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Internet privacy has been under sustained attack over recent years. Thanks to the heroic efforts of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and organizations such as Wikileaks, we are all wiser and can now take precautions to protect our right to privacy.

The list of organizations and companies that have access to your data or want to spy on you just keeps growing. As we rant about the NSA and other similar national agencies, Google continues to pervade our lives and collect loads of personal data with its numerous products. Facebook was also in the news lately for all the wrong reasons with its creepy psych experiments How Do You Feel About Being In Facebook's Psych Experiment? [Weekly Facebook Tips] How Do You Feel About Being In Facebook's Psych Experiment? [Weekly Facebook Tips] You've probably heard about the latest scandal from the Facebook world: Facebook has been experimenting on users and playing with their emotions. Yes, really. Read More .

The browser you use is a key factor in protecting your privacy. Out of the box, Google Chrome and Firefox run JavaScript and accept cookies and while Internet Explorer blocks third party cookies, it also runs JavaScript. So, the most popular browsers don’t do a great job at protecting your privacy. You could always use the private browsing feature that now comes with all the major browsers but advertisers and government agencies would still be able to track you.

We searched around and came up with the following three browsers that are designed to make your browsing as private and secure as possible.

The Tor Browser

the-tor-browser

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In documents leaked by Wikileaks, the NSA has described Tor as “the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity” with “no contenders for the throne in waiting“. Coming from the world’s pre-eminent spying organisation, that is serious stuff! Logically, this should be your first stop when shopping around for a browser to protect your privacy.

Tor was originally a project of the United States Naval Research Laboratory which probably explains why it’s built like a fortress. In fact, Onion Routing, the pre-dominant technology that Tor uses was patented by the US Navy in 1998. Today, Tor is run by the Tor Project, a research-education non-profit organization.

Tor protects personal privacy and the ability to conduct confidential communication. JavaScript and cookies are disabled on Tor by default. The browser directs Internet traffic through a free international volunteer network consisting of more than 5,000 relays.  Each message transmission is “wrapped” in several layers of encryption and each layer is “unwrapped” (decrypted) like an onion by a relay in the circuit. A receiving node can only view the last intermediate node and the recipient relay in the circuit. The final node decrypts the innermost layer of encryption and sends the message to its final destination.

Tor is built using; a modified version of Mozilla Firefox, NoScript and HTTPS Firefox extensions, the TorButton, TorLauncher and TorProxy. It can be run from removable media and is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. To learn more about the Tor browser, please read our Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet. Read More .

Epic

epic-browser

If you are accustomed to the Google Chrome user interface and you aren’t too concerned about anonymity then Epic is the browser for you. Epic comes with the same Google Chrome UI that many of us have fallen in love with.

On the download page is a list of 11 privacy leaks that Epic blocks. Out of the box, it blocks sites that track you and advertisements. It also offers a comprehensive default privacy browsing mode that doesn’t store cookies, cache, history, auto-fill and any other personal data that other browsers store by default. Epic also deletes session data once you close it. Internet searches are routed via proxy to prevent a history of your searches being recorded using your IP address.

Another plus with the Epic browser is that it offers one-click proxy set-up via a plug icon on the address bar. This switches you to a US IP address and hence allows you to access content only available to US audiences such as Hulu videos. You can also set up an encrypted data connection when on a Wi-Fi network.

Epic also has nice little feature that allows you to check which service is tracking you on other open browsers on your computer. The feature is available in a new tab window.

epic-browser-tracker

While Epic is not as comprehensive as Tor, think of it as a highly improved version of Chrome’s incognito mode.

The Pirate Browser

pirate-browser

The Pirate browser is a creation of the guys behind The Pirate Bay (TPB), the world’s most visited torrent directory. Like Tor, it is also built on a modified Firefox version and includes a modified Vidalia Tor client and the FoxyProxy Firefox addon.

