Securing yourself from Flash cookies with BetterPrivacy

Note: This post applies primarily to Mozilla Firefox.
This is the last Firefox post for a while, I promise.

Flash LSOs, sometimes called “zombie cookies” can pose a serious privacy risk to you and your computer. BetterPrivacy allows you to control them and protect yourself from untrusted, malicious, or simply unwanted ones.


What does BetterPrivacy do?

BetterPrivacy deletes Flash LSOs (Local Shared Objects) that you don’t want. It can delete them on a timer, it can delete them when you close Firefox, and it can save certain LSOs from getting deleted if you want to keep them around.

In other words, BetterPrivacy gives you control over what websites and what Flash applications get to store data on your computer, and for how long.


What’s an LSO?

A Local Shared Object (LSO) is essentially a type of cookie set only by Adobe Flash Player. However, it isn’t handled like a normal cookie. LSOs are sometimes called “supercookies” or “zombie cookies” because they don’t expire and delete themselves like other cookies do. They also are difficult to delete manually, as your browser doesn’t recognize them as normal cookies.

LSOs are more or less invisible to the average person, but they’re even worse for your privacy than normal cookies. LSOs can hold much more data than regular cookies, they can be accessed by any Flash application (it doesn’t have to be in your browser), and it’s much harder to manage them.


Are there any benefits to LSOs?

LSOs are sometimes used to store settings for Flash applications and save data for Flash games. Depending on what you do online, you might want to keep these types of LSOs, at least for a while. The default LSO also stores your Flash Player settings for all Flash applications, so it’s fairly handy to have around. Otherwise, there’s little reason to keep them.


How do I get BetterPrivacy?

BetterPrivacy is available through its page on Mozilla’s add-on site. Installation is the same as for any other Firefox add-on; click the green “Add to Firefox” button, click “Install,” and restart your browser.

The options for BetterPrivacy can be found in your add-on page, found via the puzzle piece in the Firefox menu.

The LSO Manager tab will tell you what LSOs are on your computer, and will let you delete them individually. You can also save certain LSOs from automatic deletion.

The Options and Help tab lets you set your deletion preferences and access the help for this add-on.

Congratulations, you’re now much more secure online. You don’t have to fiddle with BetterPrivacy any further unless you find an LSO you want to save (which you can do on the LSO Manager tab).



Tip of the week:
Your IT department can see everything you do online at work or school, but if you don't cause them trouble, they won't care what you're doing.

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