One of the most important things you need to take into consideration online is your choice of browser. It's the interface through which you’ll view the internet, search for pages, download content, and potentially expose yourself to cyber threats. Different browsers have their own benefits and weaknesses, so weighing up all the pros and cons can be overwhelming.
Let's keep it simple. There are two key points to consider when picking a browser:
Privacy. Does a browser prevent third parties — corporations, governments, your internet service provider (ISP) — from viewing your activity?
Security. Does a browser expose you to the threats of hacking, malware and other cyberattacks, or does it proactively prevent them?
Here are five of the most popular browsers you might turn to if you’re concerned about one (or both) of these factors.
Firefox offers strong security and a suite of customizable privacy options. It’s fast, efficient, and versatile, and you get to decide how much information to give away (up to a point).
Users can pick between two privacy levels — standard and strict — or customize individual elements. This includes being able to switch off the function that would normally track and store user data.
Firefox could be considered one of the best browsers for both privacy and security. Any service that puts the controls in the hands of its users is doing something right.
When people think about Tor, they often associate it with the the dark web, imagining that it’s only used for illicit purposes. In fact, Tor is just a privacy toolkit that helps people maintain greater control over their own data.
Tor masks user traffic with virtual servers, making it harder for your movement to be tracked online. It’s not the most intuitive system to use, but when it comes to privacy, Tor beats most other browsers.
Of course, you can use Tor to access areas of the internet that aren’t available on Chrome or Safari. But it also works for “non-dark” areas of the web, allowing you to access mainstream sites while maintaining increased privacy.
Having been launched in 2016, Brave is one of the younger browsers on this list. Thanks to its diverse range of benefits, it's already established itself as a popular choice among privacy-focused internet users.
With inbuilt ad blocking and encryption tools, Brave offers fast and relatively secure browsing. Like Firefox, it's easily customizable and lets users decide what information it stores. You can even set it to delete all the data accumulated during the browsing session as soon as you end it.
Setting itself apart from similar services, Brave has also developed BAT, its own cryptocurrency. Questions remain around its safety and effectiveness, so for now users should focus on the merits of the browser.
For anyone who wants to focus primarily on security, mainstream browsers like Safari can be a perfectly good choice. They come with greater levels of support and online safety, albeit at the cost of personal privacy.
The browser blocks high-risk sites and will warn users if they stray into dangerous or exposed areas online. It can also limit the extent to which third-party advertisers track and monitor your activity. If you're already running the macOS operating system, Safari will be a secure option for you.
For anyone who wishes to maintain some control over their privacy, however, this alone isn’t an ideal solution. Like any major tech company, Apple is keen to track and harvest user data, and Safari itself was implicated in the NSA’s now-infamous Prism program. Covert government surveillance schemes and mainstream browsers aren’t good news for privacy.
Simultaneously the most secure and least private entry on this list, Chrome remains the world’s most popular browser, channeling more than half of the internet’s traffic (not including dark web content). Since this is Google’s service, it's best to work on the assumption that Chrome is logging huge quantities of data about all of its users.
On the bright side, it also boasts a robust infrastructure for combating cybercrime threats. Security updates are available every month, tackling emerging threats in real time. You can also strengthen the browser with a wide variety of extensions.
However, don't be fooled by the so-called “incognito mode”. This browsing option will keep your history clean, but won’t make your browsing private. Websites, ISPs, and government authorities will still be able to view your activity.
Beyond the browser: 3 ways to enhance protection
If you want a browsing experience that equally balances privacy and security, simply picking one of the options listed above won't be enough. Here are three steps you can take to enhance security once you’ve picked your new browser:
Protect your passwords. No matter how good your browser is, your privacy and security are still at risk if your passwords are compromised. That’s why it’s important to use long, complex passwords and never rely on the same credentials for multiple accounts. To really enhance your security on any browser, use NordPass to generate, store, and protect your passwords.
Learn more about your browser. Browsers, especially mainstream options like Chrome and Safari, are designed for intuitive usability. However, it’s worth taking the time to stop and research the tools and customizations these services offer. By learning more about the browser you’re using, you can take greater control over the way your data is handled.
Use a VPN. NordVPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server. As soon as it’s switched on, your browsing traffic will be hidden under layers of encryption. Even your ISP won’t be able to track your activity. A VPN can be an empowering tool for internet users who want to enjoy the ease of a mainstream browser without losing out on privacy.