The browser was originally built to bypass Internet censorship How To Bypass Internet Censorship How To Bypass Internet Censorship This article examines some of the most common methods used to filter content as well as emerging trends. Read More in countries where TPB is blocked but it also offers privacy features that you won’t find on other browsers such as the additional settings in the Options window, giving you the option of telling sites whether you want to be tracked, or simply tell them nothing at all. In Firefox, the only option available is to “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked.”

A Big Caveat

At the moment, Tor is hands down the King of Internet privacy. If you are really passionate about your privacy and want a “complete ” solution, then Tor is the way to go. However, if your only concern is websites tracking you and selling your data, then you could go for a browser like Epic. If you merely want to circumvent blocked websites and have some additional privacy options, over and above those offered by your normal browser and privacy extensions, then The Pirate Browser is good enough.

Now, I’m sorry to rain on your parade but no browser can offer 100% Internet privacy. Even Tor cannot protect you from certain types of vulnerabilities. The best example of this is the FBI’s recent take-down of the largest child porn site operating within the deep web of the Tor network. This was achieved by injecting malware into the browsers of users and voila, the FBI was able to obtain the IP addresses of site members.  The lesson here is that when dealing with a government that has limitless time and resources, and lots of commitment you don’t stand a chance especially if your interest in privacy is motivated by criminal intent.

What’s your take on Internet privacy? Have you ever used any of these browsers and how did it work out for you? Please let us know in the comments below.

Image Credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wikimedia Commons

  1. P Saunders
    August 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    The most effective method of protecting your privacy at work is to use your colleague's computer when you surf. Excellent for porn, torrenting or plotting a terrorist attack. That way your colleague will get fired or dragged off by the FBI when your activities eventually get discovered, at which point you make friends with someone else in the office.

  2. adam zander
    August 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    one -you seem to be as smart as the people who insist on access to Video Gamling
    two- you don t keep up with CURRENT Events ,do you LOL

  3. adam zander
    August 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    one -you seem to be as smart as the people who insist on access to Video Gamling
    two- you don t keep up with CURRENT Events ,do you LOL

  4. Jeff Fisher
    August 8, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Tor and the like still have too many holes. Too much of the Underworld along with NSA use it, so why put yourself within their reach. There is no one privacy safeguard but I feel safest when I use a Virtual Private Network. It costs me less than £2.00 ($3.50) a month, easy to setup and use and I've not had a problem with it yet.

  5. Dave
    August 8, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    You didn't mention Aviator

  6. KustenWatche
    August 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    To all who are really concerned with privacy, I use a FF variant Waterfox for 64 bit computers. It supports all of the FF addons ABP, greasemonkey, ghostery etc. Whitehat is just FF set up already for you with these addons in place, if you want someone else doing your homework for you then fine I prefer to know what I'm getting and why,nothing wrong with Whitehat they are known for there security to companies. Run a VPN also I use a paid for Tunnel Bear. To really understand the security issue you must know about OSI protocols, all 7 layers. I was recently introduced to them and a good site is the Sans institute but be prepared to spend a lot of time reading and comprehending what is said, then be prepared to be disappointed. You can use TOR but it too has inherent issues, if you go to your emails within TOR then why are you using it? I pay for Hushmail and all the images are blocked by default as they can reveal your IP address, do you understand this problem. If we all used a Hushmail type account with keys on both ends this would help but then again if we all used it rest assured that someone or some agency would get involved to defeat it too, did you know that your company can not read these emails if the person on the other end is also using it with there key now if thats not worth $39.00 /yr. what is and it is also humorous. This is too complicated a issue to address in a forum like this but it does give you food for thought. I spend many hours every week trying to stay ahead of this although I am only moderately successful. Just remember for every Ying there is a Yang regardless which side you are on. So much for my pontification. If this was helpful to one person out there then I am filled with happiness!

  7. Krish
    August 8, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Read this.

    SRWare Iron Browser – A Private Alternative To Chrome?

    http://www.insanitybit.com/2012/06/23/srware-iron-browser-a-real-private-alternative-to-chrome-21/

  8. Christopher W
    August 8, 2014 at 3:23 am

    The "end to end" security for emails is quite valid...if you're connected to someone else who's taken the time to set up PGP.

