The MacTribe team and I are big fans of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who are essentially the defenders of digital privacy and free speech across the internet. I’ve even got an EFF sticker plastered over my camera (paranoid much?)
If you’ve landed on this page, you’re probably familiar with the growing concerns around safety and privacy when online. We may only be a micro team of mac support nerds in a small office, but we’ve seen our fair share of cyber breach attempts and it got me thinking…
Which browser is the most secure? Who is taking privacy seriously these days?
As EFF points out, we’re in a time where technology is moving faster than governments can change the laws, especially when it comes to how your data is used and stored. While EFF is fighting the battle in courts and around the world, it’s up to you and I to protect ourselves as much as we can by choosing the tools that take privacy seriously.
It’s not to say that it’s all bad news, but maintaining your privacy online is a pro-active effort, and the tools you use play a big role.
In this article, I’ve put together a list of the 12 best browsers (from worst to best) which take security and privacy seriously. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, and some are a little crazy too.
Let’s jump right in!
Hailing back to older versions of Windows, you may have used Internet Explorer which came as the standard built-in browser. Microsoft Edge is the latest version which replaces Internet Explorer, however because of its infrequent update schedule, it’s clear security and privacy are not at the forefront of Microsoft’s mind.
Considering most other browsers are receiving monthly or faster updates, Edge really falls behind, especially considering how quickly things change on the internet.
Edge does include some security and privacy features, like blocking pop-ups and enforcing ‘do not track’ requests, but, you’d expect any browser worth its weight to do the basics. One good feature is their sandboxed environment which limits the damage an infected website could do to the larger operating system environment.
The main issues with Microsoft Edge is a lack of features, it’s not widely adopted and there aren’t that many plugins or extensions you can install which further protect your privacy. This is definitely not a security-centric browser, and of course, the only developers who have access to the source code are employed by Microsoft so it’s impossible to know what may be running in the background. Edge is available for MacOS, iOS, Windows and Android.
So is Microsoft Edge worth using? I’d say definitely not.
As with a lot of the other independent browser versions out there, Opera includes a number of features which are important for security. For example, fraud protection, anti-malware and script blocking to name a few. Opera is based on Chromium with a regular monthly update schedule.
Opera is trying to up the competition by including a free built-in VPN, but because all your data is funneled through their service, I’d be concerned with how legitimate your privacy really is. Opera is operated and owned by a company based in China, which as governments go, tend to have questionable practices on digital privacy.
It should be assumed that your data is being collected and shared with third parties, and although it’s possible to tweak different settings to enable more stringent privacy, it’s a little concerning that these features are not turned on by default or even effective.
Opera is available for Mac, Linux, Windows, iOS and Android but is definitely not worth using in my books.
Google Chrome is arguably one of the most popular browsers out there, it’s easy to use while also having a ton of customizable options. Google is constantly making changes, which makes this one of the more cutting edge browsers when it comes to update frequency.
In terms of privacy, Google is known to bend the rules when it comes to data collection, and that’s because Google’s business model is profiling their huge userbase for targeted advertising.
Although Chromium (discussed further down) is open source, Google Chrome is not and therefore there isn’t any way to know how private your data really is, or how your browsing is tracked across websites. If you’re willing to put some time into it, there are a lot of settings that can be changed for more security and privacy. There are also a lot of extensions available which can ensure a more private and secure experience, but it might take a lot of research to know which are the most effective and which actually do the opposite.
So is Google Chrome worth using? Depends on your knowledge and experience, and I’d say there are a lot of better options further down the list worth checking out. Chrome is available on Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android.
If you’re more of a ‘do it yourself’ kind of user, Chromium has a lot of appeal. It may have started as Google’s pet project, but because it relies on a wide range of programmers who contribute to the source code, it’s far less likely to share the same qualities as Google’s official version.
As you might expect, open source projects are a constant work in progress which means tweaking different settings and manual customizations to get the best out of its abilities. It’s suited to users who love to tweak things and have the time to do the right research.
Chromium has an incredibly fast development cycle, you’d likely find new updates and releases almost every day. Faster than any other browser out there, by a mile. But, it’s definitely not the most ‘plug and play’ option available. The updates, for example, require manual installation which means keeping an eye out for new releases as they come out.
