Browsers are probably the most important tools on our PCs and laptops. They provide access to all the content on the internet. Whether it's the latest social media trends, Wikipedia articles or news articles, it's (almost) impossible to participate in the great content diversity of the World Wide Web without a browser.
That's why there are now many different browsers that allow you to do just that. Safari, Chrome and Firefox are just a few examples of popular internet browsers. When it comes to browser use, one topic in particular has gained in importance in recent years and that's security.
Data protection and privacy on the internet are more important than ever before. It's no longer just about surfing the web quickly with your favorite browser, but also about a high level of security.
In this post, we take a closer look at nine popular browsers and search engines an examine their security, data protection and privacy features so you can enjoy a worry-free internet experience!
How to recognize (in)secure browsers
Before we look at the individual browsers, it's important to first understand what makes a browser secure or insecure. Very few browsers are set to maximum security by default.
Instead, most browsers allow you to track and log your usage activity. For example, they monitor which sites you visit. Passwords can also be stored by asking the browser and cookies can be set. Pages can even retrieve private information such as your location.
Generally speaking, it's up to the users to configure their data protection and privacy settings in such a way that they meet their own security requirements.
A secure browser, on the other hand, has a number of security features to protect all sensitive information and maintain your anonymity on the web.
There is a spectrum of qualities that a browser should fulfil in order to be considered "secure". Only then can you be sure that your data is always protected and that you can stay safe on the web.
• Warnings about unsafe sites and downloads
You've probably experienced trying to access a website or download a file and suddenly getting a warning message. This is one of the most important security features that browsers must have. There are many black sheep on the internet who use downloads and websites to smuggle malware and viruses into their victims' machines in order to gain sensitive data or paralyze their systems.
The browser's warning is an important safety feature that tells you to cancel the download or leave the site.
• Full transparency and control over website permissions
With a secure browser, you always have an overview of which permissions you grant websites. This includes, for example, saving your location, sending push notifications or accessing the camera and microphone.
A secure browser not only enables transparency, but also lets you control these permissions at any time and revoke them if necessary.
• Option to deactivate cookies
Another feature of secure browsers is the cookie deactivation function. As a reminder, cookies are text information that's stored in your browser when you visit a website and track your usage behavior. They are mainly used in the field of marketing for advertising purposes.
Various data can be extracted through cookies. For maximum data security, there should be the option to prevent cookies being set in the browser.
• Automatic pop-up deactivation
The following situation probably sounds familiar. You visit a website and are immediately besieged with what feels like thousands of pop-ups. Pictures, texts and videos pop up everywhere. This is not only extremely annoying, it can also be a security problem. Rogue websites use pop-ups to redirect you to malware or virus-laden files if you accidentally click on one in the heat of the moment.
Secure browsers should therefore automatically disable pop-ups. Not only will you have a much more pleasant time on all websites, but you'll also avoid the risk of dangerous pop-ups.
• Automatic redirect blocks
The same principle applies here as with pop-ups. If you want to visit a website that immediately wants to redirect you to the next one, it's likely going to be spam.
The security feature of automatically deactivating redirects is therefore part of the basics of a secure browser.
• Control over browsing history and cache
You can track exactly which sites you've visited via your browsing history. This promises more convenience and is also important for security. If you regularly delete your browsing history, links to these sites get deleted. This means that it is no longer possible to trace which sites you've visited. And that is certainly nobody's business but your own. A nice side effect is that you also save storage space by deleting the history.
It's a similar story with the cache. However, not only your browser history is stored in the cache memory, but also a lot of website data. This enables faster loading times because the data doesn't always have to be loaded separately when you call up the page but is already stored in the cache.
But cookies and other settings relevant to your data security are also stored there. It's therefore important to be able to clear the cache in a browser.
• Topicality and updates
Being up-to-date is a decisive factor in browser security. As rapidly as the digital world changes, new malware, malicious software and viruses also emerge. A good, secure browser must therefore always be current and receive regular updates. This is the only way to ensure the latest security risks on the World Wide Web are taken into account. As a user, you must nevertheless ensure that browser updates are reliably installed.
Nine browsers and their security features at a glance
The above-mentioned features are what we'd call the "security basics" of a browser and ensure a healthy level of security while surfing. If you use a modern browser, you can be sure that most of the described features are already integrated. Some browsers are designed for more and some for less intensive protection of privacy and data.
