Most Secure Web Browsers - 2019

A web browser is your gateway to the internet — and a gateway into your devices and network. If your browser isn’t secure, attackers can access your system, exploit your privacy and steal your personal and financial data.

Cybercrime grows more sophisticated by the day. A secure browser must defend against a wide variety of security and privacy threats, including:

  • Phishing scams.
  • Malicious web content.
  • Intrusive tracking practices.

However, some web browsers are much more secure than others. Here’s what you should expect from a secure web browser:

  • Secure design — For web browsing to be secure, developers must integrate security measures into the architecture of their browser software.
  • Security features — Users should have access to optional advanced security and privacy features.

  • Regular updates — A secure browser requires an active team of developers responding quickly and effectively to any reported security issues.
  • Privacy protection — Security and privacy go hand-in-hand. You should be able to trust your browser to keep your online activity private.
  • Usability — Even if a browser is completely secure, it shouldn’t be slow, awkward, or buggy. 

What makes a web browser secure?

Secure browsers use many security tools and privacy features to keep you safe online. 

Sandboxing

Sandboxing involves running an application in isolation. If malware infects the application, or if a piece of code wants to access secure parts of your device, it can’t do so without first escaping the sandbox.  

Browsers are a key entry-point for malware. Malicious websites run scripts that seek to damage your hardware and steal your data. 

A good browser loads websites in a sandbox. A sandbox ensures that, even if the browser lets malicious code run, that code will be restricted to the browser. 

HTTPS upgrading

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. A secure web browser automatically upgrades websites to HTTPS where possible, meaning that your connection to most sites will be private and encrypted.

HTTP is what makes most communication over the web possible. HTTP responds to user requests and transfers data from websites to users. HTTPS encrypts traffic flowing to and from a website, making it less prone to interception (so-called “man-in-the-middle attacks”). 

Not all sites have made the shift yet to HTTPS yet. But in October 2019, the proportion was around 80 percent

Active content protection

Active content lets your browser display audio and video integrated into web pages, It includes software based on Java, Adobe Flash, Silverlight, etc. 

Active content can enable certain elements of a web page to function properly — but it can be a security threat. Active content can act as malware: logging your activity, accessing sensitive parts of your system, or installing unauthorized software on your device.

Many browsers are stopping support for the use of plugins, particularly Adobe Flash. A secure browser should block most active content by default.

Phishing protection

Phishing is where someone tries to obtain another person’s sensitive information online by fraudulently earning their trust. 

Most browsers include some protection against a type of phishing called “domain spoofing,” where criminals set up fake websites to trick people into giving up their personal information. Effective domain spoofing protection prevents you from visiting fraudulent sites. 

A 2019 study by Venafi looked at the websites of 20 major online retailers to determine the extent of the domain spoofing problem. Venafi found that for every genuine web page belonging to these retailers, there were more than 200 fakes.

Tracking protection

Businesses harvest data about you by observing your online activity, IP address, and browsing history — even your bookmarks. Tracking protection guards your online privacy. 

Although privacy and security aren’t the same thing, they overlap in many respects.

Many secure browsers contain in-built ad and cookie blockers. Blocking ads matters for privacy. Advertisers can use technology such as cookies and web beacons to gather and collate large amounts of information about you.

Fingerprinting protection is also common in privacy browsers. Fingerprinting lets websites identify your device by observing its unique characteristics — much like the police might identify you by taking your fingerprint. Browsers can prevent this by blocking JavaScript.

How to stay secure online using any browser

Any of the secure browsers on our list will keep users safe online. And there are certain other techniques and privacy tools that will enhance privacy even further:

  • Incognito Mode — A private browsing window will mask your identity to some extent. It lets you browse without cookies, browsing history, or signed-in accounts for the length of that session.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) — Many VPN providers offer a browser add-on that lets you mask your IP address and location with a single click.
  • Ad-blocker — Ad blocking browser extensions stop pop-ups and ads to make your online experience faster, and also protect your privacy by blocking cookies and other trackers.

1. Brave: Best all-round secure browser

Brave browser lets you browse the web with security, privacy, and speed. 

Brave turns security settings up high. It uses Chromium, Google’s open-source browser, which integrates strong sandboxing techniques. Brave also features automatic HTTPS upgrading and turns off plugins by default.

