A journey of a thousand gigabytes begins with a single web browser. So, it’s not surprising that malicious actors often try to nip it in the browser bud.
To make sure they don’t succeed, you can start with a browser security test. This type of test can assess the browser’s defense capabilities against malware and other attacks. Read on to learn how to carry it out.
Table of contents
What is a web browser?
A web browser is an application that allows you to access websites on the internet. They’re your main gateway to the world wide web. Your internet surfing always starts with web browsers and, more often than not, ends with web browsers. So you want them to be as secure as possible.
Alas, that’s seldom the case. In fact, the many tech elements these apps use leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of cyberattacks.
What threats do you face online?
Too many to count. So let’s figure out why you should care about protecting your browser and what dangers lurk on the world wide web.
You know what hacking is and the malicious intent to change, steal, or delete data behind it. It’s a big deal these days, and staying safe is not always easy as you may not know if you’ve been hacked. If your browser isn’t brought up to date with security patches, it may be vulnerable to attacks.
URL manipulation is the act of changing a URL’s parameters to change the displayed page. The most common use of URL manipulation is to disguise a link to appear to be going to a legitimate site while actually redirecting them elsewhere. For example, a hacked browser might direct you to fake sites with identical URLs, stealing your personal data in the process.
Trackers are used to collect information about your browsing activity on the internet. Third-party trackers may also collect sensitive information such as your email address, password, financial information, or social security number. These trackers can sell your data to advertisers and make money off of you without you ever knowing. This is called targeted advertising.
Browser fingerprinting is a technique used to identify you on the internet by your browser’s configuration and various device settings. When you visit a website, it collects information about your device’s software and hardware configurations (the operating system, screen size, installed fonts, plugins, timezone setting, language preference, and more.)
These bits of information are then stored in a “fingerprint” database. The next time you visit that site – or any other site that operates under the same business model – it will recognize you by this fingerprint.
11 programs to help you test your browser’s safety
You might not even realize it, but some of the sites you visit could be using your browser’s security flaws to steal all kinds of information. Luckily, there are several types of tools available to test your browser’s safety and vulnerability. Here, we’ll look at some of the best – and what they do.
What it is: Qualys BrowserCheck is a cloud service that checks if your browsers and plugins are up to date. It’s an “online checkup” that saves you from having to manually navigate the ever-changing patch and update landscape to figure out what you should be using. It is compatible with Firefox, Google Chrome, and Edge.
Key takeaway: Best for people who love their plugins and have more than they can count.
What it is: BrowserScope is an open-source web service that profiles the web browser and compares the results to those of other users who have also tested their browsers on the site. The service evaluates a variety of functions in the areas of security, rich text implementation, network latency, and web standards support.
Key takeaway: This test is great as it gives you a lot of information with just one click.
What it is: Panopticlick (also known as cover your tracks) tests and compares your operating system, browser, and plugin settings to a database of many other anonymous profiles. Then, it creates a uniqueness score that shows how readily recognized you are online. The less unique your browser fingerprint is, the safer you are from tracking.
Key takeaway: Test with it at least once every few months to see how you compare.
What it is: ShieldsUp tests, monitors, and notifies you of any ports that have been opened via their firewalls or NAT routers. They’re the very ports that might be used to exploit security vulnerabilities.
Key takeaway: One of the most important tests you can take.
What it is: The Privacy Analyzer tool lists the data that websites, ads, and widgets could gather from your browser. Using IP lookups and fingerprint analysis, this data might be used to identify you or follow your activities.
Key takeaway: Knowing what information you’re giving away is the first step to protecting yourself.
What it is: PCFlank is a browser tester that offers six tests: Stealth Test, Advanced Port Scanner Test, Trojans Test, Exploits Test, Browser Test, and a Quick Test covering the Advanced Port Scanner, Browser, and Trojans Tests. These online tests make it simple to check your system for vulnerabilities.
Key takeaway: A good one-stop test if you want to be done quicker.
What it is: BrowserSpy lets you see what information a webpage can obtain from your browser, not unlike the above-listed tools. This makes you aware of exactly what parts and pieces of your privacy you are giving up every time you browse.
Key takeaway: It’s best to know the information third parties can gather about you.
