Privacy is one of our main concerns here at Cloudwards.net. We tout the best tools to maintain it, too, many of which come with a price tag. While we do our best to mention free tools, as well, many of the options fly under the radar.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide of 99 free tools to protect your privacy. While most come with some downsides, the options we found will maintain your anonymity on your desktop and online.
While we’ve tested most of the tools on the list, we haven’t tested them all. We’ll lead each section with our top recommendations, then, as the list continues, we’ll venture into tools we’ve read about online that should be safe. If you like to be cautious, though, stick to our first 10 or so recommendations in each section.
A virtual private network secures your internet connection with military-grade encryption and other VPN security measures, protecting you from internet service provider or government snooping. The best VPN providers come with a no-logging policy, too, meaning that your traffic is untraceable. Undoubtedly, this is the first line of defense in protecting your online privacy.
There’s an interesting disconnect, though. As you can see in our worst free VPN guide, many options come loaded with malware and data collection tools. On the other hand, ExpressVPN, is over $10 a month. Read our ExpressVPN review to see why it’s worth it.
This is the most important, and trickiest, area to navigate. We pulled from our best free VPN services to create a comprehensive list of options for this section. There’s a drawback with each, as is to be expected for a free service, but it’s better to be protected than not, even if that comes with limitations.
Be mindful of budget options on the market like Private Internet Access, though. You can learn about that service in our PIA review.
VyprVPN, which is one of the best VPN for China, offers one use for free. You can use up to 1GB of data with two simultaneous connections. Other than that, the service is fully featured with VyprDNS, four protocol options and Cyphr, VyprVPN’s free encrypted messaging app. While it has a limited network, it provides excellent value when you upgrade.
You can learn more in our VyprVPN review.
Windscribe is a newer VPN service that has excellent pricing and usability. It also has one of the most generous free plans we’ve seen, offering 10GB of data per month free of charge. Plus, you can increase the bandwidth cap by using your extra computing power to solve hashes or referring friends to sign up for their own account.
In the end, it’s easy to earn 20GB or more of secure data per month. You can learn how to do so in our Windscribe review.
TunnelBear has been the de facto free VPN for the past few years, but newcomers such as Windscribe have made it lose its luster. Even so, you can get 500MB of encrypted data per month for free. Add to that an excellent user interface and solid encryption and TunnelBear is still a contender.
You can learn about its pros and cons in our full TunnelBear review.
The U.S.-based Speedify looks to overshadow the competition with a generous free plan. You can use up to 5GB of data through the VPN tunnel per month without spending a dime. While the speed is subpar and the server selection is limited, Speedify still offers a great value.
You can learn more in our Speedify review.
Hide.me is perhaps most well known for its free plan, which offers users 2GB of encrypted data per month. While the upgrade path is costly, the mid-tier plan, Plus, offers a great value with restricted bandwidth. Hide.me isn’t the best option out there, but it does provide excellent device support, speed and security.
You can learn more in our Hide.me review.
ProtonVPN tackles the free model differently. Instead of restricting your bandwidth, it restricts your speeds. Even so, it can keep you protected online. You can connect to three servers with a single device and, while your speed is throttled, you’re still getting most of the VPN experience.
Read more in our ProtonVPN review.
Like ProtonVPN, e-VPN limits speed instead of bandwidth. You still get the VPN client, ad blocker and no-logging policy, but you are restricted to a single server location and 3 megabits per second for upload and download speeds. Even so, for basic browsing, the speeds suffice. Plus, the prices are so low that an upgrade to an unlimited paid plan makes perfect sense.
Read more in our full e-VPN review.
You can learn more about its strong points and our privacy concerns in our Hotspot Shield review.
CyberGhost used to offer a free plan, but as of a few months ago, it has discontinued it. There’s still a free option, though. The service offers its browser proxy extension, which will allow you to access region-locked content as if you were connected to a VPN.
Avira is an antivirus provider that made a close run at our most secure antivirus list. Its VPN, which is included as part of an antivirus package, is good, too. You can use 500MB of data per month, with most of the features of the full package.
The only features you’re missing are tech support and a killswitch, both of which are included alongside unlimited bandwidth when you upgrade.