And because we can’t just have nice things anymore, inexperienced users should be wary of the many exploited chromium browsers out there which are not part of the official release. Chromium is available on Mac, Windows, Linux and Android.
While probably not on the scale of Google’s infringements, Apple has caught some negative press in the past for collecting data through their browsers. Even so, on the face of it, Safari does impress with its built-in features, and it’s possible they’ve turned a new leaf on ensuring privacy – who knows?
While not huge features on their own, Safari includes a lot of interesting controls and tools, for example, a built-in password generator, private browsing tabs, anti-fingerprinting tools and separation through sandboxing individual tabs to prevent malicious code from executing. Even the small addition of DuckDuckGo as the default search provider when browsing privately is a nice touch.
Safari is partially open source through its framework, but most of the interface and features are locked behind closed-source development, which means little to no assurance of what is going on behind the scenes.
Apple’s questionable participation in a government funded project called PRISM (run by the NSA) also adds to the mystery of whether or not your browsing history is truly private. Safari is unfortunately limited to Apple-based operating systems, so no versions available for Windows or Android.
FreeNet is an ultra-secure browser utilizing its own custom p2p platform, which means it uses a decentralized network and encrypted communications. This is especially useful when you require a high level of anonymity and confidentiality, but not all that useful if you’re hoping to access the wider internet.
The primary aim of FreeNet is to give journalists or censored individuals a safe place to share files anonymously, it splits and stores data across multiple nodes to insure files and communications cannot be infiltrated. As you may expect, having to deal with multiple locations on upload and download does mean slower performance than you may get when using a standard browser.
The p2p network works with both OpenNet and DarkNet connections. OpenNet is based on randomized connections whereas DarkNet relies on connections which are known or which have previously shared public keys, but both can be used together. FreeNet is limited to FreeSites rather than being able to access the common internet and is designed to provide advanced users with a way to communicate when in a high risk scenario.
Unless you’re planning on releasing incredibly sensitive data to the world, FreeNet may be completely overkill for your requirements, and therefore, isn’t one I’d recommend for the occasional user. FreeNet is available on MacOS, Linux and Windows.
Vivaldi’s goal is to provide the ultimate privacy experience which is why it includes a whole lot of customizable settings, for example, choosing separate search engines for private and regular browsing, automatic clearing of browser history for set periods of time and all the privacy standards you’d hope for in other browsers.
Vivaldi is based on Chromium but elevated in all the right areas. It’s compatible with most chrome browser extensions and performs encrypted syncing between devices with a password that only you know about.
Because Vivaldi is fairly new in the market place, they haven’t quite gotten around creating an iOS version yet, but there is a fully functional Android app with all the syncing tools needed already built in. Desktop versions are available for Apple, Windows and Linux and is definitely worth exploring.
Where most browsers are utilizing Chromium as a foundation, Waterfox goes in the direction of Firefox’s open source code. It’s the self-described indie web alternative with a pretty big fanbase of users.
Launched in 2011 by Alex Kontos (16 year old student at the time), his primary focus was to produce the fastest browser, but Alex is now on a mission to ensure that his product is also the most ethical out there.
Firefox is a powerhouse in its own right, but it does contain a bit more bloat with the addition of features like Pocket. Like with all big browser organizations, Firefox collects telemetry on its users for various reasons (which is not a wholly bad thing). Waterfox strips all that away, and has removed any functionality which reports back to Mozilla or anyone else.
Waterfox isn’t updated as often as Firefox, but it certainly has a lot of great privacy features worth exploring and features which no other browsers offer. It’s not our number one choice but still gets a thumbs up from us. Waterfox is available on Windows, Linux and MacOS.
Brave hasn’t been around all that long, but it’s quite an inventive approach to the many Chromium-based options out there. It’s stripped back to deliver a faster performance (reportedly 3x to 6x faster), but also aims to deliver a more privacy-focused product overall.
For example, you’ve got a built-in password manager, private browsing with TOR, automatic HTTPS enabler and ad blocking by default, along with all the other important privacy tools you’d expect. Being an open source project, there is more scrutiny by the developer community, which is a good thing.
Brave is unique in its approach because it’s found a way to monetize without compromising personal data. Their USP is a ‘rewards’ program for viewing ‘privacy respecting ads’, but it’s something you can choose to opt-out from. Whether or not this is a good thing is yet to be decided, but on the face of it – it’s one of the more exciting security-focused projects out there worth exploring.
