What Is a Secure Browser?

Any type of user may want more privacy and security online. Find out more about the reasons to use a secure internet browser as well as the mainstream and independent options available to protect personal data and increase the security of any computer or device.

Privacy Versus Security

A secure browser can be useful for privacy and security purposes. Although privacy and security are often discussed in the same context, these terms mean different things when it comes to internet access. Privacy is used to describe efforts to prevent personal information from becoming compromised or available to unauthorized parties. Security is related to privacy, but is typically used to refer to threats posed by hacks, malware and other exploits.

A security breach can compromise user privacy, but so can a variety of other factors that are not overtly malicious. This is particularly the case with programs that mine browser histories or use trackers to target advertising toward users. The distinction between privacy and security is best illustrated by Google Chrome. This popular browser is very secure, in terms of identifying and avoiding malicious threats. At the same time, Chrome shares almost all user data with Google for advertising purposes.

Find out more about Chrome, the open-source Chromium browser and independent alternatives to determine which program strikes the right balance between privacy and security for your needs. Each user should assess their particular threat model, or what information they are willing to expose and to which parties, to determine which browser and add-ons or extensions will be most useful.

Google Chrome and Chromium

Google Chrome is the most popular browser for computers running Windows or MacOS as well as Android and iOS devices. This browser is very secure, but almost every action a user takes in standard or incognito mode is shared with Google. The features that make Chrome so easy to use actually compromise user privacy.

Users who are primarily concerned with security may appreciate Google Chrome and use privacy extensions. Chrome withstood exploit attempts at the Pwn2Own hacking competition in both 2017 and 2018, while other mainstream browsers such as Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox were compromised.

If you appreciate the user interface of Chrome but are resistant to sharing information with Google for advertising purposes, consider the basic open-source Chromium or an independent Chromium-based browser. Chromium is still associated with Google but does not participate in the data gathering built into Chrome. Daily security updates for this browser require manual installation.

Chromium-Based Browsers

A variety of independently developed and maintained Chromium-based secure browsers are available. Some of the most popular options include Epic Privacy Browser, Brave, Comodo Dragon, SRWare Iron Browser and Vivaldi.

Epic Privacy Browser is equivalent to a true incognito mode. This browser does not collect data and all user information and cookies are deleted after each session. All searches are private and an encrypted proxy encrypts browsing data, hides IP addresses and routes DNS requests. It may be possible for users to access blocked content from other countries. Epic defaults to Do Not Track settings and SSL connections. This browser offers built-in protection from ads, cookies, third-party widgets and trackers.

Brave is a fast and lightweight Chromium-based browser that provides integrated ad and tracker blocking and defaults to HTTPS. Private tabs feature a “Tor in the tab” feature. Users concerned with security might also consider Comodo Dragon. This program speeds load times by restricting ads, cookies and trackers, and features encrypted tunneling and domain validation technology to check the quality of SSL certificates.

SRWare Iron Browser adds a suite of security features to a Chromium-based environment. In addition to blocking ads and trackers, this program uses unique user IDs when searching or generating site suggestions through Google. Some users appreciate the sleek design and security features of Vivaldi. This secure browser boasts a customizable interface and privacy settings as well as end-to-end encryption for syncing between devices.

Mozilla Firefox

Many online security experts recommend the open-source Firefox browser over Chrome or any Chromium-based options. Users can choose from the lightweight desktop version, Quantum, or the mobile version, Focus. It is also possible to safely use older privacy and security extensions not supported by these newer versions with Firefox Extended Support Release based on Firefox 52.

Firefox offers extensive customization when it comes to settings and supports a range of add-ons. Depending on the version, users should have some ability to disable telemetry and tracking. Many independent browsers based on forks in the code rely on ESR to provide security-oriented alternatives with regular updates.

Firefox Forks

The most popular independent Firefox forks include Waterfox, Pale Moon, Tor and Cliqz. Waterfox is an open-source fork based on Firefox 56 that relies on ESR security patches. Development on this version is less active, resulting in slower security updates. The same is true of Pale Moon, which is based on Firefox 38.

Tor is a hardened version of Firefox that runs on the Tor network by default to avoid browser fingerprinting. Due to its slow speed (about 2 Mbps) and use of NoScript, this browser is only ideal for activities that require anonymity. Use of any add-on undermines the anti-fingerprinting benefits. This browser excels at privacy, but does not have the best security features.

Mozilla invested in the German company Cliqz back in 2016 and rolled out a controversial pilot program that drew on user data to populate a recommendations engine. This data was not used to build user profiles and the companies promised to bypass explicit and implicit user IDs and discard IP addresses. Cliqz is now a privacy-oriented Firefox fork and Firefox add-on with anti-tracking, anti-phishing and private search features.

Additional Internet Security Measures

Users may want to consider security add-ons or extensions depending on the browser they use and their threat model. Some of the most popular options in the web security community include Cookie Autodelete, Disconnect, DuckDuckGo, HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger, Random User Agent, uBlock Origin and uMatrix. Users of Firefox or Firefox forks may want to try Decentraleyes and NoScript.

Some secure browsers automatically delete cookies after each session. If you use a mainstream browser, consider downloading Cookie Autodelete. A popular service for blocking web trackers and malware in browsers and on mobile devices is Disconnect. DuckDuckGo is the most well-known secure search engine, and this company also makes a useful browser extension. The DuckDuckGo Privacy App provides tracker blocking and smart encryption as well as private search functionality.

HTTPS Everywhere is an add-on developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to encourage the use of secure encrypted connections wherever available. SSL features are also built into several secure browsers. EFF also offers Privacy Badger for blocking ads and trackers.

The independently-developed Chrome and Firefox add-on Random User Agent spoofs different browsers and operating systems to resist fingerprinting. uBlock Origin is another browser-based ad and tracker blocker that can be helpful for preventing Web RTC leaks. uMatrix provides more extensive control over tracking requests across websites.

Firefox users may want to use Decentraleyes to prevent tracking by content delivery networks. NoScript is an advanced Firefox add-on which allows users to customize which scripts can run. This service is likely to crash many sites in default mode.

Users should avoid using redundant add-ons, as this may break websites or slow speeds. Most privacy experts recommend incremental installation and customization so users can tell what is working and make adjustments.

Increase Your Privacy and Security Online

All of these tools make it easier for users to access the internet safely. In order to increase security, users should also consider using a virtual private network. Compare the features of VPNs to determine the best solution for your threat model.

A secure browser is a good starting point for users of any skill level. Learn more about ways to protect personal data and prevent security exploits online.