Which is the safest browser?
In terms of privacy, the answer may be Internet Explorer. According to NSS Labs' 2013 Browser Security Comparative Analysis: Privacy (PDF), Internet Explorer tops Firefox and Chrome by blocking most third-party cookies by default and offering a built-in tracking protection list.
In terms of security, the answer may be Firefox. When Mark Stockley of the Sophos Naked Security blog polled readers last September about which browser they considered the most secure, Firefox was the big winner, gleaning more than 50 percent of the votes, followed by Chrome with just under 27 percent and IE with 8 percent.
I tried out three browsers that are based on the same open-source Chromium engine as Google Chrome and that claim to offer enhanced security. SRware Iron distinguishes itself from Chrome by not sharing with Google any of the information you enter.
Comodo Dragon likewise claims not to communicate with Google. As you might expect from a security software vendor such as Comodo, the program offers other enhanced security and privacy features. (The company also provides the Comodo IceDragon browser based on Firefox's Mozilla engine.)
Dooble bears the least resemblance to Google Chrome: where SRWare Iron and Comodo Dragon use the same settings interface as Chrome, Dooble's settings use a distinct tabbed interface.
(If your PC is like my Windows 8.1 test system, it doesn't have Java installed, which means there's no need to disable Java in the browsers.)
SRWare Iron: Simple and speedy, yes, but safer?
In addition to not sharing any information with Google, SRWare Iron claims three other advantages over Chrome: a built-in ad blocker, an easy-to-customize User Agent, and 12 preview thumbnails rather than Chrome's eight.
Iron gives you the option of signing into your Google account to access your bookmarks and other data. The program's phishing and malware protection is disabled by default, and when you click the "more information" link to find out about Iron's use of Web services, you open the Google Chrome help site.
Apart from not sharing your information with Google, it's difficult to find any benefit to using SRWare Iron over Chrome, particularly in terms of privacy and security.
Security firm's browser offers built-in protections
Comodo Dragon's most apparent differences from Chrome are the browser's built-in Web Inspector and PrivDog features, both of which are represented by icons on the right side of the address bar. Web Inspector performs an online scan of the current page for malware and malicious activity.
PrivDog identifies blocked and unblocked privacy threats on the current page in various categories: ad networks, trackers, third-party widgets, statistics, and third-party cookies. A typical PrivDog threat report appears at the top of this post.
When you install Comodo Dragon, you're offered 10GB of free online storage by signing up for the company's cloud-storage service. However, when I attempted to sign into my Comodo account from inside Dragon, I was directed to the Google sign-in page instead.
Comodo Dragon's enhanced security features include phishing and malware protection enabled by default, Comodo Secure DNS malware domain filtering on by default, and a "Clear at exit" button under the browser's privacy settings that lets you clear your browsing and download history, delete cookies and other site and plug-in data, empty the cache, clear passwords, and otherwise cover your tracks.
I'd feel better about Comodo Dragon if the browser hadn't added its own honkin' huge ads at the top of pages it opens. It's easy enough to disable the ads, and you can't blame a company for trying to make a buck, but those full-window ads are still a major distraction.
Dooble isn't ready for prime time
The Dooble open-source browser is described by its developers as "mischievous," "fair trade and organic," and "made with lots of love." I only wish the browser was more reliable.
Several of the pages I visited in Dooble didn't open correctly, including our own CNET How-To page.
There's a garage-band feeling to Dooble that shows its developers have a lot of heart, but functionality-wise, the browser leaves much to be desired.