Use QuickProxy for a simple proxy switch in Firefox

Switching proxy functionality on and off in Firefox can be something of a chore using the default menu interface. The QuickProxy extension eliminates the need to jump through several hoops to get to the goal.

Switching proxy functionality on and off in Firefox can be something of a chore using the default menu interface. The QuickProxy extension eliminates the need to jump through several hoops to get to the goal.

When you need to toggle proxy settings on and off a lot, the usual path through the GUI menu for proxy settings can get tedious and annoying to use. Luckily, a simplified interface for proxy management is available in the form of a Firefox extension.

The QuickProxy extension installs a small button in the browser's status bar, and this button serves as all the interface many users will need for managing proxy settings. Installation is accomplished in the usual easy manner for extensions available through the official Firefox add-ons site — just visit the page for QuickProxy and click on the Add To Firefox button.

This extension should be of particular interest to users who use OpenSSH as a secure Web proxy when they are on the road or in a coffee shop and want to use a secure proxy to protect their communications with remote Web servers rather than simply sending plaintext data across public Wi-Fi networks. When connecting to a trusted network at home or in the office, an SSH proxy may do nothing useful, but still potentially slow down the connection or consume more CPU clock cycles — but when connecting on an open wireless network at the local coffee shop it may become a critically important part of one's security procedures.

Without using something like QuickProxy, turning the proxy functionality in Firefox on and off generally involves clicking to open the Edit or Tools menu (depending on your OS), selecting the Preferences option, choosing the Advanced tab within the preferences dialog, and clicking the Settings button, before finally being able to choose the appropriate radio button to pick a proxy setup. To configure Firefox proxy functionality to use OpenSSH (or PuTTY if that is necessary), one still needs to use this dialog to set the host address and port to use for your proxy, but turning it on and off is as easy as clicking the little status bar button in the browser.

A right-click on the QuickProxy button brings up the extension's configuration dialog. That dialog presents three simple settings:

  • Select the Proxy type
  • Proxy behavior on browser launch
  • Select the icon set

To use a manually configured proxy, such as when connecting to a local SSH process that uses a remote system as a secure proxy, the Select The Proxy Type option should be set to Manual Proxy Configuration.

The options for Proxy Behavior On Browser Launch are fairly self-explanatory. You might tend to prefer Automatically Switch The Proxy On for security purposes, because this ensures that when Firefox is first started it will be initially set up to use the proxy, and you will not then accidentally send sensitive data in plain text across an untrusted network if you forget to turn the proxy on right away or if you already have some tabs automatically open every time you start the browser.

As stated in a previous article, interface design is security design. The better designed the interface for your security tools, the more likely you are to use them — to use them well, and to use them more often. The four mouse clicks needed before one even gets to see proxy configuration in the standard Firefox menu system can serve as a sufficient obstacle to ensure that some users may never actually use the proxy capabilities of Firefox, and even for those of us who would persevere and use it anyway it is nice to be able to just click once (rather than a total of five times) to turn the proxy on or off.

The fact that you have a clear, visible indicator of proxy status (on or off), in the form of the color of the QuickProxy status bar button, is a handy feature as well.

By Chad Perrin

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.