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Best secure Android browser

Best secure Android browser

We rely on our phones for everything from communication to commerce, and that means security and privacy are critical on your Android device. No Android browser can guarantee your security if you go to risky websites or advertise too much personal information on social media. But a secure browser can offer more protection for your info and online activity than Chrome or the standard Firefox browser can.

Best secure Android browser: Orfox (with Orbot)

Orfox is a variant of Mozilla Firefox, which should be familiar to desktop users. Google Chrome and Apple's Safari have an effective duopoly on mobile devices, and that's too bad, because Firefox and Orfox have a lot to offer. However, we'd argue that a Web browser alone can't create a reasonably secure user experience, because browser security and privacy depend on the path you take across the Internet from your phone to your destination site, and depend on how much personal information you share online (knowingly or otherwise). That's where Orbot comes in.

What is Orbot, and why should I use it?

Orbot is the official Android app that connects your Android device to the Tor network. This network adds its own encryption layer and bounces your Internet path around a few times to help anonymize you and your location. It works similarly to a VPN (aka Virtual Private Network), and it's free -- the Tor community relies on donations and volunteers.

Boosting privacy with Orbot's bridge mode

If you want an extra layer of privacy when browsing online, mask your path with Orbot's bridge mode. It routes you through Internet servers that are not directly associated with Tor, on both ends of the actual Tor network path. Sometimes you can get blocked if you exit the Tor network path onto a website that recognizes your closest bounce as a Tor exit node. Bridge mode is like adding extra links to both ends of a chain in a way that camouflages the links in between.

Why use Orfox instead of Firefox?

You can tell Orbot to route the Internet traffic of any app on your device, so why not stick with Chrome? And why use Orfox instead of Firefox? Orfox customarily lags a few version numbers behind Firefox, and its pre-installed script blocker tends to have an aggressive filter, potentially leading to some weird page layout. In fact, DuckDuckGo -- Orfox's default, privacy-focused search engine -- won't even produce any search results if you use NoScript's default settings. But Orfox is not as fresh as Firefox for a good reason: It takes time to certify a browser to the Tor Project's satisfaction, and it takes time for security holes to emerge.

And sometimes Orfox has benefits that Firefox lacks. Right now, for example, only Orfox lets you import your bookmarks and history from another browser on the device. This can make it much easier for you to switch from, say, Chrome. Orfox does not have a cloud sync feature, because of its focus on privacy, and it's preconfigured to work with Orbot.

Why use Orfox instead of Chrome?

In Chrome for Android, you can't use an ad blocker. Firefox and Orfox on Android can use almost all the major add-ons of desktop Firefox, and both mobile browsers have a variety of privacy-minded settings. For example, you can tell Orfox to forget everything you did in it as soon as you close it, which can help protect you if your device falls into the wrong hands. And you can use any search engine you want -- which is good, because DuckDuckGo is not on Chrome's approved list.

What other security-oriented browsers should you consider?

If you still prefer a browser that's related to Chrome but contains ad blocking, check out Opera or Lightning Web Browser. For the security-focused user, Lightning gets the edge on trustworthiness, because its open-source policy means that anyone can inspect its code and even use it to build their own browser. Opera gets the edge on convenience, because you can sync your bookmarks and history to other devices.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.