7 Most Secure Browsers - Secure & Private Browsing

Data collection and tracking have become a digital epidemic over the past decade, as user information has become the largest commodity in the world. Mainstream browsers are some of the worst offenders of this. In particular, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Safari all use cookies to track the websites you visit and keep records of your browsing history, all to ship you targeted advertisements.

If you are remotely concerned about your privacy, you’ll want to avoid these browsers and start using alternatives dedicated to protecting your information.

Fortunately, all our suggestions avoid meaningful tracking and implement built-in protection to combat invasive website tracking.

What are the best secure and private browsers?

After the short answer? Here's a quick list of the best browsers for security and privacy. For more information, check out our in-depth reviews below.

  1. Firefox - The most private browser for everyday use
  2. Tor Browser - The best browser for true anonymity online
  3. Pale Moon - A highly customizable browser
  4. IceCat - A free software alternative to Firefox
  5. SeaMonkey - A Firefox alternative with a retro twist

Best private browsers: In-depth analysis

Below, we go through what makes each provider a great choice for security and privacy. For more information, click on through to each provider, or carry on reading through this article.

Firefox is a non-profit browser that offers outsanding privacy options for day-to-day use.

  • Free option

    Yes

Firefox browser


Firefox is a fast and private open-source browser. Its service has been fully audited, which proves they do exactly what they say they're doing. The browser is developed by Mozilla Foundation, which is a non-profit organization.


Firefox is arguably at least as secure as Chrome. Its “Quantum” rendering engine has been built from the ground up to improve speeds and includes Tracking Protection built-into the interface. What sets it apart from chrome are the additional privacy settings that you can tailor to meet your needs.


Firefox includes built-in protection against canvas fingerprinting, the most common form of browser fingerprinting.


Firefox is streaks ahead of its mainstream competition, as it does not track your web browsing to target ads at you, and gives you outstanding control and customization over your own privacy when using it. Try it for yourself, and you'll quickly see why we love it so much.

Tor allows users to access the internet with total anonymity, but sacrifices some speed in the process.

  • Free option

    Yes

tor browser


Tor Browser was designed to provide secure access to the Tor anonymity network. The Tor Browser is based on Firefox but comes with additional security features built-in to protect users, and keep their identity secret. 


Key features include:



Tor allows users to access and create ".onion" websites. These websites (often referred to as "the dark web") are anonymous hidden websites that are only accessible via the Tor network.


With Tor, your internet communications are encrypted and relayed across four separate nodes to create a random virtual circuit of IP addresses. In doing so, Tor shields your identity from prying eyes and ensures private online browsing.

Pale Moon is a stripped-back service that offers lots of customization.

  • Free option

    Yes

Pale Moon browser


Pale Moon is a lightweight and highly customizable open-source fork of Firefox. Unlike Waterfox, its code has separated completely from Firefox. It is compatible with many classic Firefox add-ons, but not all of them.


It is not compatible with Firefox’s new WebExtensions add-ons, but it has a growing library of add-ons that have been rebuilt specifically for Pale Moon.


Much of Pale Moon has been updated with code from more recent versions of Firefox, but its user interface remains the highly customizable XUL-based front-end last seen in Firefox 28. This includes support for a wide range of custom themes and skins.


Pale Moon does not offer any "special privacy features" as such, but it doesn't contain dubious, privacy-invading software, included in other mainstream browsers.


Although it provides a “close adherence to official web standards and specifications” Pale Moon is still working on full support for HTML5 and CSS3, so it can struggle when rendering some web pages.


Some users say that it lags behind with security updates, but this is very unfair. It can take up to a week before Mozilla allows the Pale Moon developers access to its latest patches, but these are always implemented as soon as possible and are always up-to-date.


Pale Moon is available for both Windows and Linux.

IceCat Offers all of the functionality of Firefox, but without the branding.

  • Free option

    Yes

IceCat browser


GNU IceCat is just Firefox with the trademarked branding removed to comply with the GNU Project’s free software guidelines.


It will block third-party zero-length image files, also known as web bugs. It will also detect and block non-free JavaScript, and has the option to set a different user agent string each for different domains in about:config. This is good for defeating browser fingerprinting.


IceWeasel is very similar to IceCat, except for Debian (Linux) and without IceCat’s additional privacy features. Now that Firefox has returned to Debian, IceWeasel is no longer maintained. IceWeasel is based on an older (pre-Quantum) version of Firefox, but IceCat is based on the latest Firefox ESR. This means it can use up-to-date Firefox add-ons and has a Quantum speed boost.


IceCat is available for GNU/Linux, Windows(unofficial build), Android and macOS (self-compiled).

SeaMonkey offers a classic internet experience with lots of features.

  • Free option

    Yes

SeaMonkey browser


Like Pale Moon, SeaMonkey uses Firefox code and the Gecko rendering engine. However, It is different from all the other services in our private browser list because of its classic style and functionality. 


