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What is the Best Desktop Browser to use for Security and Privacy Online?

Updated on Jul 9th, 2019
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To understand what desktop browser security and privacy means, we will have to take a deep look into each browser and compare all the pros and cons of each major browser being used in today’s world. We will be looking into Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Brave, Vivaldi, and Tor Browser. To take online security seriously you will need to change your old habits of how you browse online and what steps you take to protect yourself. Recently privacy concerns on the internet has made more people aware of what information is being collected on them as they browse around visiting their favorite sites, blogs, stores, and social media platforms. We’ll show you how each one of these browsers hold up to our security and privacy checklist, then you can make your own decision on which one is right for you.

I would like to point out that no matter what browser you are using, it’s also a good idea to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for when browsing online. There are a lot of choices out there for VPN service, just make sure you read up on their log policy before you sign-up and see what else they offer. You can see some of the Best VPN Services we have reviewed and give you a breakdown of their features. A VPN will give you that extra layer of security and privacy while visiting websites that collect your information.

Incognito / Private Mode Browsing

What is incognito / private mode browsing and what does it do for me? Well lets just say that it’s not all that people think it is. First of all, when you are in private mode, you are not invisible on the internet. incognito mode only means that your current browser session will not be logged as in no temp files will be kept, cookies will be deleted once the browser is closed and advertisers can’t follow you as much. Please don’t think since you are in incognito mode that Google or Facebook can not track your movement. This mode does not hide your location from websites, you would need some kind of a VPN Service to be able to hide your ip. The incognito mode will also not shield you from your employer tracking the sites you visit on a company network computer. You can read more about the overestimate of protection people think incognito mode offers in this recent research. Please don’t think that using incognito mode makes you untrackable on the internet, use caution when in that mode and understand what you could and should use incognito mode for.

Before we get into all the details for each browser, here are some rules you should always follow for best security practices. 

Never Allow Your Browser to Save Your Passwords
I know at times it can be very difficult to remember all the usernames and passwords of the sites you have signed up for but there is a simple solution for this problem. They are called “Password Managers”, and they help secure up all your passwords to the different websites. Most also offer some kind of two-factor authentication for logging into the manager itself.  There are a lot of them out there so I will only give you a short list of the ones you can look into using.

  • LastPass
    • This one is one of my favorites to use. Very simple and very secure. Lots of key features in their paid version. Free and Paid versions. Mobile App.
  • 1Password
    • Another one of my favorites. Used by big companies. Very simple to use. Free and Paid versions. Mobile App.
  • Keeper
    • Nice online interface and very streamlined setup.
  • Dashlane
    • Simple and robust. Free and Paid versions. Mobile App.

Two-Factor Authentication
Make sure you always use multi-factor authentication on any of your websites that offers it. This is an easy way to make sure your accounts are safer from password hacking. Some financial website even require it to be used with a mobile phone. Main thing you should always set for two-factor authentication is your emails, as all hacking start at your email and they can reset the passwords to all your other accounts with access to your email.

Be Cautious of Browser Syncing of Data
We all know it's neat to sync all your data from one browser device to another, but just understand how this works. Your data is not sent from one device to the other, its sends all your data up to the vendors servers and back down to the other device once sync is over.

Don’t Enable Autocomplete
Everyone loves how the browser auto fills their forms for them when they visit a website that requires information to be filled in a form, but be careful. You might end up saving very highly sensitive information without even knowing it and if you visit a site with a not secure form, your information might be filled without you even knowing about it.

Always Keep Your Browser Up to Date
Make sure you always check your browser and keep it up to date with the latest version releases. This will keep you more secure as security weaknesses and frequent issues are always patches and fixed often. This doesn’t mean there isn't any issues with the browser you're using but it will help keep most of the newly found issues fixed quickly.

Use Caution with Installing 3rd-Party Plugins and Extensions
Don’t just install extension that you think you might need. Make sure you have a use for it before you install them. Always make sure it is made by a reputable developer, never install them from outside the browser extension store. Also check your extensions periodically for updates because some developers are always fixing issues, closing holes, and adding new features to them.

Block Pop-ups and Scripts
Pop-ups have always been used to promote some sort of product. It’s another way advertising companies use browser to force you to look at their ads. 3rd-Party scripts running on website sometimes are there just to collect more information about their visitors for advertising purposes. There is never a good reason to have 3rd-party scripts running on a site unless it’s collecting something.