Brave’s primary focus is privacy. It excels at blocking ads and tracking cookies — the main threats to online privacy. Brave even lets you open private browsing tabs using Tor for maximum protection.

Whereas most popular browsers allow you to install ad-blocker browser extensions, Brave blocks most automatically. Brave’s “Brave Shield” feature blocks ads, third-party cookies, and scripts with ruthless efficiency.

Brave browser 1

Brave Shields provides powerful protection against intrusive ads and tracking techniques.

This privacy-centric approach doesn’t impact on Brave’s functionality — its in-built ad-blocker is so efficient you’ll forget that third-party ads ever existed. In fact, Brave is faster than Chrome or Firefox because it blocks resource-hungry ads. 

Brave gets quick and regular updates, and its team are busy trying to ensure the browser is credible. But it’s an ambitious project, and occasionally the development team have had to trade some degree of privacy for functionality.

However, Brave is generally stable and bug-free. While blocking scripts and cookies can cause issues on certain sites, you can turn off Brave Shields easily. Brave provides a great user experience and should quickly become your favorite browser.

Pros

  • Strong security by design.
  • Maximum protection against online trackers.
  • Exceptionally fast and user-friendly.

Cons

  • Occasional bugs and controversial development choices

Is Brave browser secure?

Brave is secure by design and effectively shields you from online trackers. While some browsers provide maximum privacy at the expense of usability, Brave strikes a perfect balance between security, privacy, and functionality.


2. Tor Browser: Extremely private (but very slow)

Tor is, at its core, a network of volunteers that are dedicated to internet privacy. These volunteers run a network of around 7000 servers. Using the Tor network encrypts your web traffic three times — bouncing it across three relays, so it’s harder to track.

Tor Browser is a version of Mozilla Firefox that automatically routes web traffic through the Tor network. Tor Browser is the safest way to use Tor — in fact, the Tor Project team claim Tor Browser is the only safe way to use Tor (the team behind Brave might disagree).

Tor browser 1

Tor Browser even warns users against maximizing the browsing window for unparalleled privacy.

Tor Browser incorporates several security add-ons, including NoScript (which automatically blocks active content) and HTTPS Everywhere (which forces websites to upgrade to HTTPS). Its default search engine is the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo.

Tor Browser provides a highly private and secure online experience. But there’s a major drawback that makes it impractical for everyday use. Tor is extremely slow.

Tor Browser’s slowness is hardly surprising. After all — your web traffic is bouncing all over the world, and is triple-encrypted before it reaches its destination. But you’ll probably only want to use Tor when you’re doing something really secret online, like accessing the dark web.

Pros

  • Makes it near-impossible for anyone to spy on your web activity.
  • Incorporates some great security add-ons for additional privacy protection.
  • An important project to use and support if you care about online freedom.

Cons

  • Impractically slow for day-to-day use.

Is Tor browser secure?

Using the Tor network is the most secure method of browsing the web. And Tor Browser is the best way to access the Tor network. But while Tor Browser is secure and private, its unbearable slowness means you might not want to use it very often.


3. Epic Privacy Browser: Strong privacy through brute force

Anyone can have a small online footprint if they take certain precautions. Regularly clearing cookies, blocking ads and scripts, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) — these are all effective ways to stay private online almost using any browser.

Epic Privacy Browser takes this one step further. It maintains a secure and private session every time a user browses the web, using the following methods: 

  • It routes all web traffic through a proxy server, so websites don’t see a user’s true IP address.
  • It automatically blocks trackers and cookies, including analytics and social media widgets.
  • It clears the browsing history at the end of each session.
Epic browser 1

Epic blocks intrusive cookies and plugins automatically.

All of this means that Epic Privacy Browser lacks much of the usability of many other browsers. And it’s not just clearing the history that makes it less user-friendly — Epic doesn’t allow add-ons, so users can’t enjoy password managers, mail checkers, or other conveniences.

This can cause bugs on certain websites — but Epic does let users turn off certain filters if they experience problems, which usually works.

Ultimately, Epic Privacy Browser provides an impressively smooth browsing experience, considering how much hard work it’s doing behind the scenes to hide its users’ activity. Epic could even a primary browser for people who are serious about privacy.

