While you probably don’t give much thought to how you access the web, the browser you use is likely packed with time-saving features that make online surfing and shopping easier. Many of them store your browsing history, remember your login credentials and autofill forms with your personal information. It’s also those very same features that make your browser a tempting target for cybercriminals.
Cybersecurity company Exabeam tested popular browsers and discovered a hacker could easily uncover information about your bank, brokerage account and retirement fund manager from the information they contain.
In 2018, 1 in 4 Americans was the victim of a cybercrime. Because so much information is stored in your browser, it’s worth considering whether the one you’re using may be exposing your sensitive information in ways that give you pause. While it’s good practice to monitor your personal information, you may also want to switch to the safest internet browser available for your device to reduce the risk of cyberthreats.
The safest internet browser of 2019
Browsers perform four basic functions, which can be simplified as:
- Fetch. When you type something into your browser, it searches the internet to find what you’re looking for and retrieve it.
- Process. After the browser fetches the data, it reads, organizes and optimizes it for display.
- Display. The browser presents the information so you can read it.
- Store. Browsers store information about your browsing history, login credentials and website cookies.
Each browser has different processes and protocols for executing these functions—with varying levels of security. This is why some browsers are more susceptible to being hacked, intercepted or modified without your knowledge or permission.
The safest internet browsers have enhanced features and settings that let you control your privacy and security settings. Secure browsers offer download protection against malware and unsafe files, “do not track” mode to keep advertisers and data miners from monitoring your browsing sessions, and privacy settings that obscure your online activity. Of course, these security features sometimes come at the expense of browser speed and connectivity.
For most people, finding the safest internet browser means balancing convenience and performance with protection against the most common cyberthreats and privacy violations. With that in mind, these internet browsers offer both performance and protection—the best of both worlds.
Firefox works with most platforms, including iOS and Android, so you can sync your browsing and privacy preferences across all your devices. It’s one of the faster secure browsers, even when you’re loading content and image-heavy sites.
Firefox shines from a secure browsing perspective. It offers malware and phishing protection, pop-up blocking, automatic blocking for attack sites, parental controls, content blocking for tracking activities, and a warning system when websites attempt to install add-ons or extensions.
It’s also one of the most user-friendly browsers because it’s easy to find and customize the toolbar and privacy features. Compared to other browsers, Firefox takes up very little space on your computer. It uses open-source code, which means the software is developed in public collaboration and any developer can use it. Open-source code is ideal from a privacy and security perspective because it can be independently audited and tested for vulnerabilities.
Launched in 2016, Brave is one of several browsers based on Chromium open-source code (Google Chrome is the most popular Chromium-based browser). If you want the features and compatibility of Google Chrome without the privacy concerns, Brave is a great alternative. It works on all devices and operating systems.
Brave is noticeably faster than Chrome and excels at ad blocking. It has a much lower CPU burden than other browsers, which boosts its speed. Because it blocks ads and cookies, page loading is streamlined and efficient. You can tweak your ad-blocking settings by tapping the Brave icon on the right side of the toolbar and toggling the settings you want to activate.
Because Brave is a relatively new product, it lacks the polish of more mature browsers, especially in the Tor private-browsing tab. Brave is also experimenting with crypto in its opt-in ad program, where users earn cryptocurrency (the Basic Attention Token, or BAT) for viewing ads from trusted providers.
If you haven’t heard of Opera, it’s probably because fewer than 1% of the population uses it. That may change when more people try the newest release, Opera Reborn 3. It’s fast, especially the mobile version, Opera Touch. It has a different look and feel from many browsers, but once you get used to the layout, it’s surprisingly intuitive and easy to use.
The default security settings aren’t as robust as some others straight out of the box, but the pop-up blocker and phishing detection are top-notch. You can also adjust your security settings to increase your privacy and browsing safety so it’s comparable with the safest internet browsers.
Opera also works well with third-party browser security extensions, such as Windows Defender and Disconnect. One notable feature is domain highlighting, which displays identifying information in the domain URL so users can easily see if they are visiting a scam site.
Safari comes standard on Mac and iOS devices, although it is available for use with Windows. It’s one of the fastest browsers tested, and while it’s Apple’s proprietary browser, it works seamlessly with Microsoft and Google sites and applications, including Outlook and Drive.
Safari’s security features include robust pop-up blocking and warning systems for malware and phishing attacks. There’s also a strong password generator and your passwords are automatically stored in the browser’s secure password manager. If you browse in privacy mode, your activity isn’t tracked.
If you’re concerned with internet privacy, Apple recently added intelligent tracking protection, which blocks advertisers from keeping tabs on your browsing activity. It also has anti-fingerprinting technology so advertisers can’t identify you.
Epic is a Chromium-based browser focused almost exclusively on user privacy. While other browsers let you activate privacy mode, Epic only operates in a stripped-down environment. When you close the browser, it’s as if your browsing session never existed: Your cookies, cache and browsing history are automatically deleted. It runs on an integrated VPN so you can’t be tracked by an IP address.
It also blocks all ads and most ad trackers and foils most fingerprinting techniques. On the downside, it also blocks most browser extensions, so if you love Chrome for the convenience of its many extensions, that user experience doesn’t seamlessly translate to Epic.
Epic is also a bit slower than other browsers; website load time can interfere with its functionality. Also, because it is so privacy-focused, some features many people rely on, such as password storage and autofill, are not available.
The Tor network was originally developed to ensure online anonymity through the use of encryption, and it has a well-deserved reputation among privacy advocates. Its companion browser has a similarly excellent reputation for privacy.
Tor Browser is based on the Firefox code, so it’s easily customized with add-ons and extensions. The similarity makes it easy to use and understand, both on Android devices and desktop. However, the browser is extremely slow because traffic is bounced through several network nodes to ensure anonymity. Worse, several popular websites block traffic from Tor, including Craigslist, Gmail and Netflix.
Tor Browser has three levels of security: standard, safe and safest. You should pay attention to your security settings because most of the Firefox safe-browsing protections are turned off by default. While it’s not necessarily the safest internet browser right out of the box, the security protections are there if you know how to activate them.
Chrome is the most-used browser in the world, perhaps because it’s tightly integrated with popular Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, Drive and YouTube. It’s fast, secure and works extremely well with Android devices. Although you can run it on Apple devices, it can’t be set as the default browser, which is inconvenient if your operating system is iOS.
Chrome is one of the safest internet browsers. It detects and warns against phishing attacks and blocks harmful viruses, Trojan horses and ransomware. The pop-up blocker is robust. Google actually encourages hackers to attack the browser so the company can identify and patch weaknesses.
It’s a user-friendly browser with a clean interface and easy-to-find features, but it’s less user-friendly when it comes to privacy issues. Google makes money from selling your data to advertisers for targeted ads. Even though the company is taking steps to protect your personal information, it is strongly incentivized to collect it. Chrome is a leader in protecting your browsing security, but protecting your privacy? Not so much.
If you’re not quite ready to switch browsers but want to do more to protect your online activity, there are several security plug-ins and extensions such as Ghostery and Privacy Badger. You can also anonymize your browsing with a virtual private network, or VPN.
To come up with this list of the safest internet browsers, we screened various browsers for basic security features, such as pop-up ad blocking, malware detection and download protection. The browsers that passed initial screening were then evaluated for privacy features, including anti-tracking protection. The final list was user-tested for speed, ease of use and functionality across multiple devices and operating systems. The browsers included in this list offer a combination of security, privacy protection and optional features that would most likely meet the needs of security-conscious users.