Secure browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Edge and others compared

Using a secure browser is more important than ever before. Internet traffic continues to grow and working from home, online news, streaming entertainment, and networked communication are bringing data protection and Internet security to the fore.

But the increased use of web services means that cybercrime, tracking, internet fraud, and data breaches are soaring. The browser is among the most important tools for navigating the Internet, which is why it should protect users against cyberattacks.

Nowadays, users can choose from a wide range of browser options: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Opera to name just a few. But which is the most secure browser?

What makes a browser a secure browser?

A good browser should be capable of tackling a variety of different tasks. From making the online surfing experience run smoother to protecting user privacy and enabling the convenient use of search engines without having to enter their URLs. Our browser comparison shines a light on the advantages of individual browsers.

The criteria used by consumers to select their preferred browser varies from one person to the next. For convenience, most users tend to use the browser that is preinstalled on their devices, e.g., Internet Explorer (now Microsoft Edge) on Windows or Safari on Apple or Google Chrome on Android devices. Not all users go searching for an alternative despite browsers such as Firefox being easy to install on most operating systems.

The safety rating of a browser often isn’t a prime concern for users, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t play a much bigger part in the decision-making process because browsers tend to be used on a daily basis. That’s why browsers are some of the most popular targets for attackers (alongside the operating systems).

Closing security gaps

A careless click on an unknown link can be enough to install malicious code. These downloads can slip through security gaps and unwanted software can be installed without the user noticing. To check whether you’re working with a secure browser, you should regularly see whether there are updates available that close possible security gaps. Most of the larger providers update their programs automatically so that usage is not interrupted by updates.

Ensure a secure connection

All browsers now alert users that a website using HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), instead of the secure variant  HTTPS, is not secure. But HTTP alone doesn’t mean a website is harmful. It only shows that the interaction between the server and the user is unencrypted.

Website that don’t actually interact with a user typically won’t require a TLS certificate or formerly the SSL certificate. However, if the website requests and collects personal data such as user accounts, passwords, email, or postal addresses, you should be suspicious of a HTTP website. You can recognize websites where data is transmitted unencrypted by the fact that the URL begins with http: while encrypted websites start with https: (the difference being the “s”).

What is incognito mode for?

Is activating private mode in Safari or incognito mode in Chrome enough to ensure secure surfing?

No. A browser does not become more secure just because it includes a privacy option. These don’t anonymize a user’s IP nor render their online actions invisible. This type of private browsing mode erases traces in a user’s browsing history, specifically within the cache and the cookies, which only prevents the tracking of data.

Cookies

Cookies contain information about a user’s IP address, dates, and times of their website visits and log-in data. This creates a user profile which could be of interest to cyber criminals but also advertisers using Google and other search engines.

While Firefox enables the deletion of cookies or blocks them altogether (Settings > Privacy & Security > Cookies and Website Data), many websites need to run cookies in order to offer all of their functions. Surfing the web is a trade-off between security and comfort no matter how often you delete your cookies.

Use blocklists

Some browsers such as Firefox and Chrome have access to blocklists, can recognize potentially harmful websites, and warn the user before they visit these websites. But attackers are well-aware of these blocklists and try to circumvent them.

Check downloads

A safe browser warns of malicious downloads. However, this type of protection is rarely comprehensive.

Stop running a script

JavaScript makes for smooth surfing on the Internet, but it is also one of the prime targets for cyberattacks. Theoretically, you can turn it off in the settings (for example, in Chrome go to Settings > Site Settings > Content > JavaScript). The problem is that turning off JavaScript usually leads to errors.

Even the most secure browser is of little use if it’s constantly spitting out error messages. Several add-ons such as Noscript are supposed to enable web visits without JavaScript, but they still limit many functions because they stop content from loading if it uses JavaScript. While this promises enhanced security, it results in websites no longer being displayed correctly because almost all of them use script codes.

To avoid adding disruptive extensions, you can whitelist trustworthy websites. One of the minimum requirements for whitelisting a website is the conversion to HTTPS.

Note

Attackers can now also bypass encrypted HTTPS. That’s why it is worth performing a SSL check in addition.

Surfing on Linux

What makes a browser more secure is not only its features or add-ons, but also the system it runs on. Under Linux, or the Linux live system, users can enjoy some of the best protection, as most malicious programs target gaps in Windows. But some users don’t like working with the free Linux environment.

Secure browser, unsafe performance: the downside of enhanced security

Browsers differ widely and the same applies to their security functions. While one browser may offer maximum protection against malicious software, another may emphasize privacy options. Here is an overview of the most popular browsers, their advantages, and disadvantages.

