8 of the most secure web browsers

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Whether you're shopping, working remotely, or just browsing the internet, they all require a web browser to take the data on the World Wide Web and convert it to consumable content.

While a browser is necessary, an unsecured web browser can open your computer and network to all types of hackers. These hacking masterminds can cause all sorts of issues once they gain access to your computer or network, including installing ransomware and locking your important files, stealing your passwords, and even getting access to your financial data. If you're a victim of this sort of hack, you could spend months or even years sorting it out.

Making matters worse, threat actors have become very sophisticated in their cyber attacks and continue getting better every day.

You can help protect yourself by using a web browser that puts your privacy front and center. These secure web browsers protect you from privacy and security threats, including phishing scams, malicious content, and intrusive ad tracking.

While nefarious web browsers are rare, and most have some privacy and security protections, not all browsers are equally secure. Some browsers put more focus on security than others and include loads of features to protect you. Secure web browsers also provide access to advanced security and privacy options for customizable protection.

A secure web browser is only part of the equation, though. You can further enhance your web-browsing safety with a VPN or ad-blocking extension. These will help block ad trackers and undesirable cookies.

Ready for the inside scoop on the most secure browsers of 2021? Continue reading to learn which browser best suits your browsing needs.

1. Tor

When I became interested in protecting my privacy online, I was encouraged to check out Tor. Not only does Tor mask your identity by bouncing your encrypted internet traffic through multiple Tor nodes, but it also clears your cookies after every session.

Endorsed by Edward Snowden, Tor was also instrumental during the Arab Spring. Not only did it protect people's identity online, but it also provided them with access to critical resources, social media platforms and websites their government blocked.

Tor pros:

  • Security-centric features such as NoScript, HTTPS Everywhere and encrypted data make Tor a remarkably secure browser.
  • Tor is free to download and use. Users can also download the open-source project and peruse the code.
  • Tor can access the deep web. Unlike mainstream browsers, any site ending with .onion is visible when using Tor.

Tor cons:

  • Tor bounces your connection off of several nodes, causing it to be much slower than other browsers.
  • Not all websites work on Tor. Tor blocks Javascript and tracking scripts, which will stop some websites from working. Though you can whitelist scripts, as needed, it could impact the browser’s security.
  • Tor’s slower speeds aren’t ideal for streaming.

2. Brave

Brave is a pro at blocking data-grabbing ads and trackers. Using Brave Shields, this browser blocks most data-tracking ads, boasts automatic HTTPS protection and can load sites, like major news outlets, nearly six times faster than other browsers, including Chrome, Safari and Firefox, on mobile or desktop.

Brave has also integrated Tor into its private browsing feature, so you can mask your location and hide your internet history.

What we find most interesting about Brave is its Brave Rewards program. Unlike most browsers, Brave users can earn Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) for viewing privacy-respecting ads. Users can currently only use these tokens to support web creators, but Brave claims users will soon be able to spend their tokens on premium content, gift cards and more.

Brave pros:

  • Brave uses HTTPS secure connections, doesn’t collect or sell user data and automatically blocks ad trackers.
  • The combination of ad and ad-tracker blocking enables Brave to load sites nearly six times faster than other browsers.
  • Brave is built on Chromium, the same source code used for Chrome.

Brave cons:

  • While browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Opera offer plenty of extensions, Brave lacks many extensions, add-ons and plug-ins. Though some Chrome extensions will work in Brave, that’s not true of all Chrome extensions available in the Chrome web store.
  • If you want to trade-in your BAT tokens for real money, you’ll need a KYC-compliant bank account. For many, this defeats the point of using a secure browser.
  • Brave users can browse privately using Tor. Unfortunately, this feature is not yet available to mobile users of the browsers.

3. Epic Privacy Browser

According to Epic Privacy Browser: “Visiting the top 50 websites will install over 3,000 tracking files on your computer.” To combat this, Epic routes all web traffic through a proxy server that automatically blocks things like trackers and cookies. It also clears your browsing history at the end of each session.

To further protect your privacy online, Epic also blocks certain types of real-time communications calls that have the potential to leak your IP address, even if you're using an encrypted proxy or a VPN.

Epic Privacy Browser pros:

  • Epic uses an encrypted proxy server to hide your IP address and encrypt your browsing.
  • Epic comes equipped with built-in protection against ad-tracking scripts, cookies, cryptocurrency mining scripts and third-party widgets.
  • Use Epic to “spy on the spies,” as they say. Unlike other browsers, Epic gives you an inside look at who's tracking you and the trackers the browser has blocked throughout your browsing session.

Epic Privacy Browser cons:

  • Unlike mainstream browsers, Epic offers no plug-ins.
  • If you use a password manager, Epic may not work for you, as password managers work as plug-ins.
  • Epic claims to be open-source, but the user can’t download the browser’s source code. To obtain the browser’s source code, you must first reach out to the Epic team.

4. Opera

Equipped with a built-in ad blocker and VPN, Opera shields your browsing history while also getting rid of the internet’s endless ads.

Beyond its privacy protection features, Opera has a ton of other neat features. With Battery Saver enabled, you can browse up to 35% longer than heavier browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge.

I find Opera’s Personal News feature the most intriguing. Functioning much like an RSS feed, Personal News collects news and displays it to you all in one convenient location.

Opera pros:

  • Opera comes with a free VPN that reduces online tracking and protects your browsing history.
  • Built-in ad blocking means pages load faster. You can also easily unblock ads on any website.
  • Opera allows you to sync your bookmarks, tabs and passwords across multiple devices and keeps your information safe by using an anonymous token to identify you and sync your data.

