Your web browser knows a lot about you, and tells the sites you visit a lot about you as well -- if you let it. We've talked about which browsers are best for privacy before, and the best tools to lock your browser down, but there are also entire browsers designed to keep your data as secure and private as possible. Let's take a look at some of them.
Whether your preferred browser is Chrome or Firefox, you have a few options to help you browse more securely -- assuming you're ready to give up on the version everyone else uses and try something new. Here are some options worth trying out.
Tor is going through a rough period right now, but overall, the service is still excellent if you're looking to preserve your anonymity and privacy, and if you want to keep away from malicious tracking cookies and ads. Tor routes your traffic across a series of relays designed to keep your real identity and computer as anonymous as possible. It's not perfect and it certainly has its drawbacks, but if anonymity is your end goal, the Tor Browser (more specifically, the Tor Browser Bundle) is a great way to go.
The Tor Browser is based on Firefox, open source, and comes preconfigured to access the Tor network. The vast majority of built-in plugins and services have been disabled or stripped out, and it's important that you leave them that way, or else data you mean to keep private can leak to the sites you're visiting. Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and in portable forms for all of those, it's a great way to surf when you're using an untrusted system, want to keep your identity concealed, need to get around content filtering or site-specific blocks, or want to keep your physical location a secret from sites downstream/
Remember Tor is designed for physical and digital anonymity, not security and encryption. What you do while you're using it may give away that anonymity (such as sending emails or logging on to web services), and while communications inside the Tor network are encrypted, as soon as you leave the network, your data is in the clear (if it's not encrypted another way.)
Epic Privacy Browser is based on Chromium, is open-source, and is available for Windows and Mac. We've highlighted Epic before, and while there's genuine scepticism about the browser and its roots in Chromium (the open-source platform upon which Chrome is also based), overall Epic does what it promises. The browser blocks ads, tracking cookies, social boxes and widgets (until you interact with them), blocks tracking scripts and modules from loading (which results in faster-loading web pages), and sandboxes third-party processes and plugins. Epic Browser even encrypts your connection whenever possible (largely by shunting to HTTPS/SSL whenever it's available), routes your browsing through a proxy, and protects you from widgetjacking or sidejacking when you're browsing over Wi-Fi.
All of these features are great, and the browser itself is fast and works smoothly. Of course, it doesn't support extensions or plug-ins by design, and it's a little heavier than your normal Chrome install, but once it's up and running you shouldn't have a problem actually using it. You'll also have to give up some of the conveniences you may be used to in order to protect your privacy, such as autofill, address saving, password saving, history and cache -- all of those elements are either never stored, or deleted when you close the browser.
Comodo is an internet security company that has been in the business of protecting data for decades. Comodo develops three web browsers, and each of them offers additional protection that you won't find in a standard download of Chrome or Firefox.
Comodo Dragon (Chromium)
Comodo Dragon is a Chromium-based browser that was one of Comodo's first browsers. It incorporates a number of Comodo-branded tools into the browsing experience, such as the company's own SSL validation, where every site you visit has its SSL certificate and identity validated by Comodo. You'll receive a notification to let you know everything is OK, or if Comodo thinks the site you're trying to visit is questionable.
If you allow it to, Comodo will route all of your browsing through its secure, encrypted DNS, so you leave fewer traces of your movements around the web. Comodo Dragon also blocks third-party tracking cookies, widgets and other site components from loading. Because it's branded by Comodo, it will prompt you to use Comodo's other security products as well to complement it, which is a little ironic if you're using a privacy-focused browser in order to not be sold to all the time. It's worth noting that Comodo says that Dragon will only run on Windows 7 and below (although we had no issues with it in Windows 8).
Comodo Ice Dragon (Firefox)
Comodo Ice Dragon is another version of Comodo Dragon that's based on Firefox instead of Chromium. If you prefer the look, feel, or features of Firefox, this is the version you'll want to download. It offers the same level of protection, and like Comodo Dragon, it supports third party extensions. Also like Dragon, it will scan pages for tracking elements and malware as soon as it loads, and warn you in advance if you're about to download something malicious. It does suffer from the same drawback as Comodo Dragon though -- its branding can be a little aggressive. It supports Windows 7 and below (although again, we had no issues with it in Windows 8.)
Comodo Chromium Secure (Chromium)
Comodo Chromium Secure is a more up-to-date version of Comodo Dragon -- if you want to ditch all of the branding, keep all of the protection, and go back to basics, Chromium Secure is the browser for you (and, if you're OK with a Chromium base, the one we recommend.) It looks and behaves like Chromium, and includes all of the best features of Comodo Dragon, including the on-site malware scanning, secure DNS, SSL and domain validation, and tracker blocking. It's faster, strips out the Comodo branding (although it still suggests Comodo's additional products from time to time), and looks more like the Chrome you know and love, as opposed to a completely different and new browser.
Two Popular Privacy Browsers We Don't Recommend
These aren't the only web browsers promising to make the internet a safer place -- but they are the ones we think are worth downloading. There are a few others however that we don't necessarily recommend:
- SRWare Iron Browser: Iron Browser is Chromium based and promises to keep your data secure through all of the usual methods. The reality wasn't so pretty -- it's supposedly open source (but source code hasn't really been released for years), and the browser doesn't really offer much you can't get by tightening down Chrome's own privacy features on your own. We can't recommend it; you can read more about it in this old post about how Iron got its start, and this post about its supposed "tracking protection."
- White Hat Aviator: Aviator has been heralded by some testers as "the most secure browser," even though it's closed source. Aviator does have a lot to like -- it defaults to Incognito mode, includes tools like Disconnect to block malicious ads and third-party tracking, blocks plugins like Flash until you enable them, and defaults to DuckDuckGo instead of Google. On the surface, that's all great -- but again, it's nothing you can't do on your own, and as this Reddit thread notes, the browser has some serious issues. Some of those issues are technical, others are based on trust. Overall, it may be worth a shot, but you could roll your own Aviator so easily (and it offers less than some of the others above offer) that we can't really recommend it.
There's nothing really wrong with these privacy-focused browsers, but you do have better options available. When it comes to privacy and security, if you're not able to look under the hood and make sure that what it promises to do is all it's doing, it's generally best to stay away. Trust between a user and a platform is critical, especially when it comes to privacy.
Alternatively: Tweak Chrome Or Firefox For Privacy
If you're not keen on the idea of downloading a brand new browser, moving all of your bookmarks, extensions, and other data over to it, and starting from scratch, don't worry -- you can tweak Firefox or Chrome to be the browser you want it to be.
Of course, you can't remove some basic features like Google's built-in update engine for Chrome or Mozilla's engine for Firefox, but you can still do a lot. For example:
- Tell your preferred browser to start in incognito or private mode .
- Change the default search engine to DuckDuckGo, Startpage or Disconnect Search.
- Install a tool like Disconnect or Do Not Track Me that protects your privacy.
- Use an ad blocker like our favourite, AdBlock Plus, or previously mentioneduBlock
- Automatically clear your cache and history when you shut down your browser.
- Use HTTPS/SSL everywhere y ou can.
- Use a tool like DNSCrypt to encrypt your DNS traffic .
- Use a VPN to encrypt all of your traffic.
These are just a few steps, but if you follow them, your privacy and security should be in good shape (as long as you don't compromise it yourself.)
Even though those methods are more complicated, they're all good practices anyway, and it's better to familiarise yourself with them over the long run than trust a single application like a web browser to keep you safe -- especially if you're not sure how it keeps you safe. Still, these browsers are good starting points, and worth checking out if you're looking for a little extra protection.