Pros

  • Reroutes web traffic through a VPN to hide user location.
  • Blocks all possible tracking methods.
  • Clears history automatically after each session.

Cons

  • Lacks the convenience and ease-of-use of a regular browser.

Is Epic Privacy browser secure?

Epic calls itself “the world's only private and secure web browser.” This nearly true. Tor Browser beats Epic on privacy, and Brave beats it on user-friendliness — but Epic Privacy Browser sits confidently between the two. It’s a good choice for anyone who wants true privacy without sacrificing too much convenience.


4. Mozilla Firefox: Private and profit-free

Mozilla Firefox is a great example of what open-source, community-based development can achieve. 

Firefox’s share of internet users has fallen in recent years, partly due to Chrome’s increasingly dominant market position — but it remains the second-most popular desktop browser in 2019

Up until recently, Firefox did not have a sandbox, leading to concerns about its security. However, Mozilla introduced sandboxing to Firefox in November 2018

More recently Mozilla has introduced crypto-jacking protection to its latest version, Firefox Quantum. This stops cryptocurrency miners from using Javascript to hijack your CPU. The latest versions of Firefox also provide protection against fingerprinting.. 

Like many browsers, Firefox displays a padlock icon to let you know whether your connection is secure. However, Firefox’s padlock icon is surprisingly subtle. It’s easy to miss that your connection is unsecured.

Mozilla Firefox browser 1

Firefox’s HTTPS indicator is easy to miss, leaving you potentially vulnerable.

This aside, Mozilla provides regular updates to Firefox, ensuring that any security flaws get patched quickly. If you’re seeking a private and secure browsing experience, combined with a quick and user-friendly interface, you should still consider Firefox.

Pros

  • Excellent privacy protection.
  • In-built crypto-jacking prevention.
  • Effective sandboxing technique.

Cons

  • A flaw in Firefox’s interface means you might miss unsecured connections.

Is Firefox secure?

Mozilla wants you to be “empowered, safe, and independent” online, and it takes every possible step to make Firefox private and secure. Firefox has and effective sandbox, regular updates, and built-in protection against intrusive practices. It’s also the last bastion against Chrome’s dominance of the web browser market.


5. Google Chrome: Seriously secure (but not private)

As of late 2019, Google Chrome has a 69 percent market share rate among desktop browsers. The main reason for this is that Chrome provides a smooth and user-friendly experience. 

Chrome gets fast and regular updates, uses a strong sandboxing method, and blocks Adobe Flash by default (Flash was previously a security weakness for Chrome). And if you stray onto an unsecured web page, Chrome makes sure you know about it.

Google Chrome browser 1

Chrome gives users a clear indication that they’re visiting an unsecured website.

Google ensures Chrome users are safe from malicious third parties who wish to access their system or spy on their internet activity. But Chrome users are still vulnerable to intrusive practices — from Google and its marketing partners,

Google makes no secret about its intention to gather as much data about the world as possible. Chrome is one of the tools Google uses to achieve this. This is perhaps why Chrome lets websites place tracking cookies on your device without impediment.

It’s possible to install add-ons and extensions to make your browsing more private. But these features aren’t available on Chrome by default — mostly because they would restrict Google’s ability to learn what you’re doing online.

If you don’t care about surveillance by Google and its partners, Chrome might be the best browser ever made. But if you believe that privacy and security are inseparable, Chrome is not a good choice.

Pros

  • Very few security vulnerabilities.
  • Interface displays a clear warning if you visit an unsecured web page.
  • Many add-ons available to improve privacy.

Cons

  • Lets Google track your online activity.

Is Google Chrome secure?

Google Chrome is updated frequently and employs cutting-edge secure browsing technology. It will do a great job of defending you against cybercrime. But it doesn’t defend you against intrusion by Google itself. If you’re concerned about keeping your online activity private, Chrome is not the browser for you.


6. Microsoft Edge: Strong phishing protection

Edge is Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer. It’s not much of an improvement in terms of usability and design, but Edge is much more secure than Internet Explorer. 

Edge's Windows Defender SmartScreen does a great job of blocking malicious sites. In 2018, CA Security Council found that SmartScreen outperformed Google Safe Browsing in its independent phishing tests.

Microsoft Edge browser 1

Edge offers effective protection against phishing via its SmartScreen filter.