Opera cons:

  • Though Opera has become popular among many, it’s far less popular than mainstream web browsers, so website developers don’t always verify their website is compatible with Opera.
  • Extensions can be hard to find in Opera.
  • Opera is updated every four to six weeks, whereas Chromium, the basis of Opera, receives updates every two to three weeks. For Opera users, security problems discovered and patched in Chromium could remain in Opera for several weeks.

5. Vivaldi

Much like other browsers we’ve highlighted so far, Vivaldi blocks sites from tracking you as you peruse the web. It also comes with features like a built-in ad blocker and secure sync with end-to-end encryption.

Perhaps the most exciting features Vivaldi offers are tab stacking, tab tiling and vertical tabs. By providing such customization features, Vivaldi gives its users full control of how they group, display and interact with tabs within the web browser.

Vivaldi pros:

  • Vivaldi offers secure sync with end-to-end encryption, making it easier and safer than ever to sync your bookmarks, passwords and extensions across each of your devices.
  • Vivaldi doesn’t store your web history, cookies and temporary files when you browse in a private window.
  • To make your private browsing safer, Vivaldi allows you to set a different default search engine when using a private window.

Vivaldi cons:

  • There is an Android version of Vivaldi, but iOS users are out of luck for the time being.
  • Vivaldi isn’t the fastest browser out there. A tendency to freeze has also troubled enough users that it’s become somewhat of a common complaint.
  • Vivaldi includes links to websites in its default bookmarks. Vivaldi also receives shared revenue from some of the default bookmarks. Meaning, Vivaldi has made ad space out of its bookmarks space.

6. Mozilla Firefox

From its comprehensive security settings to nifty features like Firefox Lockwise, Mozilla Firefox makes nary a compromise when pleasing its users. Not only does Firefox block over 2,000 data trackers automatically, but the browser will also alert you if your personal information has been compromised as part of a corporate data breach.

When it comes to features like Firefox Lockwise, you can also count on this privacy-focused browser to keep your passwords safe. Using 256-bit encryption, Firefox Lockwise allows you to access passwords you’ve saved in Firefox from anywhere.

Firefox pros:

  • Features like Firefox Monitor can tell you if you’ve been part of an online data breach.
  • Firefox is a pro in ad blocking and touts itself for blocking 10,000,000,000 trackers each day for users worldwide.
  • Firefox collects data for development purposes but does so without including your browsing or search history. The data is also tied to a randomized numerical identifier rather than your name or user account. If you’d rather not share any information at all, you can also turn it off without affecting the browser’s performance.

Firefox cons:

  • While Mozilla offers plenty of articles and FAQ’s for Firefox users in need of support, navigating its support system can be difficult. Not only does it require copious amounts of clicking, but the community forum doesn’t function reliably.
  • Firefox has several extensions, but it doesn’t offer nearly as many extensions as browsers like Chrome.
  • Firefox receives monthly updates. While that puts updates on a regular schedule, other browsers receive more frequent updates.

7. Google Chrome

Google isn’t exactly well known for protecting user data. However, Chrome helps protect its users from malicious sites and downloads that may steal your passwords or infect your machine. Chrome also updates every six weeks, providing its users with the newest security features and fixes. For more critical security bugs, Google sends out a fix within 24 hours.

To protect your data while using Chrome, consider adding DuckDuckGo to Chrome. With this handy extension, you can protect your data, internet search history and avoid pesky advertising trackers.

Chrome pros:

  • Chrome is a speedy web browser and loads and displays pages very quickly.
  • Features like Google Safe Browsing will warn you if you attempt to navigate to dangerous sites or download malicious files.
  • With Chrome, you won’t have to worry about remembering all of your passwords. Instead, Chrome will generate a unique password for each site you visit.

Chrome cons:

  • Google collects a significant amount of data as it relates to its userbase. Not only does the company track every search you perform, but it also tracks your location.
  • If you’re using Chrome across multiple devices, you can sync your search history, bookmarks, among other things. Unfortunately, you must first enable sync to take advantage of the feature.
  • While Google says it doesn’t sell user data, it does use it to serve up relevant ads in Google products, on its partner websites and in mobile apps.

8. Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge promises “world-class performance with more privacy, more productivity, and more value.” Designed to detect and block trackers, Microsoft Edge also comes readily equipped with Microsoft Defender SmartScreen.

Microsoft Defender SmartScreen is turned on by default and helps protect you from websites containing malware. This feature also helps protect against phishing and will stop you from downloading potentially malicious files when surfing the web.

Microsoft Edge pros:

  • Edge was built using Chromium, meaning you can use extensions from both Microsoft and Google’s web store.
  • Edge offers three levels of privacy protection. By default, the browser sets itself to Balanced, which blocks harmful trackers. To block all trackers, opt for Strict tracking prevention.
  • Edge allows you to sync your bookmarks, settings and passwords using your Microsoft account. Microsoft also plans to let users sync their history, open tabs, extensions and collections.

Microsoft Edge cons:

  • Edge lacks many enticing features. While Brave users benefit from BAT and Opera users enjoy features such as Battery Saver, Edge users won’t find many fun or intriguing features.
  • Visit the website for Edge and you’ll find it has plenty of new features for users to enjoy. Unfortunately, many of these features aren’t available yet.
  • Edge doesn’t come outfitted with an ad blocker. Instead, you’ll have to choose an add-on ad blocker.

There are countless ways to protect your privacy online. Whether that means opting for one of the secure browsers listed above or adding an ad blocker or similar add-on to your current browser is up to you.

In the end, the most effective way to keep yourself protected online is understanding when and how your data is being tracked and reading the privacy terms of the websites you’re visiting.