The web browser is the tool most people use to connect to the internet. So, hackers will always try to explore its vulnerabilities before anything else. Just so it happens, some of the biggest cyberattacks we’ve ever witnessed happened through internet browsers.
If you think of why are web browsers attacked, you’ll see that there are plenty of reasons. Gaining access to your OS and installing viruses or spyware is just one of them. Hackers might also enjoy:
- Bypassing protection and displaying ads;
- Collecting personal information, for marketing tactics or identity theft;
- Collecting web analytics data, learning how you use the web and using it against you;
- Generating likes on Facebook, something that is known as likejacking;
- Installing adware, a form of malware that will flood your device with ads, etc.
Worried by the entire above? If you’re trying to decide which browser is best for security and privacy, we say you look into:
- The quality of their architecture;
- How frequently they release update versions;
- What security features they have in place, URL protection in particular;
- And if there are any embedded privacy tools.
While doing your research, you won’t help but notice a few general aspects. Like the fact that Chrome seems to be the most popular search engine, making the most of the market share. Or the fact that not even Microsoft supports Internet Explorer these days, switching gears to its latest Microsoft Edge.
Then, there is Safari, as a top choice of the Apple fans out there. And Firefox, the proud owner of the title of major browser in open-source. Chromium, Brave, Opera or even Tor are also chipping a couple of percentages from the market share.
But the more options you have at hand, the more difficult it is to decide which is the most secure web browser in 2019.
So, first, a couple of technical details
Logic tells us that a fast and secure browser isn’t quite as easy to develop. Providing speed would have to compromise security in one way or another. Tor is such a good example from this perspective. It is considered one of the most secure browsers, while it’s quite lousy with things like streaming videos. The same goes for Comodo Dragon, the owner of its own DNS servers – if users are far away from its servers, their navigation speed goes down the slope.
Coming up next, we will focus mainly on security. We’ll show you that there are things the developers of a browser can implement. And things that the internet user can do.
But before we look into both options, what are the most common vulnerabilities? And what are developers doing to protect us against it?
What does a browser need to be secured against?
More often than not, a user clicks on a link that turns the internet browser into an access point for a cyberattack. And so, malicious URLs are the most common aspect that browsers need to be secured against.
Malicious URLs are links to webpages that host malicious code. That code is used to exploit and run processes inside the web browser you used for accessing that link. And through those processes, the hacker gains access to your operating system.
But you don’t always need to get to a spoofed website to get into troubles. Even a trusted website with a bad script can be exploited by attackers. And once you get on that website, you’re most likely a victim.
Last but not least, plugins and browser extensions are a vulnerability. Even though they are separate entities from the web browser, they work hand in hand. So, it’s common for attackers to target these extensions and plugins.
Among the most common targets, we should mention Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader, but also ActiveX and Java. Note that common practice is for some malware to disguise into plugins. Though most browsers would spot the threat, block it and warn you when you’re trying to install something that looks suspicious.
How can browsers be strengthened against these attacks?
Web browsers are being updated like any other antivirus software. Whenever a weakness is found, the developers will try to patch the vulnerability. The problem is, however, that developers find out about a weakness when a hacker exploits it. Otherwise said, it’s the same old race between developers and hackers, since the beginning of cyberattacks.
What helps a browser to be strengthened against attacks? And what gains its place in a top of the most secure web browsers? Having a large team of developers behind it. One that will patch and update at the fastest possible pace. But that’s just one side of the issue.
Keeping the browser up to date is one thing. The way the browser will approach security issues is a different thing. This is where security architecture and security features come into play.
Among the things that web browsers “do” to ensure their users protection, in terms of technical aspects, we should mention:
- Consulting a blacklist like the one provided by Google, known as Google Safe Browsing;
- Such blacklists include URLs of previously reported malware or phishing sources;
- Web browsers use this service to filter through unwanted URLs;
- One exception from it makes the Comodo Dragon web browser, which runs its own secureDNS.
- Using a sandbox for all the content accessed from the web browser;
- This sandbox is an isolated environment, exclusively for the browser;
- By running everything in this sandbox, the browser prevents potential threats from reaching to your computer’s OS;
- Should a vulnerability be exploited, it will remain contained in that sandboxed environment.
- Such blacklists include URLs of previously reported malware or phishing sources;
So, which is the most secure web browser after all?
If you ask us, the most effective way of maintaining a web browser competitive is to keep it up to date. Blocking the vulnerabilities that hackers already exploited and being proactive about finding new potential vulnerabilities is of the essence.
