with public services. Most corporate and academic access don’t as there is often legitimate VPN traffic that must go through. Today, the best VPN clients are smart enough to use some stealth techniques to fool even the best detection and blocking system, They do that by using virtual IP addresses and masquerading the VPN traffic as some other type of legitimate traffic.
Bypassing National Limitations
A few countries have major limitations and Internet usage and will prevent users from accessing some of the Internet. Often huge parts of it. China is a good example of such countries. Accessing most Western social media sites, for example, is impossible from there. Even common services like Google are censored. The search results you get when doing a Google search from China are different from what you’d get from anywhere in Occident. And China is not alone. Several totalitarian regimes have similar practices.
Those national restrictions are implemented using techniques that are very similar, if not identical, to techniques used by organizations to enforce their restrictions. And sine similar blocking methods are used, similar bypassing methods will be effective. The main difference is often the legal implication of the bypass. While bypassing access restrictions at your local Starbucks might get you banned from using their Internet, bypassing governmental restrictions can have more serious consequences even though you might think you’re doing nothing wrong, like going to your Facebook page.
Accessing Geo-blocked Content
Another major reason for using a VPN is to bypass geographical restrictions. In fact, this is the number one reason why people use them today. Several websites and content providers restrict their access to users located in a specific country or region. They can do it to protect local partners or to enforce the scope of their broadcast rights.
But no matter what reasons they do it for, it’s almost always done it by filtering traffic based on its source IP address. For example, to access a site that requires you to be in the USA, all you need is an IP address from the USA. And this is exactly what a VPN gives you. To the site you’re trying to access, the source IP address of your request is that of the VPN server instead of yours. So, all you need to do to bypass geographic restrictions is to connect to a VPN server located in a region that can access the site or service you’re trying to access.
Why Use A Firefox VPN Extension?
A VPN has two components, a client at your end of the tunnel and a server at the far end. VPN clients can be of the stand-alone type or they can be browser extensions. Stand-alone clients run on your computer and connect to a VPN server, and then send all traffic in and out of your computer through the VPN tunnel. You usually need to manually fire them and establish the connection before your traffic is actually secured.
Just like the stand-alone client, the browser extension VPN client will connect to the VPN server. But since the extension lives inside your browser, it will only encrypt traffic in and out of your browser, not the whole computer. If you have other applications running alongside your browser, their traffic will not be encrypted.
There are also what we’d call hybrid VPN extensions that, while living inside your browser, are nothing but front-ends to a stand-alone client installed on your computer. They give you the convenience of being able to start the VPN from your browser while offering the enhanced security and privacy of stand-alone clients
The Best Five VPN Extensions For Firefox
We’ve searched the web for the best VPN extensions for Firefox. Three of them are from some of the best commercial VPN providers. Two require a subscription while the third is a free service. The other two are from lesser-known providers but they offer a good mix of security, privacy and performance.
The ExpressVPN extension for Firefox is one of those front-end extensions we talked about. It requires the stand-alone ExpressVPN client to be installed and provides an easy way to start and stop the VPN and to choose their VPN server location. Of course, this also means that you’ll need to subscribe to the ExpressVPN service.
Subscription is well worth it, though. ExpressVPN is best-known for its strong encryption protocols and its servers’ impressive speed. It also boasts a worldwide server network of over 1,500 servers in some 94 countries. ExpressVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol with 256-bit AES encryption and perfect forward secrecy. It also uses 4,096-bit keys that are protected by the SHA-512 algorithm.
They only have a partial no-logging policy but don’t let that stop you. The only data they keep is what servers users connect to and the dates they do. We believe this is providing a sufficient level of privacy protection.
The browser extension installs an icon next to the search/address bar. When you click it, a small window that looks very similar to the stand-alone client opens. You can pick your server location and turn the VPN tunnel on or off. Furthermore, clicking the menu button at the top left of the extension window lets you enable the Startup function. This will automatically connect the VPN to the last used server when Firefox starts. There’s also an option to enable WebRTC blocking for even better anonymity.
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CyberGhost is yet another VPN service with an excellent reputation. Their browser extension is different from most of their competitors, though. It is a true in-browser free VPN extension. It doesn’t require one to subscribe to any service and it doesn’t require the installation of an external client application on your computer.