Here is our checklist of items we will be looking into for security and privacy in each browser. It is also very important to mention that you should always keep your browser Up to Date.

 

  • Browser Security Checklist
    • Well known company behind browser
    • Plugin/Extension Community size
    • Malicious script blocking
    • Fingerprinting protection
    • HTTPS Everywhere
    • Cookie Control
    • Default Search Engine
  •  
  • Browser Privacy Checklist
    • Cookie Control
    • Install 3rd-Party Plugins
    • Incognito Mode
    • Ad Blocking
    • Analytics Collection 


Google Chrome - [
Main Site]

According to W3Counter, Chrome’s user base had been climbing steadily since June 2012 at an extremely fast rate up until about January 2019 when Google announced that they will be disabling all ad-blocking plugin functionality from their browser. So it seems a lot of people are starting to jump ship and try other more secure browsers.

So on that note, let’s dive into Chrome’s Security and Privacy pros and cons.

If you are working at an organization with some kind of internet browsing management like GSuite, then it’s a no brainer to use Google Chrome. It is very robust, clean, fast running / loading and the extension community is humongous. With Chrome, you are automatically logged into all your GSuite applications with a simple profile login that’s built right into Chrome.

Chrome as we all know is made by Google and was launched back in September 2008. Since its first release, people weren’t ready to give up Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Mozilla’s Firefox just yet. Since then, Chrome has grown and taken a dominating market share over all other browsers. According to W3Counter and StatCounter, Chrome has a dominance of 55% to 68% of the browser user market.

You get to search Google’s Chrome Web Store for all types of extensions. While most of them are made and kept up by reputable companies or individuals, make sure you know that by installing a browser extension, you are giving that company permission to either track, log and sometimes share certain browsing behaviors. Most of the extensions in the Chrome Web Store will track your movement with some kind of an analytics program in order for their extension to work. If you do use extensions, make sure you disable them on certain websites like financial or shopping sites. In the settings of Chrome under the extensions, you can change the individual settings for each extension. You should also disable them in Incognito Mode, otherwise what would be the point of Incognito.

Chrome’s Default Search Engine is (I'll give you one guess as to which it’s set too), That’s right, it’s Google.com, but Chrome does make it easy to change it to any other search engine you like. I google all the time for everything, but one up and coming player in the security and privacy block has been DuckDuckGo.com. We will talk about them in more detail later on.

As far as the other items in our security checklist, Chrome doesn’t have anyway of changing settings for those items. You would need to search and install extensions to be able to do those tasks for you in Chrome. I personally don’t mind extensions as they do help with being more productive and simplifying tasks online, but I also hate having to install and run a bunch of extension that eat up computer resources just to do simple HTTPS Everywhere or Website Cookie Control tasks.

For privacy, Chrome has slipped a lot over the last few years, collecting more and more stats on its user base and behaviours. You really don’t get any type of advanced control over the stats being collected by the browser on you. Most of the things you want to change in Chrome will require you to install a 3rd-Party extension to be able to do it. And to top it all off, Google announced they are removing the ability for Ad-Blocker extensions to work in the near future, only their “Premium” clients will be able to block ads with extensions. The most popular of the extensions are uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus, both of which according to Google will not work in the new Chrome called “Manifest V3”. A lot of people are starting to look for alternatives due to this big change in Chrome.

It’s safe to say Google’s Chrome is still a good browser for the average user but if you want more control and less eyes on what you do online, I would look elsewhere.

 

Mozilla Firefox - [Main Site]

Firefox has lost a lot of its user base to Chrome over the last 5 years or so as have all the other browsers. Firefox launched in September 2002 and was about the same as Microsoft’s IE/Edge is regards to market share. Firefox has been around since the beginning of it all, right after Netscape Navigator in the late 90’s. They have made the browser much faster than before and less of a resource hog like it used to be. With all the bells and whistles Firefox has, let's look at what it does for Security and Privacy. 