So is Brave a browser worth trying out? Yes. It has a long list of positives and doesn’t require too many tweaks to get everything set up from the start. Brave is available on MacOS, iOS, Linux, Windows and Android.
Famously featured in news headlines thanks to the likes of Edward Snowden, Tor’s reputation for privacy is well documented around the world. Tor stands for ‘The Onion Router’ which uses thousands of randomized relays to anonymize and hide traffic, meaning that your location cannot be known.
Tor’s design is focused on protecting privacy which is why all the pre-installed settings are set up identically for all. If everyone looks the same, then fingerprinting a single person is impossible. This is why simple stuff, like increasing or decreasing the default browser window size is not recommended. In fact, changing any settings or adding any plug-ins whatsoever could mean compromising the way it works.
It has a few other drawbacks. It’s incredibly slow to use because traffic is bouncing through thousands of relays. Tor is also blocked by a lot of ISP’s, search engines and even entire countries, which means a large population of people can’t use it.
But, despite the negatives, it’s one of the most locked down browsers out there. The relay network is notoriously difficult to infiltrate and although it’s designed primarily for average users who wishes to remain anonymous, it’s highly adopted by criminals too which doesn’t help those who desperately need it.
So should you use Tor as an everyday browser? I’d say not unless you’re ultra-paranoid and have the technical knowledge to ensure it’s working as intended. Even as I write this, my ISP won’t even let me visit the Tor website! Tor is available on Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and Android (there is also a variant called ‘Onion Browser’ available for iOS).
As the name suggests, Epic is the extreme privacy enforced chromium with every possible protection setting turned on by default. It doesn’t rely on any input from you, it works straight out of the box to implement the highest level of privacy available (unless you fancy running TAIL’s OS which is the most secure linux operating system and operating system built into one)
Epic’s features are extensive and well implemented. For example, comprehensive ad blocking, no tracking on any level, no address bar pre-suggests or URL checks, automatically deleting all history on close, the list goes on and on. If you’re using a third party VPN, you’d think your IP address is protected, but a lot of browsers leak information through certain types of WebRTC calls – Epic ensures these leaks are blocked too.
Their magic weapon is the pre-built encrypted proxy which hides your IP (so no additional VPN required), encrypts your browsing, ensures your browsing history is not cached on any DNS servers and a whole lot more. As long as you don’t add any random extensions or plug-ins, the default settings are as good as it gets when it comes to security and privacy.
So is Epic the browser for you? It’s based on Chromium which means there is no telling what Google has built in, and the development is closed-source which means there isn’t any way to know the reality behind the marketing, but on the face of it – it’s definitely a worthy 2nd place contender in our books. I’d definitely say yes. Epic is available for Windows, MacOS and Android.
In first place, our favorite browser is Firefox for a lot of reasons. It may not be as extreme as Tor or Epic which are developed by much smaller teams, but because of its large community and highly scrutinized open source code, developers all over the world keep a watchful eye to ensure it remains untainted by hidden features which negate privacy.
It’s highly secure considering its place in the major marketplace, including features like private browser tabs which protect against infectious code execution, tracking, pop-ups and fingerprinting. Any features which you prefer not enabled, for example, telemetry which feeds information back to Mozilla or Pocket can be turned off.
There are a long list of additional plug-ins available to add more security layers, and it’s available for just about every mobile and desktop operating system out there.
So should you use Firefox? If you’re looking for a decent level of protection while still keeping within the mainstream, it’s the best one out of the bunch. Sure, it’s not perfect or nearly as privacy-focused as Epic or Tor in comparison, but it does a great job for the masses and it’s super simple to use. Firefox is available across the board for MacOS, iOS, Windows, Linux and Android.
Although Firefox is the MacTribe team favorite, it’s worth diving into some of your own research to see whether the other browsers are best for your personal requirements. It’s incredibly difficult to know how truly private or secure any one brand of browser really is, but for all the information that is available, the browsers in this list are as good as it gets.
There are other ways to ensure you’re beefed up on security too. For example, ensuring that every website you log into has a unique password and 2FA enabled. It may not be directly related to browsing the internet, but often plays a massive role for your overall online security.
As privacy becomes more of a common conversation amongst world leaders, we certainly hope more and more companies start to take action and improve things too. At least we have a few good browser options to choose from in the meantime.