    Tor is open-sourced software, and is pretty actively maintained and developed (if you use it, please subscribe to the mailing list to get notified of new versions).

    The Chrome-based browsers are based on the open-source Chromium browser, where the real development takes place. (The stable version IS stable in case you're concerned about being a guinea pig.)

    Yes, Tor is slow. Some of the hops between routers, which may and should be on different continents. And never log in to any account you access "normally" as Kihara said.

    So I guess the ultimate you can manage now is to use Tails on a USB stick with the default Tor browser, connect to Tor using a VPN with an exit in a different country, preferably one that's on the outs with the US government (the Germans are kind of annoyed with us now for bugging the Chancellor's phone) sending encrypted email from a computer with no obvious connection to you (and no surveillance cameras anywhere on your entrance and exit routes) only ONCE.

  9. tom
    August 8, 2014 at 1:31 am

    No mention here of the ICloak usb stick funded through kickstarter which promises complete anonymity on any computer while surfing the web (uses the tor browser and other tools). Well, at least that is what they are claiming.

  10. CJ Cotter
    August 8, 2014 at 1:03 am

    How can Epic be a safe browser? "Epic comes with the same Google Chrome UI that many of us have fallen in love with." It has been well-documented here and many places elsewhere, that Google gathers huge amounts of information about everyone who uses their products and services. Then, without even a warrant, Google freely allows government officials to waltz through their databases, freely taking whatever information they want. Am I wrong here?

  11. Hdw
    August 7, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    What about the Aviator browser? It claims to be the most secure web browser online... I have been using it for several months now to check suspect websites, but I have not really looked into its workings or done any testing. Anyone use it or have comments?

  12. Talk Straight
    August 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    How about Citrio Browser, does EPOM Ltd. pushes Ads. Download Link citrio.com, please do review it !
    Its Chromium based, looks promising but its promoters EPOM Ltd. are Mobile Advertisers !!!!!

  13. TorUser
    August 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Another superficial article about something that requires an in-depth one. You never even mentioned that using tor makes you a target of the various spying agencies because it is the primary means of communication for nefarious groups in the country and outside it. There is even a law that considers any user of tor unidentified and "therefore" suspect of treason, subject to all the tactics used against any so-called suspect, including incarceration without a warrant. It is believed that the NSA injects malware that allows them to spy on any computer using tor. Using tor in a VM is a viable option. At least the malware goes away when you 'revert to snapshot' and they have to find you and re-infect you again each time. For more information on this do a search on "tor risks". You talk about security risks with various browsers that allow javascript. First of all, the tor browser sets NoScript to globally allow all javascript. Second, I had to click 'Temporarily allow all this page' in NoScript 5 times just to get the log-in popup for this site, which is itself spam and in violation of my 'block popups' setting in FF. Any site that is allowed temporary javascript privileges on this page is also allowed those privileges on other open pages. "I don't see no stinkin' security" on this site…

  14. Bud
    August 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Only good thing about this article is stating what I already have...TOR, and several comments and recommendations from posters here of apps I already have and use on my Mac. Nothing new, but more of an affirmation !

  15. Marika B
    August 7, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Great recommendations.

  16. mike
    August 7, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I would think using tails, a Linux Distribution using TOR is about as close to privacy as you can get. If you run it off the DVD it never access your hard drive. The only real secure computer would be one that has never been on the internet! End to end encryption on all emails as well. Of course doing this very thing could make you stand out as suspect. I hope research on this will continue for all those in countries who face extreme censorship.

  17. Ernie Di Francesco
    August 7, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Opinion of "startpage"

  18. Singha
    August 7, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Recently google helped US authorities to catch an alleged child porn user.
    It has revealed that all the images sent via gmail are checked for such imagery.
    http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/5/5970141/how-google-scans-your-gmail-for-child-porn
    Is there a way to circumvent this or must we continue to let ourselves be subject to spying by google or the NSA???
    What do you guys think, should google have the capability to access all our images through gmail?

