If you’re looking for the most secure browser out of the box, be warned that its name doesn’t start with a C or an F.
Sure, there are plenty of security and privacy-oriented extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and other popular browsers. However, not everyone is taking the time to install them, even if it’s as easy as falling off a log. That’s why I’ve decided to find out which extension-free web browser is the most secure and private.
When evaluating security, I checked for known vulnerabilities and security features against various attack types. Then I tried to determine how good the browser was at protecting the user from tracking, collection of data, and other privacy risks.
Here’s how each browser ranks from best to worst:
|1. Tor browser
|2. Ungoogled Chromium
1. Tor Browser
Security: very high
Privacy: very high
Readers may not be familiar with the Tor browser, which is mainly used to access the Tor network and whenever you need maximum anonymity. This open-source browser is based on Firefox and has a bunch of security features unavailable elsewhere.
Tor browser runs in private mode and blocks all scripts by default. It uses a network of “relays” that hide your identity and your online activities. What’s more, Tor encrypts all of your data even when you’re visiting a non-HTTPS site.
The downsides? This is not a very user-friendly browser. Plus, unlike the others, Tor will slow your connection down significantly.
2. Ungoogled Chromium
This is a more privacy-friendly version of Chrome. It removes all ties to Google but still allows you to use the Chrome Store. Also, it opens all pop-ups in new tabs, which makes browsing an ad-ridden site actually possible.
Ungoogled Chromium removes background requests to all web services, uses HTTPS where possible, and blocks IPv6 address pinging. From a privacy standpoint, you won’t be bothered by the URL Tracker, Cloud Messaging and other Google services anymore. It also disables WebRTC, which allows P2P audio, video, and data communication but also has known vulnerabilities.
While you don’t need any extensions to make Ungoogled Chromium secure, most security and privacy settings have to be turned on manually. Finally, Ungoogled Chromium doesn’t support mobile devices.
Brave is a lightweight and secure browser that supports all major platforms. It automatically blocks cookies, scripts, and browser fingerprinting. HTTPS Everywhere is integrated, just like the ad-blocker, which simply does its job.
Launched in 2016, Brave hasn’t had any privacy scandals until now. It works great for those who don’t like to tinker with the settings and want out-of-the-box private browsing. Others will probably be disappointed by the lack of extensions.
Unfortunately, in 2019 Brave creators introduced ads to help fund the project. However, these are Brave ads, shown instead of those you would normally see when visiting any website.
In short, Firefox, the second-most-popular browser, is the safest mainstream choice. With a proper configuration and extensions, of which there are plenty, it can even challenge Tor for the #1 spot. What’s more, Mozilla Firefox supports all major platforms and is much faster.
Firefox is open-source, highly secure, and as privacy-friendly as browsers get without going out of their way. There’s built-in Tracking Protection, as well as blocking of scripts and browser fingerprinting. Contrary to most popular browsers, Firefox doesn’t track you.
Finally, there’s also the privacy-oriented Firefox Focus browser for Android and iOS devices.
Available to Apple users only, Safari is a relatively secure browser, but it does present some concerns. For a start, it’s updated less frequently than the competition, leaving more room for vulnerabilities to be exploited.
On the plus side, Safari quarantines each tab that you open, which means that malware cannot “jump” from a torrent tracking site to your online banking tab. Users will also benefit from a built-in password manager and a private browsing mode. Finally, Safari protects from fake websites and phishing, which is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, Apple is part of the NSA’s PRISM program and used to collect user browsing history before implementing opt-in. As if that’s not enough, in 2015, Apple was caught collecting user browsing history even in private mode.
Microsoft launched its new Chromium-based Edge in January 2015. Edge is no longer the “best browser for downloading another browser.” However, while improving highly on security, Microsoft continues to face challenges on the privacy front.
Edge uses sandbox technology to separate your tabs and the SmartScreen Filter guards against phishing attacks. It doesn’t have an ad blocker (yet), but you can get one from the Chrome Store along with other extensions.
Some services, like SmartScreen, personalization, and navigation prediction lower Edge’s privacy score. Its tracking blocker also needs polishing. But in the end, it’s a Microsoft browser with a future.
Just like Safari, Chrome is a highly secure browser. Unfortunately, Google likes to collect even more data about you than Apple apparently does. In spite of this, Chrome is by far the most popular web browser.
Chrome is frequently updated, has plenty of useful add-ons, and has won the Pwn2Own hacking contest two times in a row. It also comes with phishing and malware warnings, sandbox tabs, and private browsing.
From a privacy standpoint, Chrome suffers because of its Sync feature and integration with your Google account. In the end, your browsing and search history are collected, including location data from your phone.
Opera could rank higher if it weren’t owned by a Chinese company. Also, while I am evaluating browser security out of the box, it would be nice to have more addons available – something Opera really suffers from.
This browser is very secure, coming with an excellent ad-blocker and an option to route your traffic via their servers. However, without proper add-ons, it cannot match even Chrome.
Opera has legit privacy issues. Besides the ownership concerns, it has a built-in “VPN” that logs your actions, not to mention other trackers that you will have to opt-out of.
Switching to another browser is not that hard and I recommend doing just that if you’re using one that’s mentioned at the bottom of this list. However, with tweaked settings and proper extensions, such as uBlock Origin, Cookie Autodelete, or HTTPS Everywhere, even your current browser has a chance to become both secure and private.