Your Company’s Data Could Be At Risk If You Aren’t Using A Privacy Browser

Browsers track your data — that shouldn’t be a surprise. But data tracking presents risks to your business that you may not have considered closely enough. Some of that risk can be mitigated by your choice of browser and the extensions you use or avoid. Last year, for example, extensions for Chrome and Firefox used by four million people were found to have harvested data, including tax returns, medical information, and credit card numbers. The loss of that kind of information isn’t just harmful to you as an individual, it could lead to a data breach at your company. Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 28% of data breaches target small businesses. Overall, a typical business has a 29.6% chance of having a data breach in the next 24 months, the cost of which, on average, is $8 million. If your business has been using a popular or default browser like Chrome or Safari and not putting much thought into its privacy concerns, it may be time to consider how well you’re protecting your data.

The most popular browsers tend to be average, privacy-wise

A recent study by Douglas J. Leith organized six browsers —  Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Brave Browser, Microsoft Edge and Yandex Browser — into three tiers based on their privacy capabilities, specifically, back-end data exchange. Leith’s study placed Brave browser alone in the top tier, followed by a middle tier with Chrome, Firefox and Safari, with Edge and Yandex belonging to the least private group. 86% of internet users access the web via the middle tier — Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. The study also found that each of these three browsers has issues with trackers and identifiers. All of them share details of web pages visited with backend servers via the search autocomplete feature. Chrome, which accounts for about two-thirds of the market share, “tags these web addresses with a persistent identifier that allows them to be linked together.” But they have good qualities too. Safari’s iCloud keychain, for instance, uses end-to-end encryption to protect sensitive data like passwords and credit card numbers.

Don’t stick to default privacy settings

While Chrome, Firefox, and Safari’s defaults aren’t great, they do have options to increase their privacy. Firefox has a ‘Strict’ privacy setting, which blocks all trackers. It can also be made to block all cookies, fingerprinters, and cryptominers. Chrome and Safari have similar features, with the option to block third-party trackers, or block all trackers entirely. Keep in mind that when using Incognito mode, or other similar features on non-Chrome browsers, your real IP address and location are still being tracked, and you aren’t protected from malware. Always do research before installing an extension to your browser, to prevent your data being harvested, as in the above example.

Brave Browser is a safe option for your business

Brave is a free, open-source browser that most users can feel secure with, particularly if they’re not interested in tinkering in the settings. Brave blocks ads, website trackers, and malicious trackers. Brave disables autocomplete by default and doesn’t make any network connections when a user types in the search bar. In the conclusion of Leith’s study, he writes, “We did not find any use of identifiers allowing tracking of IP address over time, and no sharing of the details of web pages visited with backend servers.” Other high-security browser options include Tor and Epic Privacy browser. Neither are as well-reviewed as Brave, and have a few drawbacks that would probably make them inefficient for use in a business setting. Tor blocks plugins like Javascript, making many websites unusable.

Privacy search engines are another option

While they aren’t as robust as using a privacy-driven browser, search engines like DuckDuckGo won’t track your search history or sell your data to third parties. Ecosia has similar qualities, with the added bonus of an eco-friendly slant — for every roughly 45 searches on Ecosia, they say they’ll plant a tree. But making a search engine change in isolation probably isn’t enough to secure your company’s data. It’s worth taking the time to consider your browser’s privacy capabilities and settings, and think about making a change.