Cloudflare ESNI checker
What it is: The Cloudflare ESNI checker performs a quick vulnerability scan on your browser. Privacy is invaded not only by websites that you often visit but also by ISPs (Internet Service Providers), public Wi-Fi connections, and more. With this checker, you can at least identify them.
Key takeaway: Great test to take whenever you switch networks.
What it is: AmIUnique is a popular open-source browser fingerprint checker that checks if your browser fingerprint has been in any fingerprint database in the world. It also lets you save your browser fingerprint and has a Chrome add-on that tracks your fingerprint over time.
Key takeaway: A good tool to keep up with your browser’s fingerprint over time.
What it is: Webkay is a tool that shows you what your browser knows about you and what information your browser readily gives out to websites that request your information. Being informed of that sensitive information is the first step to protecting yourself.
Key takeaway: You should always know the information websites are gathering about you.
Firefox Official Plugin check
What it is: The Firefox Official Plugin scans for plugin issues and checks for outdated plugins that compromise your safety. Simply update or uninstall these plugins for a better experience online.
Key takeaway: A must for anyone who uses Firefox daily.
How can you make your browser safer?
The tests above can show countless security threats, but what should you do to fix them? Let’s dive into the steps you should take to protect yourself on your browser.
Send “Do not track” requests to websites
The “Do not track” request is a setting in most browsers that notifies websites and online services that you don’t want to be tracked. It’s an opt-out system, meaning it’s up to the website or service to honor your request.
Some websites and services will comply with it. Others might still collect information about you through third-party advertising networks or other methods, even though you’ve asked them not to follow you around.
Block all third-party cookies
Third-party cookies are small text files that different websites might place on your computer. Cookies are different from cache in that they benefit the websites you visit instead of you. These websites are often advertisers, social media sites, and web analytics companies.
While they can be convenient, the problem is that they track your online activity and can potentially invade your privacy. Third-party cookies don’t just track you though – they also enable other sites to show you targeted ads.
Remove all unnecessary plugins and extensions
It can be tempting to install countless plugins to simplify and streamline the things you do online. But it’s important to think about what you need, what you don’t need, and how much time you want to spend updating plugins.
So, make sure you are not installing more plugins than you need. The less you have installed, the lesser the risk of one of them being compromised.
Install privacy extensions or add-ons
If you want extra protection against tracking, consider adding privacy extensions or add-ons to your browser. These extensions and add-ons offer a number of security features, from protecting your browsing history to blocking ads that track you around the web.
For example, Surfshark offers a VPN extension that hides your IP addresses, blocks ads, trackers and malware, and protects your digital privacy in one click.
Minimize tracking with a secure search engine
Browser safety extends beyond the choice of the browser itself. Although they work together, web browsers and search engines are different. Some of the most commonly used search engines track your IP (Internet Protocol) address and online activity. This means they know where you are located and what you have been doing on the internet.
The best way to avoid this is by using a secure search engine like Surfshark Search. It does not track or save any of your information.
The takeaway: Be proactive about protecting your online privacy
Modern search engines have been designed to capture and track your every move. If you aren’t being proactive, you’re likely being tracked by advertisers that exploit your browsing data. But you have the right to keep your information private, and performing a browser security test is a great first step to it.
Using a secure search engine like Surfshark Search takes it even further by preventing the browser from tracking your information.
What is the safest browser for security?
With the right tools, tests, and steps listed above, any popular browser can be safe, but Tor is specifically known for its security. Tor also works great with VPN services (often called Tor over VPN), which allows it to heighten your privacy.
What info is my browser leaking?
We won’t sugarcoat it: your browser has a lot of information about you that can get leaked. Some of this revealing information includes your IP address, browser type, the device you’re using, the plugins you have installed, and even your battery level. With that in mind, we’d recommend performing a leak test of your IP address, DNS, and WebRTC.
How can I test my browser security?
The best way to test your browser’s security is to be proactive:
- Send ‘Do not track’ requests to websites;
- Block all third-party cookies;
- Remove all unnecessary plugins and extensions;
- Install privacy extensions or add-ons;
- Minimize tracking with a secure search engine;
- Perform routine security tests with the tools listed in the article.