For the greatest possible security, it's recommended to configure the browser settings manually. Only then can you be absolutely sure which functions are active.
If data security and privacy are particularly important to you, it makes sense to take a look at the security standards of your favorite browser. And that's where we start now. Let's take a look at nine popular browsers and see how secure they really are.
Chrome, the browser provided by Google, is without a doubt the world's most popular browser. It impresses both Windows and Mac users with its speed and a great user experience. In addition, the browser offers a lot of security features for data security and privacy.
The Chrome browser can:
- Disable website tracking of your usage behavior
- Block scripts and pop-ups
- Block cookies globally or partially
- Warn you about dangerous sites and downloads
- Notify you about leaked stored passwords
- Give you control over granted website permissions
- Block certain websites
Chrome also provides an incognito mode. In this mode, you can comfortably surf the internet as usual. However, no browsing history is created and no cookies are saved.
Despite the many security functions, Chrome also has a decisive disadvantage. Users have to log in with their Google account to use Chrome. This way, Google can collect a lot of personal data.
Apple's own browser Safari is very popular with Mac users and is used by most Apple users for surfing. Measured by the number of active users, Safari is the second most popular browser worldwide after Chrome (the mobile market share being significantly higher than desktop market share).
Safari also excels in the area of security. The browser from Apple can:
- Prevent dangerous sites loading
- Prevent intelligent tracking to limit marketing tracking
- Block all cookies
- Block websites through automatic caching
- Block pop-ups
- Control over website permissions
- Grant access to a privacy report
The tech giant Apple has always been known to care about data security. The company from Silicon Valley collects data just like Google or Facebook, but to a much lesser extent. In addition, Apple has repeatedly taken new measures in recent years to optimize data protection and privacy on the internet.
In 2021, for example, Apple published an update as part of the new App Tracking Transparency Framework, which prevents app tracking. App manufacturers such as Facebook or Instagram are thus no longer able to collect usage data – unless the user explicitly consents to it. Users of Apple devices and Safari can therefore look forward to high security standards.
One disadvantage similar to Chrome is that Apple itself still collects data. External third-party websites can be blocked as far as possible, but the manufacturer itself is not excluded. Since Safari is not an open source browser, it's not possible to understand how Apple processes the data internally.
Firefox is one of the most popular web browsers after Chrome and Safari. Although Mozilla Firefox has lost some of its popularity in recent years, it's still one of the most frequently used browsers with over 200 million active users.
Furthermore, the free web browser is one of the most secure and offers numerous protective features for data and privacy.
- Cross-web tracking protection
- Reports on tracking behavior of websites
- Data breach warnings
- Prohibit collection of data by Firefox
- Control over website permissions
- Automatic blocking of pop-ups
- Blocking of dangerous downloads
- Loading connections exclusively via HTTPS (SSL-secured connections)
Unlike Safari or Chrome, Firefox is an open source browser. The code can therefore be viewed by anyone and, if necessary, examined to ensure that there are no breaches of data protection. Furthermore, Firefox is a constantly maintained browser that receives regular updates. This makes Mozilla Firefox a safe alternative to the big browsers Chrome and Safari.
Microsoft Edge, the unofficial successor to Internet Explorer, is a similarly popular browser to Firefox and is used by many people in everyday life.
In the area of security, Edge has a number of data protection features on offer:
- Several options to prevent tracking
- Reports on blocked tracking services
- Option to prevent tracking in "InPrivate Mode"
- Automatic protection against malicious websites and downloads
- Prohibits collection of data by Microsoft
Just like the browser competitors from America – Chrome and Safari – Microsoft also collects usage data through Edge.
There are also indications that Edge shares hardware IDs of end devices with third-party providers. This enables them to identify the hardware of the users.
Edge thus offers an average level of security. The functions enable standard security. However, due to the amount of data collected by Microsoft itself and even shared with external parties, it cannot be said to be an extremely secure browser.
In addition to the established web browsers, one or two newcomers have also crept into the rankings. This includes the browser Brave, which was released in 2019.
Although the browser still has a relatively small number of users compared to Chrome and Safari, it is nevertheless one of the most exciting new browsers. Brave offers a variety of unusual features, including an advertising platform linked to the browser and cryptocurrency. The browser even boasts that it is up to three times faster than Chrome.