CyberGhost’s stand-alone VPN service has some great features and is amongst the best VPN providers we’ve seen. We can safely assume that the free service provided by this extension is equivalent to their subscription service in terms of security and privacy. Of course, this being a free service, it can’t be as good as the paid one. We all know that. But it seems that CyberGhost didn’t cut the corners in the security and privacy front.
Among the most apparent differences, this free service only allows you to connect to servers in the US, the Netherlands, Germany, and Romania. If you need to access geo-blocked services in these countries, you’ll be fine but if you had other countries in mind, tough luck. But the biggest difference is performance. Like most free services, this one will slow down your connection considerably.
And if you’re a CyberGhost subscriber, don’t expect to have more options in the browser extension. The only way you can take full advantage od CyberGhost’s great subscription service is by using the stand-alone application. As for the Firefox extension, it is very simplistic. Clicking the extension’s icon opens a small window where you can select your country and turn the VPN on or off. You can hardly get any simpler than that.
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NordVPN is another one of the top VPN providers with an excellent reputation for privacy and performance. Just like ExpressVPN, NordVPN’s Firefox extension requires that you subscribe to the service. The browser extension simply gives you an easy way to connect and disconnect the VPN tunnel. But unlike its competitor, NordVPN’s extension is self-contained and won’t require you to install a stand-alone client.
With a strict no-logging policy, OpenVPN traffic encryption using 256-bit AES encryption and 2,048-bit DH keys, NordVPN’s service is among the best there are. The service also has DNS leak protection enabled by default, a feature several providers don’t even have.
Your NordVPN subscription lets you use the service from six devices simultaneously, one of the highest number of allowed connections. This can be handy if you want to protect several devices. Furthermore, NordVPN has some 1191 servers spread across 61 countries.
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Hola is a peer-to-peer VPN service that’s free. It lets you access websites blocked in your country, school or company. Hola is different from other VPNs in that instead of using servers, it routes traffic from your computer through other Hola user’s computers until it gets to its destination. It uses only idle time on your computer so you won’t see any impact even though some traffic from someone else might be going through your computer. In fact, it is one of the best-performing free VPN we’ve ever seen. And it is as secure and private as a server-based VPN.
The Hola extension for Firefox lets you select from which location you want to access the Internet. This is perfect for unlocking geo-blocked websites and services. You can also stream media with this free Hola extension.
Using Hola is somewhat different from using other VPN extensions. Like others, you start it by clicking the extensions button next to the address and search bar. You then select a country among the dozens that are offered but the similarity ends there.
Hola then connects through peers to a computer in the selected country and reloads the current browser page through the VPN tunnel. The tunnel, however, is only valid for the current site. As long as you keep browsing its pages, your connection will remain secure and private but as soon as you navigate to another site, you revert back to an unsecured connection. A cool feature is that the extension remembers your connection and the next time you return to that site, it will automatically connect you through its VPN.
Last but not necessarily least, DotVPN has WiFi security, online privacy, and secure access to Facebook, Netflix, BBC, YouTube, and any website anywhere. The unlimited and free VPN service secures your connection when connected to public WiFi hotspots, cellular data networks and other public locations.
This free service offers plenty of excellent features. Among them, an optimized VPN network with unlimited speed and bandwidth, strong encryption with 4096-bit keys, integrated compression to save up to 30% of your traffic and several more.
The VPN does an excellent job of unblocking restricted sites from school, the office or a public place but won’t do much good to unlock geo-blocked sites. There is, unfortunately, no way you can choose a specific connection country with the free version. We ran some test and almost systematically connected to servers in Europe. This is definitely not a good service to unlock US content.
Another drawback we found with the service is that it installs a background application that runs outside of your browser and sets it to launch automatically at system startup. However, this is not much different from some other VPN extensions that require an external, stand-alone client to be installed.
Overall, it is a very good free VPN service that, despite its limitations works very well. It also has minimal impact on performance. We ran some network speed tests with and without the secured connection and the difference we measured was minimal, of even noticeable.
Having a VPN client right within your browser is extremely convenient. After all, it is mostly when browsing that we need to use a VPN. And with some Firefox extensions automatically starting the VPN, you’re protected against your own forgetfulness. We’ve introduced you to five of the best VPN extensions you can find for Firefox. All of them will give you a decent level of privacy and security. Some will even do it for free, it’s well worth trying, isn’t it?
And talking about trying, have you tried any of our suggested Firefox extensions? Which one is your favourite? What do you like best about it? We love to hear from our readers. use the comments below to share your experience.