Firefox extensions was ever growing up until version 57 when they decided to change the framework that extensions can be created in, to run on Firefox. This was called WebExtensions, and it was going to make it so when a new version of Firefox was released, the extensions would not break and also made them more safer and secure by changing over to the new framework. What this meant was that all the Legacy Extensions that hadn’t been redone in the new framework would stop working once you had upgraded to Firefox 57. It took a while for most developers to sit there and redo their extensions as the community requested it, but I would say whatever extension you're looking for, you will be able to find it on both Firefox and Chrome.

With the new version of Firefox, they have added in some pretty nice Security and Privacy measures. In the settings menu, you have a whole section called “Content Blocking” which is where you are going to set how you want the browser to handle 3rd-party content that tracks you around the web. You can go with Standard, Strict, or Custom. This will let you set to block Trackers, Cookies, Cryptominers, and Fingerprinters. They have really stepped up their game in helping user control themselves online.

Also starting in version 67, Firefox has changed the default permissions of Extensions, so now by default they will not run in Private Browsing Mode. You will need to go into each extension’s details and give it permission to run in private mode as this is a very big security and privacy risk. I personally try not to run extensions in private mode because I don’t want to leave a track record of that session on any of the extension I have currently installed.

When it comes to ad-blocking, Firefox has a lot of the popular extensions that will handle that no problem, but again just like Chrome, Firefox does collection analytics data on its users and sends it over to Mozilla. For the most part, Firefox is an awesome browser and lately has been taking users Security and Privacy more seriously.

 

Microsoft Edge - [Main Site]

The Edge browser hasn’t really been a go to browser for the average online user, in fact if Microsoft didn’t have that installed by default on the Windows operating system, not sure if many people would even download it for home use. Microsoft had Internet Explorer which started up in 1995, but after the final release of version 10, they went with a more slick and embedded browser called Edge which came out in 2015. It’s lightweight as far as browsers go, but what you can control for Security and Privacy is a different story. Microsoft as we all know has been around since the dawn of the personal computer and has always had a hand in shaping what we do with our computer and how we use it. Microsoft’s Windows Operating System has over 78% of the desktop market share worldwide according to StatCounter. In December of 2018, Microsoft announced that it will be rebuilding it’s Edge Browser on Google’s Chromium Engine and will be available for Windows 7, 8, and 10 in 2019.

For Security and Privacy settings on the Edge browser, there isn’t really much you can change or do other then turning on “Do Not Track” request and having Cortana assisting you with requests. You might be able to change some more things if you find the right Extension in the Microsoft Store. You will still be able to find a lot of useful extensions like for Firefox and Chrome as most of the popular developers have remade their extensions for Edge. One thing that Edge does really well is integrate with Microsoft Office 365.

The Edge browser also works well for home security when it comes to controlling based on profiles. If you have family members or employees and need to be able to control what they can do online, Edge lets you lock down the browser and take control of the sites those users can visit. 



Apple Safari - [Main Site]

Safari, released back in 2003 for the Mac OS X desktop operating system and since then has been the main browser for all of Apple’s devices like the popular iPhone and iPad and of course the Mac OS X. As we all know, Apple is a pretty powerful player in the online world and that might be why Safari has a user market share of around 15% which is second to Google’s Chrome. Unfortunately, you can only use the current version of Safari on Apple operating systems only. The good news is that it comes packed with a lot of Security and Privacy features.

Safari ships with a lot of default prevention’s to keep you safe and secure with your privacy in mind. Right off the top, Apple has added an “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” which will stop the tracking of your online behaviour by blocking embedded content such as Like Buttons, Share Buttons, and Comment Widgets from logging and relating that information to its owners. 

Safari also loads website into what is called “Sandboxing”, which is basically loading each website into its own process so if malware was to try and affect your computer, it will only crash that tab and not your browser or computer. It is basically isolating each website into its own little browser isolated from the rest of the computer. If that’s not enough, Safari will also protect your from harmful website by default by checking the site and if it looks suspicious or harbors and type of malware, it will prevent the browser from loading the website and give you a warning.

Another defense is the privacy arsenal of Safari is the “Fingerprinting Defense” that Apple has added into the browser. This will prevent websites from tracking your characteristics of your device and your browsing habits and reporting it to other advertisers. Safari puts a stop to this by only giving the data companies a simplified system profile which makes it difficult for them to identify and track you online.

This browser also offers you a Private Browsing feature which doesn’t remember the pages you visit or keeps a search history on the computer or any autofill items. For added protection of privacy, you can even use the built-in search engine called DuckDuckGo.com which makes your web search even more private.

