A month ago I set out to find the browser that best protects your privacy online and offers the best security. There are over 25 available browsers out there for Mac. Some are well known, others are not. Some have features others don’t have and some are more secure than others. There’s a lot to consider when picking a good browser and everyone has their own definition of what makes a browser the best. For me, the number one priority is security and privacy. I started eliminating browsers from the list, first by looking at the latest release date and update history. Browsers that had not been updated in a long time and/or show long periods of time between updates were eliminated as these are most likely outdated when it comes to features and the latest security and privacy implementations. This narrowed the list down to 11.
The 11 remaining browsers were checked for basic features that anyone would expect to be present in a browser. Search engine toolbar, private browsing, download manager, tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, html5 support, password management, easy to obtain and install and etc. The list was narrowed down to 7.
We are left with just a few browsers and it becomes clear why these are the most known and/or used browsers. So which one is the best in terms of security and privacy?
Safari has always been my browser of choice. It looks good, acts reasonably snappy, fully integrates with the OS and iCloud but I’m looking at this review from just the security and privacy perspective and I must say that Mozilla’s Firefox is the best. Both when it comes to “out of the box” features and available add-ons.
Here are some of the Firefox features that won me over:
- Password manager can be secured with a master password.
- Proxy settings in Firefox itself, no OS tweaks needed.
- It’s much easier to set a preferred search engine.
- Excellent control over cookies.
- Their latest version (23 at the time of writing) includes mixed-content blocking.
- As there are a lot of add-ons available for Firefox there is a potential for installing malicious add-ons. Firefox’s Blocklist Feature will disable any add-on that is known to have vulnerabilities, bugs etc.
- Transparency in everything they do.
- More frequent updates.
- Page info/inspector/dev tools (available in Safari through Developer menu)
- A separate window for my downloads! Not security or privacy related but something I’ve missed in Safari ever since it was taken out.
I’d like to see more use of sandboxing for the app itself and plugins like Flash in the future.
I switched to Firefox when version 23 was released during the course of writing this article and must say I feel better just by being able to completely block cookies I don’t want rather than have them auto-delete when I quit the app. Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc. cookies don’t spend a second on my system anymore and this prevents them from tracking my browsing habits. The level of control Firefox gives me over cookies is just one of the features I like but it’s a big one for me.
I’ve never used Safari’s “remember the password for this site” feature as I could not set a master password, something Firefox (and Opera) can do. Safari will prompt you for the account password whereas Firefox allows you to set a separate password. Of course you want to secure your system with a screensaver password and disk encryption either way but a master password in the browser itself is just added piece of mind for me in the event my account password is ever compromised.
The ability to set whatever search engine I like (Startpage.com) without the need to install 3rd party software is something I definitely like too.
Between Opera and Safari I found small advantages one had over the other in different areas, both are good browsers. In the end it may all come down to preference. I found that the availability of add-ons/plugins/extensions made all the difference between a good browser and a great browser.
The usual suspects I’ve mentioned in this blog before are available for Firefox too. AdBlock
Plus Edge, DoNotTrackMe and if you like Safari’s reader feature that can be added to Firefox as well through an add-on called Reader. A new add-on I found was Block.it which allows me to block domains I specify. By adding google.com and facebook.com to the BlockSite list and with the strict cookie control on top of that I feel great browsing the web knowing I’ve made a huge dent in their ability to track me. In the rare occasion I need to visit a Google or Facebook page I now use Safari so that these visits (and their cookies etc) are isolated.
The articles I’ve written in the past will be adjusted to include information about Firefox as well and going forward, whenever applicable, I’ll provide options for both browsers. Firefox because it is, in my opinion, the best browser and Safari because it is part of OS X and still the most used browser today. Opera, while a good browser, will not be discussed as it is not widely used.
If you have been using Firefox or have decided to switch, check out my follow-up article on how to configure Firefox here.
What’s your browser of choice and why? Comments and feedback welcome!