Compared to other browsers, Brave is also showing itself to be extremely determined when it comes to security. Its functions include:
- Automatic blocking of third-party advertising
- Automatic blocking of tracking services
- Integrated password manager
- Option to block cookies and scripts
- Private mode comparable with Tor browser
- Load connections exclusively via HTTPS
In terms of data security, we must also mention that Brave runs on the basis of the Chromium browser project. So despite the security measures taken by the browser, it cannot be completely ruled out that data is transmitted to Google servers.
And even though Brave automatically blocks third-party ads, it still shows its own ads and tracks your behavior.
"Defend yourself. Protect yourself from tracking, surveillance and censorship." This slogan of the Tor browser excellently describes its features. Tor is probably the most secure browser available at the moment. When using Tor, it is made almost impossible to track your usage, as requests are constantly passed back and forth between relay servers.
The Tor browser project is bursting with security precautions and measures to protect data and privacy. Unfortunately, as good as the browser is when it comes to security, the user experience is poor. The browser is not designed to impress with a fancy design and a good user experience. It is solely about security.
The security functions include:
- Automatic blocking of tracking services
- Automatic blocking of website scripts
- Loading connections exclusively with HTTPS
- Automatic deletion of cookies after each session
The scope of security functions makes Tor the most secure browser in the world. However, this is also accompanied by disadvantages.
By blocking all scripts, websites are sometimes not displayed correctly. In addition, the use of Tor prevents you from logging in to certain websites.
Another disadvantage of Tor comes from jumping between different servers, which puts a strain on connection quality and can lead to very slow loading times.
In terms of security, Tor is convincing all along the line, but it has to make concessions in terms of usability and user-friendliness.
Ecosia is probably the most charitable browser that has made it into our list. Launched in 2009, the browser is committed to climate and environmental protection and uses the browser's revenue to plant trees. The company itself claims that it takes an average of 45 search queries to plant one tree.
These are financed by search ads in Ecosia's own search engine, which advertisers can place in the search results for a fee. In 2021, Ecosia has so far planted over 300 million trees. This is made possible by over 15 million active users.
On average, a tree is planted every 1.3 seconds. In total, the Ecosia project has already invested over 12 million euros in reforestation projects around the world.
The user-friendly browser application has the following security measures:
- Only temporary storage of search queries
- No transfer of data to third party providers
- Encrypted search queries
- No use of external tracking services
- Complete control over tracking deactivation
Ecosia claims to collect only the data that is absolutely necessary. The common standards are met by the browser. Anyone who expects a normal level of security when surfing and at the same time wants to make a small contribution to environmental protection is well advised to use Ecosia.
Startpage is a search engine and a private browser. The search engine usually acts as a kind of intermediary, for example between you and Google. You don't send a search query directly to Google, but first to Startpage, which forwards it anonymously to Google. This protects your data and identity.
Security features from Startpage include:
- Encrypted search queries
- Loading connections exclusively with HTTPS
- Block unwanted advertising
- Block tracking services
- Blocking phishing and malware
- Control over your privacy settings with levels from "Standard" to "Strict"
Startpage can be used via common browsers, although Chrome blocks Startpage as the default search engine. Since 2020, the company has been cooperating with the secure browser Opera. Use in combination with this browser is therefore ideal.
DuckDuckGo sees itself as an "internet privacy company", and in keeping with this description, the search engine promises an internet experience similar to Startpage – without any data loss or security concerns.
The safety features at a glance:
- No storage or retention of usage data
- No recording of search queries
- No display of advertisements based on user behavior
Furthermore, DuckDuckGo even offers a mobile browser for Android and iOS users. Here too, no search history is created or other data collected that could possibly be sold on to third-party providers.
This makes DuckDuckGo one of the safest browsers in this list.
Data protection & privacy: Which browser is the most secure?
Now we have taken a closer look at nine well-known and less well-known browsers and search engines. But which is the most secure browser?
In terms of security alone, no one can hold a candle to the Tor browser. By far the greatest efforts are made here to protect data and create anonymity on the net. Tor is anything but user-friendly, however.
Brave and Firefox have the best combination of privacy, browser security and flawless usability.
Browsers are our most important tool for perceiving and using the whole wealth of the digital world. They give us access to the internet.
At the same time, we have to be cautious and use a modern browser with high security standards so that our private information is always protected.
You now know many browsers and search engines and their advantages and disadvantages. Once you've chosen a browser and checked your security settings, you're ready for a perfect web experience!