 

Brave - [Main Site]

Launched on January 2016 by Brave Software, is a free and open-sourced web browser that is based on the Chromium framework. Brave comes with built-in protection for ad-blocking and privacy. They are a fairly new company but have been making headway in the browser market. The browser is supported on Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, and iOS. One of the advantages of a browser that is based on the Chrome fork Chromium is that all your favorite extensions on Chrome can be downloaded for Brave as well. While it is built on top of the Chromium backend, it is hard to see stats publicly as too how much of the market share it has since the Useragent of the browser shows up as Chrome.

For security and privacy, Brave has a lot of nice features already built-in the browser by default. It comes with an ad blocker that is active from the start and it gives you global protections for all types of ad networks across the internet. They have also added in, Fingerprinting protection, Cookie Control, Always HTTPS, Script Blocking, and you can even set different levels of protection on your favorite sites other than the global settings. This is all in their section called “Shields” where you can fully take control of each setting. You can also do some Social Media Blocking, where you can block those “Login with Facebook or Google” buttons. Those pesky buttons not only make it easy to log in to a site but they are also keeping a track record of where you go and what you do and have done. More security features include Clearing Browsing Data, Built-in Password Manager, and “Do Not Track” requests. 

By default, Brave uses Google for its search, but this can be easily changed to one of five different popular search engines. You can change from Google to DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Bing, and StartPage. It also has 2 different “Private Window” versions; One gives you a simple private incognito mode Brave browser which sets all your Security and Privacy settings high; Second is a Tor Browser built right into Brave, where you can use the Tor Exit Nodes to browse the internet anonymously with Tor. If you don’t know what Tor is, head over to their site at Torproject.org and give it a read.

Overall, Brave is a good alternative to Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox with some added bonus feature to take control of your privacy online. You can read more about their features here.

 

Vivaldi - [Main Site]

Here is another browser that is based off the Chromium project. It is a free cross-platform browser developed by a company that was funded by Opera. It officially launched April 2016. The people behind Vivaldi are co-founder and former CEO of Opera, Jon Stephenson von Tetzcher and Tatsuki Tomita. Vivaldi has been gaining some momentum in the browser market as more people are more aware of their Security and Privacy while the browse their favorite websites. Vivaldi is your very basic looking browser on the outside but under the hood, it does have some decent features and being actively developed means that new features are always in the works.

Vivaldi stats on their website that they do not track how the browser is used and no data collection is done on your browsing. You can tweak some of the main privacy and security settings for the browser which includes Google Phishing and Malware Protection, turn on “Do Not Track” requests, and turn off Broadcasting IP in WebRTC which is another security hole. If you sync your data between other devices using Vivaldi, they state that all your data in encrypted from end-to-end on the device using a password before it is sent to the other device.

In private browsing mode, nothing is logged. The websites you visit, the cookies and temporary files from that session are not stored in Vivaldi. Some of the other browsers do log some browsing habits when in private mode so it’s important to understand the privacy settings when in Private browsing mode.

 

Tor Browser - [Main Site]

The Tor Browser also known as “The Onion Router” Browser was developed and first used by the U.S. Navy that would allow the user to browse through the internet anonymously. The way this works is that once you are on the tor network, your traffic is routed through different servers around the world which is also encrypted. If a website or anyone wants to know where the traffic is coming from, all they will see is the ever growing list of tor exit nodes. In order to use this totally anonymous network, you will need to download the Tor Browser.

Security and Privacy is the number one concern of the non-profit company behind the Tor Browser. The browser blocks trackers by default. It isolates each website when your browsing so there is no more following you with the use of cookies for ad purposes or anything else. All your cookies are automatically cleared when you are done and close your browser along with the history of the sites you have visited in that session.

Tor Browser also uses anti-fingerprinting tactics to make sure you can’t be identified based on your browser or any other information from you. Multi-Layered encryption makes sure your traffic to the internet is relayed and encrypted three times over while you are browsing.

The biggest drawback from using Tor is that a lot of sites do block tor traffic so some of your favorite website might not allow you access. You can use out tor exit node checker to see for yourself. The exit nodes are run by volunteers that setup Tor relays servers for the public to use, but again nothing is logged or can be seen by them.

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