  19. Angry Thinker
    August 7, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Epic is India-oriented, Tor is slow.
    Why not use a "regular" browser like Firefox with the right add-ons such as Ghostery, Disconnect, AdBlockPlus, BetterPrivacy, NoScript, Privacy Badger, Searchonymous, Disable visited links, Hide plug-ins, ....
    I use Pale Moon (= FF but optimised for speed) with all of those add-ons & get pretty good privacy, knowing that there will never be 100% protection.

    • Moi
      August 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Great recs. Ghostery, Privacy Badger and HTTPS everywhere are mainstays for me. I also use Private Internet Access, which you have to pay for, but also gives me VPN for my phone/tablet when I'm on the go. I use Tor at times, but when in the 'burbs it can be painfully slow.

    • Pradip S
      August 8, 2014 at 4:40 am

      @moi

      FYI Firefox specifically states that it does support HTTPS. I have subscribed to a dedicated VPN service which provides me with 2 years of FULL SPEED unlimited usage on 5 devices for $ 100/=.

  20. Frankdatank
    August 7, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Still selling the appearance of security I see... A fallacy at best.

  21. Testuser
    August 7, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I had installed Epic now and to be honest, I doesn't look really trustworthy to me. It starts with the web installer (no offline installer available from their page, only for Mac), it installs an update service, it has done some ridiculous amount of work on the first startup, doesn't allow other addons, and web page rendering is slower as usual. And it ends with their FAQ message and AGB. It states that it's a commercial project and this: "Is Epic Open Source? Yes! ... We haven't had a chance to formally release Epic's source code because we've been giving 200% to get the product ready, and Chromium is a HUGE code base so to release it in an organized way will take a bit of effort." Maybe next time, but thanks anyway!

  22. Testuser
    August 7, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Thanks for the article. At first I thought "Epic" is just a more popular Chrome alternative like SRware Iron, but looks like that it's a lot better. But for people who would like to protect their privacy by themselves or want a more "normal" browser should use Iron instead of Epic. Because it's bad if advertising addresses are blocked if you have something to do with them (for example on "Get paid to" sites or if you are a webmaster).

  23. john
    August 7, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Why didnt Tor protect Edward Snowden? What went wrong?

    • Mark Hansen
      August 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      "Kihara" wrote this to another comment:
      I’m sorry but I lost you there …what do you mean the Tor network didn’t protect him? U seem to suggest he was found out while using Tor. To my knowledge, Snowden revealed himself in a video to the Guardian and was never caught by the NSA http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jun/09/nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowden-interview-video. Recent media reports suggest that the NSA still has no idea how Snowden pulled it off…

  24. Chuck Anderson
    August 6, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Edward Snowden used the tor network and it didn't protect him.

  25. ReadandShare
    August 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I have nothing to hide. It's just the idea of being tracked that I dislike. TOR is too slow and cumbersome -- more a cannon for me when a fly swat will suffice (for me).

    I've tried "privacy oriented" browsers like Comodo Dragon (Chromium based) but it crashes on my Win 7 desktop for some reason -- not all the time but enough to be annoying. I'll give Epic a try. Thanks!

    • Malcul
      August 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Epic is good but still a bit 'buggy', eg can't remember bookmark icons between sessions, but improving fast!

  26. Dustylinds
    August 6, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    aviator by Whitehat Security is also a great browser for privacy.

  27. Nick C
    August 6, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    The problem with Tor is that the NSA and the FEDs may have already Infiltrated that and have planted spyware.

    • Kihara
      August 7, 2014 at 6:36 am

      It's true that the NSA and several other spying agencies have been trying to infiltrate Tor but as far as I know, they haven't been able to attack the underlying Tor network but have relied on exploiting other vulnerabilities such as browser bundles based on older Firefox versions. Some bit torrent clients with Tor support can also expose your IP. Logging into an account associated with you while on Tor e.g. your email account, will also expose you. But, like I said in my conclusion, there 100% privacy is still a pipe dream.

    • etim
      August 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      They do sound like they're encouraging folks to switch to it.

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