PacketiX is a self-described “academic, non-profit online environment for PacketiX VPN.” It’s a dated and complex tool, but it’s still highly customizable. While it’s aimed at students who need to take part in networking shenanigans, it’s available to everyone else, too.
TorVPN isn’t the best VPN option by a long shot, but there’s a free version you can take advantage of. It offers users 1GB of data per month with the OpenVPN protocol, which should be enough to protect your Windows, macOS or iOS device.
SecurityKiss is a security-focused VPN that doesn’t even require registration. There are multiple paid plans, each at a reasonable price, but the free option is most attractive. The service gives you 300MB of data per day and the choice of four servers. You’re missing streaming access and advanced protocols, but full platform support is still there.
Spotflux looks sketchy, but user reports claim it’s fine to use if you’re fine with ads. It funds its free service with advertisements and speed limitations. Even so, it’s free and there’s no monthly bandwidth cap.
VPNBook is run on donations and built around OpenVPN. It’s difficult to get set up because you’ll need to download the OpenVPN client and use one of VPNBook’s many configuration files. The options aren’t bad, though, as some configurations are optimized for fast web browsing and others are meant for peer-to-peer connections.
Password managers are the antithesis of VPNs. While they also increase your privacy and security online, there is a sea of free options that are excellent. In most cases, you’ll be restricted in the number of entries, but the low price of the best password managers usually means upgrading can be justified.
Unlike the previous section, some of the best options are free.
Dashlane is our pick for the best password manager for Mac and the best password manager, period. The price tag is higher than most, but it offers a free plan that allows you to store up to 50 passwords on a single device. With the high limit, the only thing you’re missing out on is multi-device sync.
If you want multi-device sync, or any of Dashlane’s other excellent features, make sure to read our Dashlane review.
17. Sticky Password
While it has a dated interface, Sticky Password is still one of the best options available. It’s unique in that it gives you the option to store passwords in the cloud or locally, a choice that Password Depot doesn’t allow you (read our Password Depot review).
The free plan is excellent, too, allowing you unlimited password storage on a single device. An upgrade to Premium is cheap, though, and you’ll be supporting Sticky Password’s mascot, the manatee. You can learn more about that in our Sticky Password review.
18. Zoho Vault
Zoho Vault, like all of Zoho’s products, is aimed at businesses. Still, there’s a free plan for individuals that allows you to store an unlimited number of passwords on a single device. Its low monthly rate on paid plans earned it a spot in our best password managers for families guide, too, so keep that in mind if you need multiple users.
You can learn more about the free plan and the more advanced paid offerings in our Zoho Vault review.
19. Abine Blur
Abine Blur is perhaps the most privacy-focused password manager on the market. You get full multi-device sync and password storage for a single user for free. Plus, Abine Blur includes email masking, which allows you to send emails from a non-recognizable address, and a tracker blocker.
An upgrade to Premium brings password backup, priority support and credit and phone masking with it, too. You can learn more in our full Abine Blur review.
RoboForm earned a spot in our best password manager for iOS guide for its excellent security and easy-to-use mobile application. The free plan offers unlimited password storage for a single user on a single device and, while it’s missing multi-device sync, it comes with RoboForm’s great sharing features.
That said, RoboForm Everywhere, the paid variant, is one of the most inexpensive password managers around. You can learn more in our RoboForm review.
LastPass beat the competition in our best free password managers guide. You can use the full service, including unlimited password storage and multi-device sync, for free. While you don’t get password backup and restore or auto-fill on applications, the free plan is a great value.
It also is one of the easiest password managers to use, with a browser-based user interface. You can learn more about that in our LastPass review, as well as see how it stacks up to our first pick in our Dashlane vs. LastPass comparison.
Kaspersky, the famous Russian antivirus provider, also offers a password manager. The paid version is half the price of even the least expensive providers, but there’s a free plan, too. It even shares a theme with LastPass in that it offers full vault access with multi-device sync.
It’s still an inferior option, though, as you’re limited to only 15 entries.That makes it feel more like a trial, but 15 entries should be enough to see if you like the service. You can learn more in our Kaspersky Password Manager review.
