By: Matt Field, Rynoh Director of Security and Product Development
From work-related documents to banking and financial information, many of us regularly use our web browser to transmit confidential and personally identifiable information. Having a secure browser is critical: a browser that is not well-secured could expose you to some significant risk. But with web browsers being a commonplace (and sometimes virtually invisible) utility, how can you make sure that your browser has the security features needed to protect you?
Let’s discuss some of the most important things to consider when selecting a web browser, in addition to some of the most popular web browsers available today — starting with Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer.
Microsoft Internet Explorer Isn’t Your Best Bet
IE has the advantage of coming pre-installed on many computers, but while it is convenient, it isn’t always the most secure option. Internet Explorer runs on a tremendous amount of technical debt — and it’s become an outdated, unsupported technology. That doesn’t mean you should immediately switch to Microsoft Edge, but it does mean that you should look closely at any applications using IE.
In order to maintain its compatibility with older websites, Internet Explorer has become progressively larger and more cumbersome. Support for older websites introduces a greater potential for exploits, and many new web standards are specifically designed to avoid security flaws and privacy breaches. The larger a system is, the more likely it is to have introduced faults.
Additionally, since Internet Explorer is often implemented as an easy, fast solution, it isn’t locked down as much as it should be. By default, Internet Explorer’s security settings are fairly broad, allowing websites ease of control over the user’s system in favor of an easier user experience. While this does facilitate a smoother user experience, it also opens up users to potential danger.
And, of course, there’s Microsoft: Microsoft has been attempting to push people off of Internet Explorer in favor of Edge for some time, and to that end, has not invested a lot in making sure that Internet Explorer is secure. Microsoft Edge is the spiritual successor to Internet Explorer, and Microsoft has invested quite a lot in its development and its adoption.
Ultimately, IE is an outdated platform that’s been all but abandoned: its chief advantage is that it’s intuitive and ubiquitous. It’s an inherently insecure solution both because it encourages bad security practices and because it prioritizes usability over security to begin with.
So, if IE is a bad browser, what is a good browser?
What Makes Browser Applications More or Less Secure?
If not Internet Explorer, then which browser should you use? In fact, what makes a browser more secure at all? Secure browsers enforce web standards and make security settings transparent and accessible. A secure browser puts security before issues of appearance and compatibility, though user experience still does matter.
Features of a secure web browser include:
- Frequent updates. New exploits are discovered all the time; if a browser isn’t regularly patching it against these security exploits, then it is not secure. In terms of Internet Explorer, the software itself is no longer supported and will be discontinued.
- Malware detection. Browsers can maintain blacklists of websites that are known to be malicious in nature. Chrome has this turned on by default. By warning you when a site is dangerous, it can help you avoid internet “bad neighborhoods”: areas that are likely to involve malicious programs or scams.
- Sandboxing. Sandboxing ensures that the browser itself operates in an isolated environment, without interacting with the rest of your computer environment: even if something malicious runs in the browser, it won’t be able to escape the sandbox.
- Transparent security features. Easily visible, transparent, and modifiable security features make it easier for you to protect yourself, such as the ability to easily attach a VPN to your browser. Many people don’t choose a browser based on security but rather ease of use, but as security is becoming an even larger concern for most people, it’s become important to prioritize. The above features are the hallmarks of a browser that is putting security first.
Choosing the Right Browser for You
Most people choose browsers based on how easy they are to use, how reliable they are, and how well-supported they are cross-platform. Many people may use different browsers for their tablet than their PC, or may find that a browser isn’t natively supported on their smartphone.
Considering all of this, Chrome is likely to be the most secure and most functional browser. While there are other browsers such as Brave and Tor that could be considered more secure because of their focus on privacy, they are less user-friendly and less popular overall.
Here’s a run down of the most popular browsers:
- Chrome. Chrome has an extremely rapid update frequency, but it also experiences more attacks and exploits than other browsers because it is so popular. Nevertheless, as the major web browser for both mobile devices and personal computers, Chrome has a lot of advantages: it’s well-supported, simple, and free. Chrome has a number of add-ons that can be used to enhance security and its security interface is accessible and simple. It also features advanced security options such as blacklisting and sandboxing.
- Firefox. Firefox is very similar to Chrome in terms of raw security, though it has lagged behind somewhat in updates. Firefox is an open source browser solution, which is backed by a large community. A major advantage to Firefox is that it claims to be much faster than Chrome, as well as avoiding some of the memory leaks that often prompts Chrome to run sluggishly. It’s also available on a larger number of platforms. At the same time, Firefox isn’t quite as popular as Chrome and doesn’t have as smooth of a user experience.
- Safari. Safari will automatically protect against malicious programs and phishing attempts. It has exposed security settings, so you can choose the level of security and privacy that you want, and it has a streamlined interface that’s direct and easy to use. For those on iOS or Mac, Safari is likely to be the primary choice, and it works very well within that ecosystem. For the Mac, iOS, and iCloud ecosystem, Safari is thoroughly integrated — and historically this ecosystem has been less burdened by security issues altogether.
- Edge. Microsoft Edge is designed to be more secure than Internet Explorer, and as the successor for Internet Explorer, naturally has frequent updates and modifications. At the same time, it’s notable that developers at Google’s Project Zero were successfully able to bypass Internet Explorer’s security, which called into question its capabilities of detecting and defeating malicious code. Microsoft Edge is the new default browser for Windows and, consequently, is available virtually everywhere, but it’s experienced some significant security issues even as its state-of-the-art new security technology has won awards. Many are waiting to see how this browser evolves as the new version of Edge will be built on Chromium, which has ties to Google.
Ultimately, your choice of browser is likely to come down to the browser that you feel most comfortable with. For most people, Chrome is going to be intuitive, easy-to-use, and safe. However, it’s in your best interest to also know more about how to secure your web browsing and the things that could potentially occur if your web browsing is compromised.
Using a secure web browser is one of the first steps towards securing your data. At Rynoh, we work tirelessly to explore the technology that will protect your business and help it grow. Learn more about RynohLive.