From this perspective, Google Chrome seems to take the lead. It checks for updates every five hours, patching and rolling out updates every couple of days.
Then come Safari, for Apple devices, and Opera, rolling their updates every other 15 days or so. The latter, however, also rolls other, smaller updates more often than that.
And if you’re an IE nostalgic, you know that the 11th version gets patched every 30 days or so. While the same goes for its replacement, Edge. With Microsoft Edge, updates roll as a bundle, together with the Windows 10 updates.
In terms of URL protection, as mentioned, most web browsers, from Chrome to Opera, even Safari, use the Google Safe Browsing. One notable difference, however, is that Chrome has the URL protection turned On by default. It will notify users on potentially harmful websites, malware, phishing, whatever, without them having to tweak any settings in advance.
The new Microsoft Edge browser relies on a similar service, SmartScreen Filter. But it also stands out from the crowd through the Windows Hello technology that allows authenticating the user and the website with any new connection.
Like mentioned above, Comodo Dragon has its own DNS servers and block list. It obviously scans content in real-time, passing it through that list and notifying you about potential perils. Hence the drawback of becoming a bit slow when users are far away from its servers.
Sandboxing, nowadays an industry standard
Sandboxing is a very common feature. It’s so basic that it doesn’t act as a decisive factor in analyzing the best secure web browser. However, there are certain differences between the sandboxing techniques and technologies implemented from one web browser to another.
Google Chrome, for instance, was among the pioneers of sandboxing. And this puts the browser in the position of enjoying one of the most mature sandboxing browsing systems currently on the market. It has this modular architecture that puts the engine inside a low-privilege sandbox. And each search tab has its dedicated sandbox. So, the engine can’t communicate with the OS.
Firefox also worked to improve the security of its sandbox walls, so that attackers would have a hard time breaching it.
Those who still use Internet Explorer should be a bit concerned that they aren’t getting any sandbox technology. IE only has an Enhanced Protection Mode, which isn’t the same as sandboxing.
Whereas the new Microsoft Edge has some features that stand out. More specifically, it’s a custom-made sandbox, dedicated to Edge. It doesn’t support ActiveX by default. And it has considerably less code that hackers can look into and take advantage of potential vulnerabilities.
Safari benefits from the App Sandbox, a sandbox enforced at the level of the entire operating system. Since the browser is proprietary software, it conforms to the App Sandbox, together with all of its plugins and the built-in PDF viewer.
As for the other browsers we’ve mentioned before, like Opera and Comodo Dragon, the only known detail is that they rely on the native sandbox implementation coming from Chromium. No in depth information about it, however.
To draw a conclusion…
Google Chrome seems to be the most secure. Its fast update pace is a decisive factor. But it also counts the fact that it benefits from one of the oldest and most mature sandboxing technologies among the browsers currently on the market. Moreover, its specific tracking and malware protection is a big plus.
Close to Chrome, there’s Mozilla Firefox and its recent update. It’s the biggest update that the search engine got in the past 13 years! It certainly changed the hierarchy for the most secure web browsers out there.
It came with automatic blocking of ad trackers or the fancy option to browse the web in virtual reality. And it has the significant advantage of being run by a non-profit, which makes you believe they have fewer reasons to sell user data, compared to other developers of browsing engines…
Now, regardless of the security architecture behind it, no browser is completely secure. As mentioned earlier, there are things that even you, as a user, can do to enhance the security of navigating the web from a certain browser:
- Update your browser before anything else – you’ll get a notification about new versions available, just click on it and follow through, it’s essential.
- Take a few minutes to go through your browser’s security and privacy settings – make sure you know your options and you’re comfortable with everything that is currently active.
- Disable the tracking function and the Flash.
- Block malicious sites, third-party cookies, and pop-ups.
- Turn off tracking.
Meanwhile, web browsers keep improving their security. So, as long as you are running the latest version and make the best of its security and privacy settings, you’re probably safe, as an average user.
You just keep educating yourself and use reason every time you navigate the web. Gathering info on which web browser is the most secure is already a great step you’re taking. But don’t stop here and always inform yourself of the latest security trends. Hackers don’t stop either, they certainly keep searching for ways to steal your data right as we speak.
So, don’t go yet! Have a look around, at some other useful resources we’ve put together for internet users. Maybe you’ll want to learn more about how to check a website’s SSL. Or which are the best firewalls for Windows systems…