23. McAfee True Key
McAfee True Key has a lot in common with Kaspersky. It’s another antivirus-provided password manager with a free and inexpensive premium plan. Like Kaspersky, its upper limit is 15 entries, which is still enough to try the service.
McAfee True Key can store a variety of different entry types, including passwords, notes, addresses and credit cards. Unfortunately, those other entry types also count toward your limit. You can learn more about that and why an upgrade to Premium is worth it in our McAfee True Key review.
RememBear is a password manager offered by the makers of TunnelBear. Unlike the VPN, though, the free plan is one of the best around. While the feature set is nearly non-existent, RememBear still offers unlimited password storage on a single device and an easy-to-use interface.
The paid version adds multi-device sync and password backup for the same price as 1Password (read our 1Password review). You can learn more about why we think the free plan is enough in our RememBear review.
25. F-Secure Key
F-Secure is an antivirus provider that also offers a password manager. The paid version is more expensive than Kaspersky Password Manager and McAfee True Key, but the free version doesn’t come with an entry limit. You can store an unlimited number of passwords on a single device.
It has an excellent feature set and user experience, outside of issues in password import, too. You can learn more about that in our F-Secure Key review.
LogMeOnce is one of the most complex password managers on the market. It has so many features it overwhelms the user experience. We don’t recommend the paid version if you value your sanity. Thankfully, it has a free plan that makes the hair-pulling UI worth it.
It offers unlimited password storage, multi-device sync and restricted access to advanced features for free. You can learn more about the free plan and advanced features in our LogMeOnce review.
Master Password is not a password manager, exactly. It uses a combination of factors, including your name, master password and website to generate a unique password for each website you use. That is meant as a way to bypass storing your passwords anywhere else but locally on your device. It’s an unusual concept that you can try for free.
KeePass is a well-known password manager that’s been around for a while. It’s open source and free, but comes with a few drawbacks. It’s based on your desktop, it can’t sync across devices and the interface is ugly. Still, if you’re using the best cloud storage, you can sync manually.
DataVault is a bit under the radar, as more commercially viable options have risen to the forefront of the space. It’s a paid product, but the trial is long enough that you can download and use it for awhile. It’s cheap, too.
Antivirus software is mainly used as a check against cybercrime, protecting against nasty malware, such as ransomware (read our what is ransomware guide). That said, other schemes, such as browser hijacking and phishing, can put your personal information at risk, as you can read in our what is phishing and what is browsing hijacking guides.
The best antivirus software can protect you against desktop-based threats, such as ransomware, and data mining scams, such as adware. We scanned our antivirus reviews to find the free tools that do the job best.
AVG took first place in our best free antivirus software guide, and for good reason. It has some of the best independent lab results around, a slew of built-in features and an easy-to-use interface, to boot.
The free version comes with basic protection and scanning, including real-time protection against web and email threats. While there’s constant solicitation to upgrade, there’s no denying that AVG is the best free option on the market. You can learn more in our AVG review.
Kaspersky is known as an ultra-secure antivirus, and we found that to be mostly true when we tested it. The free version lacks features, but it still gives you the same powerful scanning modes and real-time protection of the full version.
That said, one big omission is webcam protection, a feature that made us recommend Kaspersky in our how to secure your webcam guide. Still, the free plan is impressive and an upgrade to a paid plan is cheap, as you can read in our Kaspersky Anti-Virus review.
Bitdefender is our top choice for the best antivirus for Mac and the best antivirus in general. The free plan is good, but not as good as its paid counterpart. While you still get the superior protection in real-time, the features are lacking.
Specifically, you’re missing multi-layer ransomware protection. Still, you could do a lot worse. You can learn more in our Bitdefender Antivirus review and see how it stacks up to Kaspersky Anti-Virus in our Bitdefender vs. Kaspersky comparison.
Avast, which earned a spot in our best antivirus for Android guide, has been the de-facto free antivirus for many years. It has an excellent interface and set of features, but, despite being under the same management as AVG, it has inferior protection results.
