5 Most Secure Web Browsers for 2021
Your online attention is invaluable for sellers and business analysts who channel advertisements and direct their marketing efforts in your way. For their efforts to yield promising results, they need details like your real-time locations, email addresses, credit card numbers and home addresses. You start viewing targeted content that eventually influences your buying decisions. And if we call this a cycle in which producers get money against their products, you get products against your money, what did your browser get? Your browser generated millions and billions of dollars participating in this cycle while only facilitating the collection of online behavior and digital fingerprints to third-parties who buy this data to earn from advertising campaigns. While all platforms participate in this cycle to some extent, we have reviewed the 5 most secure web browsers that prioritize their commitment to protecting your privacy.
What do most secure web browsers do (and don’t do)?
And, what does this security entail?
Online security means that your personal information remains unknown to anybody except the online entity you had exchanged it with. For example, when you shop from a particular eCommerce store, you submit your phone number, address for delivery, and payment options. For your online experience to be labelled safe and secure, such information should NOT be used to micro-target you and send you product recommendations often taking the face of advertisements.
Secure browsers prevent and reduce fingerprinting, which means they do not let websites access your online behavior, which can otherwise be used to form your unique digital identity. In a conventional model, fingerprinting attempts are made on two levels:
- Device-level fingerprinting means the apps that you have installed on the phone, and especially those that have permission to access your personal information can send your private information to their database centres.
- Browser-level fingerprinting happens when websites record, retain and redirect your data (extracted via online forms, passwords and activity statistics).
While secure web browsers offer regular updates to facilitate users, they don’t force you to install risky extensions and don’t allow third-party malicious cookies to survey your online habits. Also, browsers that do qualify as secure (like Mozilla Firefox and Brave) create firewalls between social media sites like Facebook and sensitive sites like banking platforms and don’t let each other exchange your activity statistics. They don’t let annoying advertisers access your online preferences and spam you with malicious advertisements and redirects. Secure browsers do not get buggy and crash (often) while attempting to detect and prevent malware from invading your device. Remember that secure web browsers prioritize their users’ privacy and digital safety over ad revenue.
Features of a Secure Web Browser
Most secure web browsers have the following features that are exclusively created to ensure user privacy:
- Private Windows, also referred to as Incognito Mode
- DNS over HTTPS
- Regular privacy and security updates
- Privacy and Security Add-ons also called extensions
- Open-source technology
While you can check if your browser does or does not have these features, you can also read their privacy policies and terms and conditions to learn more about what information they record and how they handle your data.
List of Most Secure Browsers
Top 5 browsers are reviewed below and placed in order of their security initiatives, privacy features, popularity, data handling and user experience.
1. Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is the second popular choice of internet users. It had more than 200 million monthly active users, as suggested by the graph available on their official website, last updated on December 21st, 2020. Statistics also suggest that most users browse through Mozilla Firefox because of its efficient ad-ware extensions and prevention of digital fingerprinting. It guarantees an open-source web experience for everyone, regardless of their location. Mozilla Firefox lets a user enable DNS over HTTPS in the settings. This is an advanced privacy protocol which encrypts all the browser queries, which can otherwise be read and understood in the plain text format.
Its Quantum version makes it a faster web browser as compared to Google Chrome, which is though most popular but considered less secure. Privacy and security are parts of its motto and online freedom constitutes the basis of Mozilla’s mission. This browser is indeed the most secure browser because of the extensive list of its privacy extensions that let you spoof your email address, get temporary ones for third-party websites, block invisible trackers, and a lot more you will ever need to protect your online identity.
- DNS over HTTPS
- Open-source technology
- Tons of unique privacy extensions
- Excessive battery consumption
- Efficient ad-blocking feature
- Personalized privacy settings
- Uses HTTPS to secure unencrypted websites
- Brave’s Ad Program and BAT Rewards
Tor doesn’t top the list of most secure web browsers, but it does commit and prioritize user privacy and internet freedom. Because it uses multiple nodes to route your internet traffic, no attacker can track, identify or misuse your sensitive information. This means that Tor doesn’t allow unauthorized access to your online behaviour and does prevent digital fingerprinting. Tor, however, does not contain a complete suite of features that users often expect from a web browser because of its low speed.
