Is this week’s test pilot launch of Mozilla Private Network the moment browser VPNs finally become a must-have privacy feature?
Available as a free beta extension for desktop Firefox, initially in the US only, its arrival is certainly promising.
It’s not the first browser to offer this feature – that honour goes to Opera – but it is the one with the largest user base that promotes privacy for its own sake.
All users need to do is download the extension and sign to their Firefox account (or create a new account). Then it’s a matter of clicking on the extension’s icon in the toolbar and toggling the VPN on or off as needed.
Turning it on routes and encrypts Firefox traffic through a proxy server run by Mozilla’s partner Cloudflare, which means that visited websites can’t see the user’s true IP address or location.
This doesn’t stop websites from ‘fingerprinting’ the user in other ways, however, Firefox recently added other features that make doing that more difficult.
Still, adding a VPN to Firefox is clever because it means the privacy protection is integrated into one application rather than being spread across different services. That integration probably makes it more likely to be used by people who wouldn’t otherwise use one.
There are times when users might want to turn it off, either because the site being accessed rejects VPN connections (streaming services can be fussy) or because using it is having an impact on performance (we don’t know that Mozilla Private Network will have this effect but it’s worth keeping in mind).
Pros and cons
Turning on the VPN will give users a secure connection to a trusted server when using a device connected to public Wi-Fi (and running the gamut of rogue Wi-Fi hotspots and unknown intermediaries). Many travellers use subscription VPNs when away from a home network – the Mozilla Private Network is just a simpler, zero-cost alternative.
However, like Opera’s offering, it’s not a true VPN – that is, it only encrypts traffic while using one browser, Firefox. Traffic from all other applications on the same computer won’t be secured in the same way.
As with any VPN, it won’t keep you completely anonymous. Websites you visit will see a Cloudflare IP address instead of your own, but you will still get advertising cookies and if you log in to a website your identity will be known to that site.
Again, as with any VPN, it’s only as private and secure as the network offering the service, in this case, Cloudflare.
Cloudflare has moved into the privacy space recently, pioneering DNS resolution and privacy through its public 22.214.171.124 DNS resolution service, the 126.96.36.199 mobile app that uses it, and a proposed full VPN service called ‘Warp’ announced some months back.
These are also being used to trial a new privacy technology called DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH), which encrypts DNS traffic so that ISPs et al can’t easily see which websites users are visiting.
Not coincidentally, Mozilla has also just announced support for this in Firefox, with Google adding the same technology to Chrome too.
Should users trust this?
There’s no reason to suspect Cloudflare isn’t acting in good faith (and presumably Mozilla has done its due diligence) but through its CDN (Content Distribution Network) and DNS services, it is in the box seat for an enormous amount of web traffic already.
There’s a small caveat, however – like Mozilla, Cloudflare is a US company. That could mean having to comply with US government demands for access to data on its users, backed by the force of law.
Assuming it disposes of data as quickly as it says it does (and Mozilla gathers very little), it’s hard to see that this would be useful to the feds, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Mozilla hasn’t said when the Mozilla Private Network will be available for mobile users although when it appears it will presumably look something like Cloudflare’s own 188.8.131.52 app, perhaps built into Mozilla’s mobile privacy browser, Focus.
8 comments on “Mozilla Private Network VPN gives Firefox another privacy boost”
It’s great that browser companies are doing something to help and increase their customer’s privacy. These days it’s highly important to take additional steps to protect yourself from breaches. Personally, since I didn’t have Opera browser I chose to get Surfshark as a vpn, but I’m glad that with time they might be installed in the products we already use, thus providing additional safety.
Well written article. Thanks for the info!
So my DNS is set to Quad9. Are they goin to redirect to cloudfare?
Quad9 is not on Mozilla’s DNS-over-HTTPS list by default, so… yes.
Google is apparently going to switch you up to DNS-over-HTTPS if you are already using one of the N (N a small positive integer) services on its list, and it will keep you with the same provider. Mozilla only has 184.108.40.206 on its list so far, and it will switch you even if you are currently using a different provider for DNS-not-over-HTTPS.
There are some useful comments you mght want to look at here:
For opera one does not need to create an account. For firefox “All users need to do is download the extension and sign to their [usa] Firefox account (or create a new account)”?
Good article, but should have also covered the issue of many VPN providers keeping a log of your browsing activity. This could be a serious security risk if these logs (also occasionally called ‘digests’) are archived by the VPN provider. Pretty much all ‘free’ VPNs do this and can sell your traffic’s metadata to advertisers. For better security be sure to verify that your VPN. Provider does NOT log your browsing history.
Logging was, in fact, covered in the article: “limited logging which is discarded after 24 hours”
As an update to this story, Firefox is now rolling out a white label full-device VPN running on Mullvad.