Even so, it’s hard to go wrong with Avast. It’s user-friendly, convenient and will protect you from most threats. You can learn more in our Avast Pro review and see how it compares to Bitdefender in our Bitdefender vs. Avast guide.
Avira ranks right under Bitdefender in our reviews, largely because of its reasonable pricing, excellent protection results and abundance of features. The free plan doesn’t have as many features, but you still get Avira’s real-time protection, powerful scan modes and an ad blocker.
It allows you to use limited versions of Avira’s VPN and password manager, too, which should be enough to nudge you toward an upgrade. You can learn what we think about those additions in our full Avira review.
Sophos provides one of the most feature-rich free antivirus packages available. You get parental controls, protection for three devices and real-time web monitoring without spending any money. The main difference between it and the paid plan is that it’s not protecting you based on behavior. Instead, it’s looking for malware it has already encountered.
The protection results are scattered, too. It’s hard to come to a definitive conclusion about how safe Sophos is given how little data is available. Even so, it’s a decent free option. You can learn more in our Sophos Home review.
36. Panda Security
If it wasn’t for an infuriating user experience, Panda Security would rank highly in our other reviews. The prices are high, but not unreasonable, and the protection results are excellent. The sluggish interface holds us back from making a full recommendation, though.
The free version makes the hassle worth it. It can protect Windows or Android and comes with real-time protection, USB inspection and the Panda Security Rescue Kit, which helps you come back from machine-breaking infections. You can learn more about those features in our Panda Security review.
If you’re a Windows user, you have one of the best free antiviruses already. Windows Defender isn’t flashy, but it is effective. MRG Effitas awarded it a Level 2 certification in its Q2 2018 full spectrum analysis, meaning it was 98 percent effective against Windows-based threats.
Windows users can also take advantage of Comodo Free. It uses real-time protection and behavior monitoring to protect against threats in its malware database and new programs that have yet to be logged. While the paid version comes with a lot more features, the free version should get you by.
Malwarebytes is often misunderstood, as it’s not technically an antivirus. It’s an anti-malware application, meaning it doesn’t protect against threats in real-time. Instead, it identifies and removes malware that’s already on your machine.
Even so, as long as you routinely run scans, Malwarebytes is a good option.
ZoneAlarm doesn’t have much for protection results, but the few numbers that are out there suggest that it performs well. It is a paid product, but there’s a free option that provides real-time protection, a firewall and data encryption.
Lavasoft Ad-Aware Antivirus has received mixed protection results in the past. It has rarely made it to Bitdefender’s level, but has never fallen below a 90 percent effective rating.
The free version is basic, including real-time protection and rudimentary scanning. The upgraded version adds web protection, a firewall and more, but the free version looks most attractive given the lab results.
Yet another tool with mixed results, Qihoo 360 Total Security will get you by if you’re on an ultra-tight budget. It isn’t our first choice in free antivirus software, though, as the core protection is lacking. Even so, it comes with a lot of additional features that other providers charge for.
Secure Messaging and Email
If you want to know how to encrypt text messages, this is the section for you. We’ll be running through the most secure messaging apps for your phone and desktop. While they’re different, both use the same basic protection concepts, so make sure to read our guide to email security to get up to speed.
While WhatsApp has been a mainstay for international travelers, it hasn’t been the epitome of security until recently. That said, it now uses end-to-end encryption on messages sent using it. In addition to texting, you can send voice messages, photos and videos in the app.
Encryption protects you from external threats, but not from losing your messages. Make sure to read our guide on how to backup and restore your WhatsApp chat history, so you can stay protected there, too.
Signal comes from Open Whisper Systems, a software developer best known for developing the Signal protocol, which the app is named after. It covers everything from texting to voice calls across iOS, Android, macOS, Windows and Linux. It even has the seal of approval from privacy savior Edward Snowden, which Open Whisper Systems displays on its website.
Voxer is a messaging application for iOS and Android. It supports text, photo, video and location messages, but has a particular focus in voice messaging. While a standard messaging app on its face, it includes the Signal protocol, which allows you to encrypt your messages. Just make sure to turn it on, as Voxer doesn’t enable the feature by default.