Edge has experienced some security issues. In 2017, for example, Microsoft introduced a back-end feature called Arbitrary Code Guard to prevent attackers loading malicious code into its memory space. The following year, however, Google’s Project Zero team found an exploit.

However, Edge runs smoothly and integrates well with Windows operating system. It receives regular updates. It’s not the best-looking or most user-friendly browser, but this may change when Edge switches to a Chromium engine.

Pros

  • Excellent phishing protection from Windows Defender SmartScreen.
  • Regular and quick updates.
  • Fast and lightweight.

Cons

  • Unattractive user-interface.

Is Microsoft Edge secure?

Although it’s not the best-looking browser available, Microsoft Edge is a major improvement on Internet Explorer in terms of security, offering the best protection against phishing. Edge is not likely to be many people’s first choice. But as the default browser in Windows, it’s reassuring that Edge is secure.


7. Safari: Secure, but not as secure as you might think

Safari is the default browser for macOS and iOS, and isn’t available as a standalone product. A Windows version was released in 2007, but it soon fell victim to various security issues and Apple discontinued it in 2012.

It might be surprising that Safari appears so far down our list of secure browsers. Apple’s well-earned reputation for good security and privacy practices suggest that Safari should be one of the most secure browsers available. But the reality is more complicated.

There have been many exploits of Safari. Apple promptly patches security vulnerabilities —  but nonetheless. they keep arising. As recently in March 2019, “white hat” (ethical) hackers managed to gain complete control of a Mac after escaping Safari’s sandbox.

Privacy activists also criticize Apple for prohibiting certain third-party ad-blockers and tracking protection extensions. Such browser extensions are an important way to stay private online. However, Apple argues that they interfere with Safari’s strong in-built privacy protection.

Safari’s privacy protection involves Intelligent Tracking Protection. This prevents websites from tracking users across sites and limits the duration of certain cookies to one day. Despite the controversy, Intelligent Tracking Protection is an innovative way to enhance privacy.

As is typical for Apple, Safari is very user-friendly. Users receive a clear warning when they visit an unsecured website, and also receive notification of whether the site owns an Extended Validation certificate (this is a good sign that a site is not a phishing website).

Pros

  • Innovative built-in tracking protection.
  • Keeps you away from unsecured websites.
  • Regular updates.

Cons

  • Questionable security record.
  • Incompatible with many privacy-enhancing browser extensions.

Is Safari secure?

Hackers have compromised Apple’s Safari browser several times. But Safari earns a place on our list for its innovative security and privacy features. Apple also provide frequent security patches, so Safari users are unlikely to have any issues so long as the browser is up-to-date.


Dishonorable mention: Microsoft Internet Explorer — The least secure web browser

Internet Explorer is not one of the most secure web browsers of 2019. It’s on this list because we need to warn you not to use it

Internet Explorer once had a staggering 95 percent of market share. But with less than 2 percent of people choosing Internet Explorer in 2019, its golden years are clearly over. 

Internet Explorer has had some deservedly bad press over the years. For example, Microsoft once left a known vulnerability for more than 600 days before patching it

And Internet Explorer is now less secure than it once was. Microsoft turned off Enhanced Protected Mode in IE 11 — reducing Internet Explorer’s ability to sandbox components and defend against certain attacks.

But most concerning of all is that Microsoft is neglecting Internet Explorer and pushing users towards its newer browser, Edge. In fact, Microsoft’s own security chief has warned people against the “perils” of continuing to use Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer browser 1

Microsoft makes no secret of the fact that it is phasing out Internet Explorer.

For an application to be secure, it requires regular updates. Microsoft hasn’t abandoned Internet Explorer completely. But it’s not Microsoft’s focus — and this means there’s no guarantee that updates will be effective or timely.

Pros

  • Still receiving security updates, however infrequent.

Cons

  • New features are not in active development.
  • Poor sandboxing capabilities.
  • Microsoft itself has advised against using it.

Is Internet Explorer secure?

Internet Explorer once ruled the web, but it’s now the least popular mainstream browser. Its security features are weak, and they won’t get any stronger. As Microsoft prepares to put the final nail in Internet Explorer’s coffin, there’s really no reason to use it.

Alex Grant
 

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