Some browsers may not protect you against location tracking, nosy cookies or pop-ups. web browsers are shot through with loopholes that can compromise your security in unintended ways. If you had no time yet to think about that, Now is a good time. Here's how to do it.
Choose a Secure a Web Browser
The vast majority of web surfers can be found on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge. But you are not limited to these choices. There are many secure browser alternatives, including Iridium browser, GNU IceCat browser, Tor browser, and more. But no matter which browser you use, remember that there's no such thing as a 100% secure web browser on its own. Luckily, you can increase security on any browser by locking down the settings and using a VPN.
Lock Down Your Browser's Privacy Settings
Please check your browser's settings as the first step. Configuring your privacy settings is one of the most important things you can do to secure your web browser. By default, many browser settings leave your personal data exposed. At a minimum, you should:
- Disable pop-ups and redirections. In addition to being annoying, pop-ups and redirects can be used to spread malicious software.
- Don't allow automatic downloads. Automatic downloads can contain malware and viruses. Ask to be prompted before downloading anything.
- Keep cookies in check. Delete cookies after browsing and turn off third-party access to cookies.
- Restrict access to your location, camera, and microphone. Set your browser to ask permission before accessing these features.
- Turn on "Send a Do Not Track request." This will help prevent websites from tracking you, but it's not guaranteed.
Keep Your Web Browser Up-to-Date
Even the most secure web browser can't protect you from the latest threats if it's out-of-date. Every browser is a little different when it comes to software updates. Here's how updates are handled in Chrome, Firefox, IE, and Safari:
- Google Chrome: Any new updates will trigger automatically whenever you close the browser. To check if Chrome is up-to-date, go to Chrome > About Google Chrome in the top left corner of the browser.
- Firefox: Firefox lets you turn on or off automatic updates under Firefox > Preferences. To check your Firefox version, go to Firefox > About Firefox in the top left corner of the browser.
- Microsoft Edge: IE updates are distributed through Automatic Updates. To check your version, open Edge, click the ellipses (3 dots) in the upper right-hand corner, then select About Edge.
- Apple Safari: To check your Safari version, click Safari > About Safari in the top left corner of the browser.
Browse in Private or Incognito Mode
While browsing in private mode won't give you full privacy — your IP address and activities can still be tracked — using private mode prevents your web history, browser cache, form data, and cookies from being stored after you quit the browser. This means that whoever opens the browser app after you can't see your browsing history.
Google Chrome calls private browsing Incognito Mode. But you can access private browsing on Firefox and Apple's Safari browser, too. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, it's called InPrivate tabs, but works essentially the same as all the other services. Your browsing history is shielded from prying eyes.
NOTICE: Using private or incognito mode doesn't prevent your web data from being tracked or seen by your ISP, school, or employer. If you want to completely hide your IP address, location, identity, and activities when browsing the web, consider using a VPN service.
Use Browser Security Extensions
Most browsers give you the option of installing additional security extensions to help bolster your browser security and privacy. When using any type of extension, make sure the extension is endorsed by the browser you're using, and be sure to enable automatic updates so the extension is always up-to-date.
Here are some of the best privacy extensions to get you started:
- HTTPS Everywhere: HTTPS Everywhere works with Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. It works by encrypting your data with many major websites. (By the way, never buy anything from a website that doesn't use HTTPS!).
- Adblock Plus: AdBlock Plus is an open-source extension for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Edge (beta), Opera, Maxthon, and the Yandex Browser to stop ads from cluttering up your pages and videos.
- Click & Clean: Click & Clean works on Chrome and Firefox that erases your private data, including your browsing history, cache, cookies, passwords, form data, local storage, and more.
- Disconnect: Disconnect works by blocking hundreds of invisible tracker requests inside your browser and apps, which can help to increase page load times. It's available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.
- Privacy Badger: Similar to Disconnect, Privacy Badger works to automatically block invisible website trackers. It's compatible with Firefox, Opera, and Android.
- Blur: Blur is an excellent privacy tool that works by masking your personal information online, including your email address, phone number, credit card numbers, and more. Blur installs into your browser and works with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari.
You can get Chrome extensions from the Chrome Web Store, Firefox extensions from Firefox Add-ons site, and Internet Explorer extensions from their Internet Explorer Gallery website. You can also just Google the web browser name plus the word "extensions" to quickly locate extensions.
NOTICE: Be careful when installing browser extensions. While many extensions can bolster security, add-ons from shady sources can be risky. Never install add-ons from websites that insist you run the software before accessing the site. It could be malware in disguise.
Use a VPN When You Browse the Web
Even the most secure browser with the most advanced settings can't keep your browsing activities truly secure or private from your ISP, employer, or school. That's why you should consider getting a VPN. A VPN is hands down the best way to secure your web browser, and you should consider getting one if privacy and security are important to you.
A VPN service protects your web privacy and security in three important ways:
- Disguises your IP address and location: VPNs spoof your IP address and location, so you can't be tracked by your ISP (internet service provider), search engines, and websites.
- Encapsulates your web traffic: With a VPN, all your data packets are hidden inside additional packets, so your data moves in a private "tunnel" over unsecured network.
- Encrypts your web traffic: VPN services scramble your data with military-grade encryption, so your data is virtually impossible to hack by outside forces. This is especially important when browsing over public Wi-Fi.
Exercise Common Sense When Browsing
And last but not least, exercise common sense when browsing the web. Even with the most secure browser and VPN, malicious websites can trick you into clicking on malicious links or downloading malware. Be wary of shortened links (e.g., bit.ly) which can hide bad links, and avoid non-HTTPS sites whenever possible. And lastly, never permit downloads or install software unless it's from a trusted site.