Wickr Me provides end-to-end encryption for iOS and Android devices. It takes privacy seriously, too, deleting metadata, such as geotags and times, from your messages. Your messages delete themselves, as well. Wickr Me includes a self-destruct timer that you set, so no messages linger on your devices longer than you want them to.
While our previous options have focused on individual users, Pryvate targets businesses. The free version is available for iOS and Android and includes encrypted calls and texts. If you shell out for the premium version, you’ll get protected video chat, picture messaging and email.
Dust is another encrypted messaging app for iOS and Android that gets its name for its “dusting” feature. “Dusting” is where the app deletes your messages directly after you read them or after 24 hours. You decide which. It has other unique features, too, including the ability to delete messages off of recipients’ phones and notifications if screenshots are taken.
Like Pryvate, Wire targets a business crowd, but there’s a free version available for personal use. It’s one of the more robust options, offering secure calling, messaging and file sharing. If you’re running a team and spring for Wire’s Pro version, you’ll also have access to video conferencing, screen sharing and timed messages.
Cyphr comes from Golden Frog, the same company that maintains VyprVPN. If like that service, you’ll be a fan of this one, too. The app is only available for iOS and Android, but Golden Frog has plans for desktop versions in the future. Messages are secured with AES 256-bit and, given the time we’ve spent with VyprVPN, we’re confident the privacy is sound.
Facebook is at the center of massive privacy concerns around the world, but it provides messaging with end-to-end encryption. If you’re using its “secret conversations” feature, your messages will be secured from outside eyes. As far as internal eyes go, we can’t promise anything.
If you’re skeptical about using Facebook Messenger, we can’t fault you. Make sure to read our guide on Facebook privacy settings, though, if you want to explore the idea further.
KeeperChat is a secure messaging app from the company that makes the password manager Keeper, which you can learn about in our Keeper review. It’s available for iOS, macOS, Android and Windows and comes with a few features that separate it from the pack, including the private media gallery, which lets you store photos and videos separately from your phone’s camera roll.
Mailvelope is a browser extension that encrypts popular webmail applications using OpenPGP. The extension is only available for Chrome and Firefox, but based on our findings in browser security, you should be using one of those anyway. It works with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and GMX, so, as long as you have a combination of the supported platforms, it’s a solid option.
GNU Privacy Guard is like Mailvelope in that it protects your emails with OpenPGP for free. It’s better in that it supports more operating systems, but worse in that it’s not as easy to use. Still, if you’re a Linux user or fall outside of the browsers Mailvelope supports, it performs the same task.
Mac users are mostly left in the cold when it comes to email encryption because most programs are written to support Chrome and Firefox, leaving Apple’s “great” Safari browser to fend for itself. GPGTools is a Mac-based alternative for securing emails with OpenPGP if you’re using Safari.
Tools such as Zmail can cause a lot of harm, so we’re not condoning the improper use of the service. It allows you to create fake email addresses and send messages in an untraceable form. It’s useful for whistleblowers, in particular, but can also be used to send malicious links to unsuspecting recipients. Don’t be that guy.
Guerrilla Mail is similar to Zmail in that it can create fake addresses, but it’s intended for providing email addresses when signing up for online accounts. It generates a new email every 10 seconds, so you can provide the fake address to a website and confirm the account while remaining anonymous.
Frankly, ads are annoying. Ignoring the obvious privacy issues in cross-website tracking, display advertising slows down your browsing experience and crowds the pages you land on. We’re going to look at the best free ad blockers next, though check out our article on the best pop-up blockers, too.
AdBlocker Ultimate ranks highly because it offers excellent browser support. You can use it with Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera, so, unless you’re a Microsoft fan, you can speed up your browsing experience. AdBlocker Ultimate is also open source, so you can download the source code and see how it works under the hood.
AdBlock supports Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Opera. It blocks all ads, including banners and sidebars. It’ll even block ads before YouTube videos. Just press play. You can add exceptions, too, so you can support the websites you want to while blocking ads on others. With its focus on privacy, AdBlock is a great choice.
If you search Google for an ad blocker, AdBlock Plus is likely to pop up. It’s available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera, and comes with a lot of settings to fine-tune your browser experience. AdBlock Plus is part of the Acceptable Ads initiative, meaning it will show non-intrusive ads by default to support websites that rely on ad revenue.
