The internet is a pretty interesting place, where we can conduct research, handle business, connect with people, and even save ourselves a trip to the grocery store. It can also be a place fraught with dangers lurking behind every pixel—because when we open a browser window, the gateway to all things digital and sparkly on the net, we also open ourselves and our businesses up to potential cyber threats, primarily because your internet browser is one of the first lines of defense against cyber criminals, and it may not be a secure as we are led to believe.
Hackers will first try to find vulnerabilities in the most frequently used tool on the Interfunwebs. The most common attacks are malicious URLs. They link to web pages designed to host malicious code that uses exploits and run processes inside the browser to gain access to the operating system.
How do we know which browser is the most secure?
Depending on who you talk to, there are varying opinions about which browser is the most secure. Of course, Apple will tell you it’s Safari. Google will tell you it’s Chrome, and Microsoft will tell you it’s Edge. But there are pros and cons for each. For example, in September 2018, Google came under fire because of a recent Chrome update that automatically signed users into a browser even if they didn’t use any other Google services. Previously, it was possible to use Chrome to sign in to a service like Gmail without actually logging into the browser itself. Google claims this change occurred because users who shared devices might otherwise think they had signed out of Chrome when, in fact, they had not—thus potentially “leaking” data (such as passwords stored in the browser) across accounts.
One agnostic, go-to platform or operating system is Mozilla’s Firefox. Best known for its neutrality, speed, and privacy, Firefox allows far more control over privacy and lets you control the data you share on the web. There is a dedicated “Tracking Protection” feature which also prevents websites from tracking you.
Recently, Mozilla released the “Firefox Monitor” feature which alerts you immediately in case your email ID or password is involved in a data breach. The best part is that Firefox comes with several Chrome-like features. So, if you switch browsers, you won’t be missing Google anytime soon. Firefox can handle many open tabs without getting lousy because it doesn’t hog your RAM like Chrome does. It also offers a large collection of add-ons and extensions that you could use.
Another nerdy alternative is Tor, which internet trolls absolutely hate. Popular among journalists, activists, and cybercriminals, the technology can prevent governments from tracking people’s online activity. This allows those in restricted areas to bypass censorship and makes it difficult for law enforcement to find those engaged in more nefarious activities. Advertisers will also have trouble discerning a computer’s characteristics, thereby thwarting their efforts to track activity for ad-related purposes.
In fact, Tor has become a symbol for the anti-surveillance movement as it is built on a network of ‘hidden’ relay servers. This browser can obscure your public IP address by bouncing your connection through several distributed nodes. The irony is that this technique is exactly the one used by hackers to infiltrate machines and networks, just in the opposite fashion. Tor protects your browsing history and hides your physical location to let you access region-specific content on the internet. And for those individuals who seek access to the deep, dark web—otherwise known as the part you can see only with special software and which allows users and website operators to remain anonymous—Tor will also work. That said, early reviews of the latest release as reported in PC Mag, say that Tor can be a little slower than the other alternatives.
A lessor known browser, Dolphin, is popular among mobile device power-users. With over 150 million downloads, Dolphin Browser, developed by Sequoia Capital-backed MoboTap, was one of the first alternative browsers to support multi-touch gestures. It allows users to draw letters on their touchscreen phones to open certain websites. So, while a ‘T’ for Twitter and ‘F’ for Facebook come preloaded, you can feed the browser with custom gestures too. Dolphin’s voice search feature Sonar lets you browse, share on social networks, bookmark websites, and navigate the entire web without typing a word. Available on both Android and iOS.
Take Security Measures, Update Your Browser
Your browser should be a safe gateway to the web. Just as you would lock your house or car, there are a variety of things that you can do to prevent hackers from targeting you, possibly stealing your identity, or taking down the network. So, before you do anything else, update your browser. Users get notifications when browser updates are ready and all you need to do is just a click away. Configure your browser security and privacy settings so you feel comfortable with them. Important settings include blocking malicious sites and third-party cookies, disabling Flash, blocking pop-ups, and turning off tracking.
No browser is ever completely private, no matter what the security architecture might be. In fact, studies have shown the weakest link in the security chain is the user. There’s no substitute for using reason while browsing. Even using any of the best VPN providers won’t protect you 100% from being exposed to risk while on the web.