Ah, the web browser. It’s the one tool modern society cannot do without. We work, play, research, connect, and shop with web browsers. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of desktop computer usage is done via a web browser. That means there are millions of users ripe for having their privacy invaded.
That’s not being hyperbolic. Third parties are constantly collecting data from users, via web browsers, all over the world. In the collection of that data, many believe user privacy is being invaded.
But what can you do?
First off, you can choose the right browser. If you check most lists of best browsers for security, you’ll find one particular browser regularly left out… Chrome. Although Chrome is the most widely-used browser on the planet (with a 65.4% global market share), it is also one of the least trusted browsers.
Yes, there is certainly a correlation to be had there. Because Chrome is so widespread, it makes sense that hackers and other ne’er do wells would target Chrome. That is the same argument many made over the years for the Windows OS — it was targeted because it was the most popular.
The natural inclination would then be to simply switch to another browser. Make the jump from Chrome to Brave or Firefox and, in theory, you’d be better off. Right? Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee, as privacy can be a concern for every web browser. Yes, if you make the switch to either Firefox or Brave, you are much better off than staying with Chrome.
But there’s more that you can do.
Let me explain.
It’s all about Incognito or Private mode
If you don’t already know about your browser’s Incognito or Private mode, it’s time you did. Most every web browser offers an Incognito or Private mode. These modes prevent the details of your browsing from being saved, and the websites you visit from being shared with your other devices. Essentially, these modes are supposed to keep your browsing history hidden because they don’t save anything.
In theory, that’s great. Unfortunately, it’s not a be-all-end-all solution. Why? Well, for one thing, a Private mode doesn’t hide your searches from your service provider, your employer, or certain government agencies.
Of course, if you have nothing to hide, it’s no big deal, right? Sort of. Your private browsing information can be used by third parties for targeted advertisement and more.
So, if Private mode isn’t enough, what is?
DNS over HTTPS
One of the first things you should do is enable DNS over HTTPS (if your browser supports the feature). This encrypts your online searches and your web traffic, preventing third parties from viewing your search queries or know what sites you’ve visited.
Most modern browsers, such as Brave, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, offer the feature. To find out how to enable DNS over HTTPS, check out ZDNET’s tutorial. When you do enable the feature, make sure to enable it for both regular and private sessions (if your browser allows it).
The absolute best thing you can do is opt for a web browser like Tor, which uses the Onion network to anonymize all of your traffic. Back in its younger days, Tor was a complicated piece of software. Now, it’s as easy as using any web browser. Tor blocks trackers, defends against surveillance, resists fingerprinting, and includes multi-layered encryption.
What’s the difference between Private modes and Tor? With Private browsing, the following are deleted as soon as you close the private window:
- Browsing history.
- Cookie store.
- Search history.
However, as I mentioned earlier, your provider, employer, and some government agencies will still be able to see the sites you visit. With Private mode, you are hiding things from anyone (or any entity) that has access to your computer.
With Tor, all three of the above are deleted, but you maintain a heightened level of anonymity. In other words, your history and cookies are deleted upon exit and no one but you can see what you browse.
The caveat to using Tor (or any anonymizer or VPN technology) is that your web experience will be noticeably slower. That’s because Tor uses servers around the globe for randomizing your traffic. But given the speeds of today’s ISPs, the hit your browser will take is nothing like it was 10 years ago.
With Tor, you don’t have to worry about using a Private mode or enabling DNS over HTTPS. You just use the browser.
Which path should you take?
For those who don’t want to adopt a different browser, at the bare minimum, you should be using Private mode as often as possible. I would go so far as to say Private mode should be your default path for using any web browser, especially if privacy is your top concern. At the same time, you should most certainly enable DNS over HTTPS. With the combination of those two options alone, your privacy is greatly improved.
If you rely on saved usernames and passwords, one thing to keep in in mind is that Private mode will require that you type those credentials every time. Trust me when I say that’s the safest method. You should not allow your web browser to save your passwords. Instead, use a password manager. The slight inconvenience will reward you with considerably heightened security for your accounts.
However, if you really want to get the most bang for your buck, drop the browser you are using and switch to Tor. It’s not perfect but it’s certainly a far cry safer than the likes of Chrome.