Tip

Our digital guide also gives a comprehensive comparison of the best browsers.

Google Chrome

Chrome is a very safe browser. An in-house password manager and strong security software make Google’s browser one of the most secure options of them all. But when it comes to privacy, Chrome is a questionable choice. Google is a big data collector and stores the surfing behavior of its users. Yet, it’s not clear what the company does with this data.

Some data can be protected manually, for example, by deactivating location tracking in Chrome. But Google punishes this with poorer usability. Usability is the second biggest disadvantage of Chrome, because the browser is a heavyweight in terms of hardware load. As soon as several tabs are open in Chrome, the memory of many computers reaches its limits.

Mozilla Firefox

In contrast to Chrome, Mozilla’s secure browser Firefox is slim and fast – unless it’s heavily customized. Firefox makes it easy to move, remove, and add to many of its components.

When it comes to privacy and security, Firefox is the undisputed leader. The browser blocks everything, from trackers to crypto miners, yet remains permeable to cookies. Collected user data is anonymized and only used for development purposes – this can also be deactivated. Firefox isn’t just a safe browser, it’s by far the most secure browser.

But that has some disadvantages. Firefox has a relatively high RAM load, even if only a few tabs are open. Nevertheless, Firefox still runs cleaner with multiple tabs open than Google Chrome, for example.

Microsoft Edge

Edge is the successor to Internet Explorer and is another fairly safe browser thanks to the Microsoft Defender Smartscreen security service. However, Microsoft and Google are not very transparent when it comes to how they utilize user data. While this can be adjusted in the user settings, convenience and even security suffer as a result.

Apple Safari

The weaknesses of some are the strengths of others. Apple’s Safari browser offers high speeds and top performance. But that’s at the expense of security. Safari doesn’t include an integrated ad blocker and options for extensions are limited. The Safari browser is only updated when operating system upgrades are launched.

All browsers and their security functions in comparison

Functions Chrome Firefox Edge Safari Opera
Private Mode
Blocks Tracking Cookies
Blocks crypto-mining scripts
Blocks tracking by social media networks
Blocks auto-play
Search engine settings
Text to language
Web extension
Operating system availability
Available on mobile operating systems
Password management
Main password

Which is the safest browser?

The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) established a set of minimum requirements that a browser must meet to be deemed a secure browser. To this end, Chrome, Edge, and Firefox were examined. The BSI recommends just one of these browsers: Mozilla Firefox.

The BSI differentiates between technical security and organizational security. Only Firefox met both of these standards to full satisfaction. With Chrome and Edge, on the other hand, there are several points that are only partially met. The protection of usage data is not adequately guaranteed, and the password managers also have deficiencies according to the BSI.

Secure browser, secure user behavior

A safe browser is only as good as its user. Your surfing behavior is largely responsible for the level of security and data protection. Even the best security functions are ineffective when you’re careless with passwords, click dubious links, install questionable software or browse unsafe websites. Below are seven user tips to boost security when browsing the Internet.

Tip 1: Passwords

Choose complex passwords – they should not consist of single words found in a lexicon. A secure password consists of long strings and should only be stored in encrypted form, if at all.

Tip 2: Personal data

Reveal as little personal information as possible. On web forms, for example, only fill out the fields that are marked with an asterisk. If unnecessary data is required for the process to run, it is better to abort the process. It is also advisable to use personal information sparingly on social networks.

Tip 3: Terms of contract

Before you finalize a contract online, find out all you need to know about its costs, benefits, and termination conditions. This is especially true for software offers. Many purchases of software turn out to be subscriptions.

Tip 4: Software

You should only install software that you really need and only download software from trusted sources. If it’s not clear who the provider of a software is, it’s worth looking at reviews before downloading.

Tip 5: Add-ons

Browser extensions can be useful, but there are plenty of add-ons that promise added value but collect user data in the background to pass on to third parties.

Tip 6: Phishing

A phishing website will resemble a known, legitimate website. This can become precarious in the case of online banking websites, where a user may enter their bank details on a fake page without realizing and give fraudsters the chance to steal their banking details. Users should always access their bank account via the trusted URL or their bookmarks and never click on a link shared via messengers, email, or text. Find out how to recognize phishing emails in our article dedicated to the topic.

Tip 7: Encryption

There are various encryption methods for a website. SSL encryption should be used when banking or shopping online, as this is the only way to prevent payments from falling into the wrong hands. You can easily recognize the encryption by the “https” instead of the “http” URL in the input window. A secure browser indicates the SSL connection via an icon – often in the form of a padlock.


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