Moreover, it often breaks websites and fails to load them entirely while attempting to stop data theft and malware. Though if you are using Tor Browser, you can rest assured that no online entities can forcefully insert cache files in your device to identify you. As a Tor user, you can expect to receive bug-fixing updates every now and then since it follows the security patches released by Mozilla Firefox.
- Clears cookies after each browsing session
- Uses Firefox’s updates patterns
- Prevents digital fingerprinting with NoScript
- Slow performance
4. Apple Safari
Apple Safari is the default option for mac and iOS users, though claims to be an inherently secure web browser, which makes it a better choice than Google Chrome. Like other top browsers, it also prevents digital fingerprinting using its built-in Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature, which blocks third-party cookies to prevent cross-site scripting. It is not based on open-source technology, so users never know what’s going on with their data behind the scenes. These concerns rose with a report that commented about ITP actually leaking users’ online behavior and activities. The controversy was later referred to as a mere ‘bug’ and was seemingly fixed in the recent Apple security updates.
Unlike Firefox and Tor, it does not have frequent update releases but has a list of extensions that do guarantee digital privacy. Being created and operated by the world’s biggest tech giant, we have a substantial level of trust that it does not allow data sniffing and prevents unauthorized access and malicious use of surfers’ data.
- Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)
- Only available for Apple products
5. Google Chrome
Google Chrome is the most popular browser choice for internet users, regardless of their location, devices and privacy preferences. Though not as secure and private as Firefox and Apple Safari, Google Chrome is everyone’s favourite because of its automatic updates, efficient synchronization between devices and a user-friendly interface. While it provides only limited information about its initiatives to promote digital privacy and security, which too it started only two years back, it does claim to detect and prevent malware from affecting the performance of your PC and mobile devices. It is based on a partially open-source code, which means limited scrutiny of users’ data. Google Chrome also has a conventional ‘Safe Browsing’ option in its settings which needs manual activation. Like Mozilla Firefox, one can choose to enable DNS over HTTPS to encrypt internet queries in Google Chrome.
It does have an ‘Incognito Mode’ which promises not to log user activity, but the Google Ads program makes its security promises all the more doubtful. Presence of an Ads program suggests that Google uses and processes users’ online habits and usage patterns in one or the other way and then offers analytics to advertisers who would like to approach a wider audience and maximize their revenue.
- Automatic privacy and security updates
- Safe Browsing Option and Incognito Mode
- DNS over HTTPS
- Google Ads Program
- Not an open-source browser
How to have a safe online experience with a secure browser?
Using a secure web browser is integral for a private browsing experience. But is it the only measure to practice internet safety? Definitely not!
With a secure browser, all internet users also should practice the following standards to protect their digital identities:
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots. Your data packets can be easily sniffed on such platforms and there are high chances of facing data breaches.
- If public Wi-Fi is the only network option you can avail at the moment, try not to access your banking websites, eCommerce stores, and government sites. It is usually mandatory to submit passwords, credit card details, tax numbers, social security codes, employment history, financial details. These are the most sensitive pieces of information and can be misused to advance criminal activities.
- Download and use a reliable VPN service to protect your online identity, shield your virtual location and prevent actions of digital surveillance.
- Use a strong antivirus program that detects and blocks malware, offers automatic virus scanning and doesn’t fail to counter cyber attacks.
- Enable parental controls and keep updating the whitelists and blacklists settings in your router’s MAC Address filtering configuration.
- Enable DoH.
The need to go incognito does display growing concerns about privacy and security. However, such private windows should not be the new normal; instead, there should be browsers that are predominantly safe and secure. Choosing a browser to maximize online privacy and security is a highly subjective decision. We suggest you make a wise choice based on all the parameters, pros, cons and reviews mentioned above. Everyone should have access to open and fair internet, where their digital identities are safe and can’t be manipulated for unethical and illegal purposes.