Getting Serious About Internet Security

SecureBrowsersFirefox, we need to talk. We’ve been together a long time, and it’s been a wonderful and productive relationship, but you aren’t the browser I fell in love with any more. You’ve become heavy and complicated, and some of your best features leak my info like a sieve unless I spend hours researching how to customize your settings to avoid it. These will be hard things to hear, Firefox, but I think it’s better to be up-front and honest with you.

I’ve made a new commitment. A commitment to get serious about the rather persnickety task of protecting my personal info online.

I started out looking at Internet Explorer again, just to be open-minded, but it was a mistake. That’s a relationship that died a long time ago. I.E. is still just as awkward and incompatible now as when I cut and ran to you more than a decade ago, Firefox. Take some solace in knowing I still prefer you in that comparison!

I then spent some time with Chrome, who, let’s face it, is young and sexy compared to you, Firefox. Looks aside, though, Chrome shares a lot of your flaws. Sure, Chrome runs faster and lighter, and has the chromium-style sandbox that does a slightly better job of protecting me from malicious code, but it’s still really complicated to lock down all the fancy frills to keep my data secure, and there’s also this creepy guy Chrome insists on keeping around. Always there, lurking in the background, is Google, gathering my information. Unless I spend a whole lot of time researching tricks and changing settings, Chrome gives Google every detail about my location, my habits, and the things I like, and the Goog, in turn, has demonstrated a rapacious tendency to use that information to “shape” my internet experience and sell me stuff. That’s one too many in my browser relationship. I like it one-on-one.

My experience with Opera was strange. I think Opera is trying too hard to be like you, Firefox, and it shows. People would probably think I had some sort of a complex if I spent a lot of time with Opera.

In desperation, I started hanging out with a new crowd, in more security-paranoid corners of the internet, and I made two new friends (twins, actually), Epic Privacy Browser and Aviator. Both of them are built on the same chromium technology as Chrome, but share a common distaste for their older sibling’s creepy pal. Both come out of the box with virtually every setting already where you want it to keep your info safe, and both can use virtally every extension available to the Chrome/Chromium family. Both are sleek and fast, like Chrome.

That’s not to say the twins are the most convenient browsers. Every time you close them, you need to re-login to any websites you’ve visited, and they don’t even remember you from session to session, so you even have to (gasp) re-type your usernames! They can be a little quirky, too. Both allow you to search from the URL bar, but Epic forces you to use its preferred search engine, an anonymous server based in India. Meanwhile, Aviator has a weird little bug where if you have a homepage set for your home button, every new tab you open automatically opens to your homepage, regardless of whether you already have it open in a tab.

Epic’s convenience is that even in the most secure mode, it will try to autocomplete what you type in the search/URL bar from it’s anonymous search engine. Aviator doesn’t do this, but it *does* try to autocomplete URLs you’ve already typed this session, a feature Epic lacks, and it comes by default with an amazing extension called “Disconnect” that not only blocks virtually every annoying script/pop-up/advertisement, but also organizes them in a cool little panel for every page, so you can customize them for each site (like if you want to enable ads for Hulu, to hold up your end of the ad-supported bargain).

In most other ways, the two are identical. They are quite effective at keeping my data private, and they have sped up my web-browsing experience immeasurably, since so many pages are 20% content and 80% crap, and now the crap is missing. They still allow customization with extensions (Although you need to be sure the extensions won’t leak your data!), and have the dead-simple chromium-style configuration.

I think I may choose Aviator, long term, just because the interface is a little sexier, but don’t tell Epic that. For now, I’m keeping them both around, and playing it cool…