We live within our web browsers. You’re reading this article in a web browser. You probably check your email in a web browser. I order my groceries in a web browser. I buy books in a web browser. Web browsers are pretty important.
But we never really think about them within the context of security and privacy. And yet, for anyone so inclined, the browser presents an enticing target. Indeed, at the annual CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, Canada has the Pwn2Own contest, where hackers try to target cell phones, computer operating systems and (most crucially) web browsers, in order to win prizes and kudos.
With that in mind, imagine my delight when I discovered the Aviator web browser, by WhiteHat Security. This is a powerful, secure and private web browser, built upon Chromium. And it’s really good. Here’s why.
A Pedigree To Be Proud Of
We’re all familiar with Google Chrome. Whilst there are a number of privacy concerns with using Google’s flagship web browser, there are a number of advantages too. The security issues which have plagued Internet Explorer and Firefox simply aren’t resent in Chrome and Chromium, due to the sandboxing of each browser tab, thus making it drastically more difficult for malicious code to escape the browser.
But what of WhiteHat Sec? They’re a titan of the security field, having specialized in web application security and made a name for themselves in that arena. Safe to say, they know their stuff.
The Perks Of Using Aviator
So, why should you use Aviator? Admittedly, for a huge segment of the Internet population, Aviator represents… Well? Overkill. However, for a number of privacy and security focused individuals and companies, Aviator has quite the compelling value proposition.
It runs on any Intel version of OS X, as well as Windows 98, upwards. Yep, you read that right. Windows 98. Those still clinging on to Windows XP, even after Microsoft killed it off will find that it still works on their dusty, moribund machines.
However, there is a trade off. Aviator is a few iterations behind mainstream Chrome, and runs the version 31. We’re currently on version 35. As a result, you can expect some of the more bleeding-edge HTML5 APIs and Chrome features and functionality to be conspicuously absent.
But what of the browser itself? Well, it comes with a number of cool features. Do-not-track is switched on by default, and a lot of the privacy-invading Google services have been either completely excised, or replaced with alternatives, such as using Duck Duck Go rather than Google itself.
They also block advertisements. Whilst some unscrupulous companies use adverts as an avenue to invade people’s privacy, I’m also conscious of how a huge swathe of the Internet depends upon advertising to survive . Adblocking software directly affects this important revenue model. Thankfully, this functionality can be switched off, if you so desire.
Aviator can also prevent malicious websites getting access to internal networks by preventing access to certain domains. For corporate users, this is a huge plus, as it mitigates the risk of internal web applications being owned with an XSRF attack.
It also defaults to incognito mode. This means that whenever you close the browser, all remnants of your activity are wiped. Incognito isn’t just for accessing smutty websites or (ahem) buying your better-half a gift.
Finally, Aviator adds an extra (albeit flawed) way of obfuscating Internet activity from a malicious third-party, which is handy if you are accessing any sensitive information through your browser.
More Than A Pared-Down Google Chrome
I’ve been using Aviator on-and-off for the past few days, after learning about it from a friend. And you know what? I really like it. I can really see how this would have some applications in public Internet kiosks and in corporate environments. Despite coming configured out of the box for security and privacy, I found that my browsing experience wasn’t especially hamstrung. There wasn’t really anything I couldn’t do using Aviator. Indeed, even though I was using an older build of Chrome, I didn’t find that it limited what I could do.
In short, don’t think of Aviator as a pared-down Google Chrome. It’s much more: a privacy focused browser, built upon excellent foundations by a motivated team of security experts.
Will you be giving it a go? Drop me a comment and let me know.