It incorporates a browser, an email and newsgroup client and a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Some might argue this makes it very bloated, but most modern hardware can handle the bloat easily.


SeaMonkey is great for those who want an old-school internet experience, but in terms of updates and security patches, it lags behind Firefox.

Waterfox is an open-source web browser based on Firefox that gives users great control over their browser.

  • Free option

    Yes

Waterfox browser


Waterfox is an open-source browser based on Firefox. In many ways, it is fairly plain vanilla Firefox 56, and there are no plans to move beyond that. This means it supports both legacy Firefox add-ons, and the new add-ons. It includes tracking protection and will sync with your regular Firefox account. Some stability issues have been reported with Waterfox, but these only affect a tiny minority of users. 


Waterfox was initially a one-man project, and it seems to be doing a good job at ensuring that Waterfox incorporates the latest Firefox security patches. However, there are a couple of issues that must be noted. Firstly, these patches are for a different version of Firefox. Meaning that this could result in vulnerabilities specific to Firefox 56 and earlier being left unpatched. Secondly, Waterfox was recently acquired by the advertizing and analytics company System1. Despite Waterfox's statement that "absolutely no data or telemetry is sent back to Mozilla or the Waterfox Project", it is difficult for us to continue recommending Waterfox, without advising users to proceed with caution – since they may be sending the data and telemetry elsewhere (i.e. System1).


Waterfox is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android.

Brave offers a Chromium-based browser browser with lots of built-in privacy features.

  • Free option

    Yes

Brave browser


Unlike all the other browsers in this roundup, Brave is based on Chromium instead of Firefox. Chromium is the open-source code behind Chrome, with all the closed proprietary bits stripped out (at least in theory).


It comes with a built-in ad-blocker, tracking protection, script blocker, and HTTPS-Everywhere functionality. Brave also features one-click anti-fingerprinting and WebRTC leak protection. And anyone used to Chrome will feel at home instantly.


Despite all this, Brave is a controversial choice…



  • Brave helps to fund itself via an ad-replacement program. This replaces "bad ads” which include tracking pixels with “good ads” from its network partners. Participating in this program is opt-in, but detractors feel it adds to a problem that private browsers are supposed to be fixing.

  • The CEO of Brave Software is ex-Mozilla CEO and JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich. Eich was forced to stand down from Mozilla in 2014 after he donated $1,000 in support of California's Proposition 8, which attempted to prevent same-sex marriage for LGBTQ Californians. This has no relevance to the quality of the software of course, but you may wish to consider if you want financially benefit someone with these views by using his product.

  • Brave was also embroiled in a redirection controversy that saw searches to crypto companies redirected through their own affiliate links that gave it a commission. While the company has promised not to continue with the practice, it was still a breach of trust for users.


Brave is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.


If you're still thinking of using Brave Browser, remember that it is even more secure if you use a VPN with it. Check out our best VPNs for Brave Browser article for a list of services you should use with it and some helpful tips on staying secure when using Brave.

Concerns with Regular Web Browsers

Commercial browsers such as Chrome, Edge, and Safari all pose privacy concerns because of the ways in which they handle your data. For example, Google cooperated with the NSA in its PRISM mass-surveillance program.

Google has a detailed breakdown of how Chrome affects your privacy, but essentially, Chrome is just spyware for Google. Although Chrome does offer user-controlled privacy settings, they are hidden away in the browser, and users have to manually opt-out of features that invade their privacy.

Want to know more? Check out our can you trust Google Chrome with your data? guide.

Even with all user-controlled privacy settings locked down, there is every reason not to trust that Google won't spy on you.

This is the same for all other commercial browsers. Microsoft also collects user data, and it has been reported they also have worked with the NSA, so it’s Edge and Internet Explorer browsers cannot be trusted.

You can learn more about protecting your privacy on Windows with our best VPN for Windows guide.

Apple is primarily a hardware manufacturer, so does not rely on advertising revenue as its business model. It also has a robust global privacy policy. However, it did participate in the NSA’s PRISM program, and Safari is closed-source.

Mac users concerned about their privacy should check out our best VPNs for Mac page.

Opera is now owned by a Chinese consortium and clearly states in its Privacy policy that it collects a fair amount of data which “may be considered personal”.

Crucially, all these popular browsers are closed-source. This means that there is no way to verify that they contain no creepy code or are otherwise not doing something they shouldn’t.

Is private browsing mode secure?

Most browsers now offer a "private browsing" or "incognito" mode which, on the surface, sounds like it's going to give you a truly private experience. The reality is far from it. It's important to understand what this feature is actually doing if you want to maintain your privacy online.

So what does private browsing mode do?

In short, private browsing simply means that it won't save your history while it's active. You are not anonymous when you use incognito mode, and third parties (such as your ISP, government, employer) can still see what you're doing online. Incognito mode often gives users a false sense of security – thinking that no one knows what they're doing online.

