How to Increase Web Browser Security

Protect yourself and your privacy with a more secure browser

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Unless you've taken the time configure your browser's privacy, there's a good chance your browser isn't as secure as you'd like it. From location tracking to nosy cookies to pop-ups — web browsers are shot through with loopholes that can compromise your security in unintended ways. If you've been thinking about fortifying your web browser's security, now is a good time. Here's how to do it.

Choose a Secure a Web Browser

The vast majority of web surfers can be found on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer. But that doesn't mean you're limited to these choices. There's heaps of secure browser alternatives, including Iridium browser, GNU IceCat browser, Tor browser, and more. But no matter which browser you use, remember that there's no such thing as a 100% secure web browser on its own. Luckily, you can increase security on any browser by locking down the settings and using a VPN (more on that below).

If you want stronger security and privacy on the web, consider getting a VPN. A VPN uses encryption and IP masking to hide your private data and activities on the web.

Lock Down Your Browser's Privacy Settings

Have you checked your browser's settings lately? Configuring your privacy settings is one of the most important things you can do to secure your web browser. By default, many browser settings leave your personal data exposed. At a minimum, you should:

  1. Disable pop-ups and redirections. In addition to being annoying, pop-ups and redirects can be used to spread malicious software.
  2. Don't allow automatic downloads. Automatic downloads can contain malware and viruses. Asked to be prompted before downloading anything.
  3. Keep cookies in check. Delete cookies after browsing and turn off third-party access to cookies.
  4. Restrict access to your location, camera, and microphone. Set your browser to ask permission before accessing these features.
  5. Deactivate ActiveX. Active X is considered outdated, and poses security risks. Consider deactivating Flash and Javascript as well.
  6. Turn on "Send a Do Not Track request." This will help prevent websites from tracking you, but it's not guaranteed.
Woman updating Firefox privacy settings

Here's where to find your privacy settings on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari:

  • Chrome privacy settings: Click the "more" ellipsis (three vertical dots) in the top right corner of the browser. Click Settings, then scroll down the page and click Advanced to access your privacy settings.
  • Firefox privacy settings. Click the hamburger menu (looks like three vertical lines) in the top right corner of the browser. Select Preferences, then click Privacy & Security.
  • Internet Explorer privacy settings: Click the small gear in the right corner of the screen. Click Internet Options, then click the Privacy tab.
  • Safari Privacy Settings: Go to Safari > Preferences in the top corner of the browser. Click the Privacy tab to view and update your privacy settings.

Take the time to get familiar with your browser's specific privacy settings and research additional security tips for your browser type online. You will likely discover many loopholes you didn't know existed.

Keep Your Web Browser Up-to-Date

Woman checking Chrome version

Even the most secure web browser can't protect you from the latest threats if it's out-of-date. Every browser is a little different when it comes to software updates. Here's how updates are handled in Chrome, Firefox, IE, and Safari:

  • Google Chrome: Any new updates will trigger automatically whenever you close the browser. To check if Chrome is up-to-date, go to Chrome > About Google Chrome in the top left corner of the browser.
  • Firefox: Firefox lets you turn on or off automatic updates under Firefox > Preferences. To check your Firefox version, go to Firefox > About Firefox in the top left corner of the browser.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer: IE updates are distributed through Automatic Updates. To check your IE version, go your computer's search bar, type in “Internet Explorer," open the app, click the gear icon, then select About Internet Explorer.
  • Apple Safari: To check your Safari version, click Safari > About Safari in the top left corner of the browser. You can also configure Safari extensions to automatically update.

Browse In Private or Incognito Mode

While browsing in private mode won't give you full privacy — your IP address and activities can still be tracked — using private mode prevents your web history, browser cache, form data, and cookies from being stored after you quit the browser. This means that whoever opens the browser app after you can't see your browsing history.

After using your browser's private or incognito mode, be sure to close the browser completely when you're done using it. Don't just minimize or hide it, as that won't erase your data.

Chrome incognito mode

Google Chrome calls private browsing Incognito Mode. But you can access private browsing on Firefox and Apple's Safari browser, too. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, it's called InPrivate tabs, but works essentially the same as all the other services. Your browsing history is shielded from prying eyes.

Using private or incognito mode doesn't prevent your web data from being tracked or seen by your ISP, school, or employer. If you want to completely hide your IP address, location, identity, and activities when browsing the web, consider using a VPN service.

Use Browser Security Extensions

Most browsers give you the option of installing additional security extensions to help bolster your browser security and privacy. When using any type of extension, make sure the extension is endorsed by the browser you're using, and be sure to enable automatic updates so the extension is always up-to-date.

Chrome web store

Here are some of the best privacy extensions to get you started:

  • HTTPS Everywhere: HTTPS Everywhere works with Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. It works by encrypting your data with many major websites. (By the way, never buy anything from a website that doesn't use HTTPS!).
  • Adblock Plus: AdBlock Plus is an open-source extension for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Edge (beta), Opera, Maxthon, and the Yandex Browser to stop ads from cluttering up your pages and videos.
  • Click & Clean: Click & Clean works on Chrome and Firefox that erases your private data, including your browsing history, cache, cookies, passwords, form data, local storage, and more.
  • Disconnect: Disconnect works by blocking hundreds of invisible tracker requests inside your browser and apps, which can help to increase page load times. It's available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.
  • Privacy Badger: Similar to Disconnect, Privacy Badger works to automatically block invisible website trackers. It's compatible with Firefox, Opera, and Android.
  • Blur: Blur is an excellent privacy tool that works by masking your personal information online, including your email address, phone number, credit card numbers, and more. Blur installs into your browser and works with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari.

    You can get Chrome extensions from the Chrome Web Store, Firefox extensions from Firefox Add-ons site, and Internet Explorer extensions from their Internet Explorer Gallery website. You can also just Google the web browser name plus the word "extensions" to quickly locate extensions.

    Be careful when installing browser extensions. While many extensions can bolster security, add-ons from shady sources can be risky. Never install add-ons from websites that insist you run the software before accessing the site. It could be malware in disguise.

    Use a VPN When You Browse the Web

    Woman using VPN service

    Even the most secure browser with the most advanced settings can't keep your browsing activities truly secure or private from your ISP, employer, or school. That's why you should consider getting a VPN. A VPN is hands down the best way to secure your web browser, and you should consider getting one if privacy and security is important to you.

    A VPN service protects your web privacy and security in three important ways:

    • Disguises your IP address and location: VPNs spoof your IP address and location, so you can't be tracked by your ISP (internet service provider), search engines, and websites.
    • Encapsulates your web traffic: With a VPN, all your data packets are hidden inside additional packets, so your data moves in a private "tunnel" over unsecured networks.
    • Encrypts your web traffic: VPN services scramble your data with military-grade encryption, so your data is virtually impossible to hack by outside forces. This is especially important when browsing over public Wi-Fi.

    Exercise Common Sense When Browsing

    And last but not least, exercise common sense when browsing the web. Even with the most secure browser and VPN, malicious websites can trick you into clicking on malicious links or downloading malware. Be wary of shortened links (e.g., bit.ly) which can hide bad links, and avoid non-HTTPS sites whenever possible. And lastly, never permit downloads or install software unless it's from a trusted site.