Private information is big business. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that everyone is trying to watch you. The NSA, the UK government, Microsoft, cyber-criminals, your creepy neighbor from across the street; they all want to know what you’re doing, all the time.
Unfortunately, unless you want to take excessively drastic measures, it’s almost impossible to remove yourself from the global grid completely. But there are some steps you can take to reduce your information footprint.
One of the best places to start is with your browser. It’s your main portal to the web, so using a more secure option will make a big difference to your privacy.
Here are four anonymous web browsers that are (almost) completely private.
1. Tor Browser
Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux
The Tor network has one simple goal: anonymous communication. The network aims to protect a user’s location, browser history, personal data, and online messages from any person or bot that’s performing network traffic analysis.
How it Works
Network traffic analysis is arguably the most powerful weapon in a data collector’s armory. It can track your behavior and interests for advertising companies, it can lead to price discrimination on online shopping sites based on location, it can even reveal your identity to people who might want to silence or harm you.
Basic encryption techniques don’t protect you against traffic analysis. Data sent over the internet has two key aspects: the payload and the header. The payload is the actual data (for example, the contents of an email), the header helps the data get to its destination. It includes information such as source, size, and timestamps. Encryption can only hide the payload, not the header.
And that’s when Tor comes in. It sends your internet traffic through so many individual relays and tunnels that the header is nonsensical to traffic analysis tools. In simple terms, instead of going directly from A to B, the network sends your traffic on a mazy route through lots of locations. A sniffer looking at a single point on that route has no way to tell where the traffic originated or where it’s going.
To access the Tor network, you need to use the Tor Browser. It’s so secure that the US Navy uses it for intelligence gathering and by law enforcement organizations who want to visit websites without leaving government IP addresses in the site’s log.
You don’t need to install any software on your machine; the browser is a portable app that can live on a USB stick. It means you can use the service regardless of what computer you’re working on, even if it’s in a public location such as a library or university.
The browser itself will be instantly recognizable to Firefox users, but there are a couple of notable changes. The biggest difference is the integration of NoScript; it’s included by default. Unlike the regular NoScript add-on – which can be complicated to use – the Tor version has an easy-to-use slider to manage your privacy.
There are also some downsides to using the Tor Browser. For most users, the biggest issue is speed. Because your traffic is taking such a twisty route to get to its destination, your browsing experience will not be as fast. If you have a good connection, it might not be an issue, but if your internet speed is slow, Tor might become painful to use.
Ultimately, Tor doesn’t guarantee anonymity. Taking online risks – such as downloading torrents or using unscrupulous browser plugins – will still leave you vulnerable. But when compared to the mainstream browsers like Chrome and Safari, there is no contest.
No other browser comes close to Tor in terms of privacy and anonymity, but three other options deserve your attention.
They’re ideal if Tor sounds a bit extreme, but you still don’t want to give Google et al a free reign on your personal data.
2. Epic Browser
Available On: Windows, Mac
Epic Browser doesn’t use a specialized onion network, but it does immediately disable lots of the most common ways your privacy is comprised when you’re surfing the web.
For example, it doesn’t save your history, there’s no DNS pre-fetching, it doesn’t allow third-party cookies, there are no web or DNS caches, and there’s no autofill feature.
When you close your session, the browser automatically deletes any associated databases, preferences, pepper data, and cookies from Flash and Silverlight.
3. SRWare Iron
Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
If you’re a Google Chrome user, SRWare Iron will be familiar; it’s based on the open-source Chromium project, so a lot of the on-screen visuals look very similar.
The main difference between Chrome and SRWare Iron is data protection. Experts have criticized Chrome for its reliance on a “Unique User ID”; every time you start a session, Google is alerted to your data usage.
SRWare strips out the usage of an ID along with other Chrome privacy concerns such as search suggestions.
Check the table below for a complete list of differences between the two:
Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux
Again, Comodo doesn’t come close to Tor Browser, but it does have some built-in tools that’ll make browsing the web a safer experience.
It’ll automatically block all tracking, cookies, and web spies, it comes with built-in domain validation technology that’ll instantly segregate strong and weak SSL certificates, and it uses the Comodo anti-virus suite to protect you from malware, viruses, and other attack vectors.
Like SRWare Iron, it’s based on Chrome, so it’ll be an easy switch for a lot of people.
Which Browser Do You Use?
There are some other privacy-orientated browsers which deserve an honorable mention such as Yandex and Dooble – but in my opinion, the four I’ve listed are the clear winners.
However, I’m sure many of you don’t agree with me. Now it’s your turn to share your favorites; which browser do you turn to when you want to stay anonymous and out-of-sight?
You can get in touch with tips and suggestions by leaving a comment in the box below.
Image Credit: Twinsterphoto via Shutterstock.com