The truth, however, is that private browsing mode is simply designed to prevent anyone with direct physical access to your device (e.g. family members) from viewing your browsing history. When you use private browsing:

  • Websites you visit won't save in your browser history
  • Searches aren't saved locally
  • Form data won't be saved locally
  • Cookies are deleted once the session ends
  • Your private browsing sessions are isolated from regular ones

Deleting your cookies between private browsing sessions will prevent some basic tracking by websites, but the benefits of this are easily and regularly overstated. If you want to know more, check out our in-depth guide on the reality of private browsing modes.

What does private mode not do?

Basically, private mode does not make you private on the internet:

  • Websites can see your unique internet protocol (IP) address.
  • Websites cannot track you using cookies but can track you using browser fingerprinting, canvas fingerprinting, and various other methods.
  • Your internet service provider (ISP) can see every website you visit on the internet.
  • Downloaded files and bookmarks made in private mode are saved as normal.
  • Keyloggers and malware installed on your system can track everything you do online.

The takeaway

If you want to hide birthday present shopping from your spouse on a family computer or hide your adult viewing habits on a shared laptop, private mode is great. It is, after all, often referred to as 'porn mode' for a reason!

What it does not do is provide any meaningful privacy (let alone anonymity) from your ISP or anyone that spies through the internet. For this, you need to use a VPN to hide your IP address, and various browser add-ons to prevent web tracking (which may or may not be bundled with the privacy browsers discussed above). 

All the browsers in this list are open-source and provide much more privacy than Chrome, Edge/Internet Explorer, or Safari.

Conclusion

Commercial browsers are far less safe than you may realize, and incognito/private browsing modes can be anything but. If you want to get the most out of your internet experience, and ensure your privacy and security are put first, then we recommend using one of the following secure browsers with a private search engine, and a robust VPN:

  1. Firefox - The most private browser for everyday use
  2. Tor Browser - The best browser for true anonymity online
  3. Pale Moon - A highly customizable browser
  4. IceCat - A free software alternative to Firefox
  5. SeaMonkey - A Firefox alternative with a retro twist

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

48 Comments

pixturesk
on July 19, 2020
Reply
As of Version 79, Firefox will no longer support mac osx 10.11.6 El Capitan, only versions 10.12+. Chrome is a resource hog on my iMac, Safari is ancient to me so, the only alternative is Waterfox which supports Mac osx 10.9+, as well as a classic version which supports 10.7+. Mr. Alex's explanation of his partnership with a private company is fine for me. As a non high techie, I just think that Waterfox , as my only alternative, is the browser for me quick, reliable, can use my favourite FF extensions, themes, I am getting the best of FF in an even better browser.
Demiurz
on May 12, 2020
Reply
what about Comodo Ice Dragon?
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Demiurz
on May 13, 2020
Reply
Hi Demiurz. Not open source...
Demiurz replied to Douglas Crawford
on May 16, 2020
Reply
I'm not sure, because it was made on the Firefox platform. Comodo is a well-known cybersecurity company, which offers a number of proven secure services. They have one of the best private/security products ... Comodo Internet Security Premium, for example, is one of the best, if not the best AV + firewall app, at the same time freeware for personal use, have secure Comodo Public DNS, and Comodo Ice Dragon is made on the platform Firefox and is fully compatible with Firefox... Claim from their home page: What's the difference between Mozilla FireFox and Comodo IceDragon? IceDragon features privacy and performance enhancements over the Firefox core browser as well as additional features such as SiteInspector malware scanning, Comodo Secure DNS and improved social media functionality. I use it, and find it very safe and reliable. I think it deserves a high place on your scale...
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Demiurz
on May 18, 2020
Reply
Hi Demiurz. It is quite understandable that you consider Comodo to be a trustworthy company, given its track record, but in my view closed source code is the antipathy to real privacy. I'm afraid that IceDragon will therefore never make this list until it is open source, but I do agree that it is otherwise a fine browser (and that Comodo is _probably_ a trustworthy company).
Matt
on April 27, 2020
Reply
Interesting information.From what I read you mentioned Chrome,Safari,Opera are closed source.Is that also the case for the newly released Chromium Edge? Chrome,Opera and Edge are supposed to be built on open source chromium or is there some portion of these browsers that use closed source code.
https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/02/member-dougjpg-avatar-image-default-1png-avatar-image-default-minpng-avatar_image-small.png
Douglas Crawford replied to Matt
on April 28, 2020
Reply
Hi Matt. Good question, and I don't have a definitive answer at this time. Chromium Edge is, of course, build on the open source Chromium browser project, and many of the customizations it has made to the base Chromium browser are also open source. I can't find any details about whether the browser uses any of Microsoft's own closed source code, but I'm fairly certain it includes some third party closed source components such as the copy protections required to support Netflix streaming and the like (but even Firefox includes such code by default on most platforms except Linux).
James
on March 10, 2020
Reply
I've had difficulties with Firefox breaking websites. Brave or Iron (chromium based browsers) seem to fit the bill without functionality problems on some websites. I use both, depending on where I am visiting.
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