That feature can be turned off in the settings if you want to completely shut down advertising, though.
uBlock Origin is another top-rated ad blocker for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and macOS. It focuses on low overhead, decreasing your memory and CPU use rather than increasing it like some ad blockers do. You can also add multiple filters to it to get rid of specific types of adware and trackers.
AdGuard has excellent platform support. It’s available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, Opera and Yandex. In addition to blocking ads and trackers, AdGuard can handle anti-adblock scripts. If you’ve ever received a pop-up asking you to disable your ad blocker, you’ve seen those in action. AdGuard can bypass them for a seamless browser experience.
Like AdBlock Plus, Stands Fair Adblocker tries to block intrusive ads while letting websites that rely on ad revenue show what they need to. It gives you control over your experience, allowing you to show or block YouTube, social media and search result advertisements.
There’s risk in allowing ads on trusted websites because a rogue sidebar can still infect your machine, but Stands Fair Adblocker gives you the control to decide which websites you support and which you don’t.
1Blocker is available for macOS and iOS and takes advantage of Apple’s content blocking features. Ads and social media trackers are blocked by default, but you can configure 1Blocker to get rid of anything you want. The free version lets you block one type of content, so that should get you by for a while.
Ghostery comes from the makers of the Cliqz browser, which we’ll get to in a minute. It supports Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, blocking ads and trackers. The browser extension is robust, too, allowing you to customize the display to show different analytics about what it has blocked.
AdAway is a mobile ad blocker, exclusive to rooted Android devices. It’s free and open source, meaning you can dig in to see how it works on a technical level. The basic premise is that when a webpage makes a request to fetch an ad, AdAway sends that request to a blank IP address. The ad is never fetched and your mobile experience benefits.
Secure Search Engines
Search engines gather a lot of data. While the data is mostly gathered for marketing purposes, it poses a major security and privacy risk. Because search engines keep it on record, anyone who can bust down the server walls can see you and what you search for online, incognito or otherwise.
There are a lot of “secure” search engines, many of which are just a form of browser hijacker. Discrete Search is an example. The results we’ve included are safe, so we recommend sticking to them.
Startpage handles secure searching differently. Instead of using its own crawl bots, Startpage fetches results from Google. You’re still using Google, but your identifiable information is stripped away before sending the request, allowing you to have your cake and eat it, too.
DuckDuckGo is one of the most well-known secure search engines. It uses other databases, mainly Yahoo, to serve results, but it doesn’t log your activity. It also offers a browser extension that blocks trackers, keeps your search history private and ranks websites for privacy.
Gibiru is an anonymous and uncensored search engine that uses a modified version of Google’s algorithm. The goal is to crawl lesser-known websites to provide all the views on a particular topic. In addition to keeping your search history private, it helps you discover websites that would otherwise be buried by Google.
Oscobo is a private search engine that’s outspoken against Google’s data mining practices. It’s built around the idea that you pay for free services with your personal data, but you shouldn’t have to. Your searches aren’t logged, your data is encrypted and Oscobo doesn’t use third-party tools or scripts to log or track your activity.
Swisscows is unique in that it tries to offer the benefits of tracking — tailored search results — without actually tracking you. It’s an anonymous search engine that uses the context of your search to generate results that it thinks you’re looking for. Because of that, it’s a self-proclaimed “answer engine,” not a search engine per-se.
Qwant is one of the more modern options on our list. Like the others, it’s an anonymous search engine that keeps your search history private. It has a surprising amount of settings, including the filtration of adult content, multiple themes and news results. It doesn’t require an account to use it, either, so you can access those settings off the record.
WolframAlpha is an answer engine that was built for educational purposes. You could, for example, enter a complex equation into it and get a result. That said, it’s still a private search engine. While it’s mostly used to find answers to questions, it isn’t a bad tool to have in your arsenal.
Disconnect Search comes from the makers of Disconnect, a privacy tool that we’ll get to in a few sections. Instead of using its own crawl bots, Disconnect Search fetches results for the search engine you choose. Before doing so, it strips away all identifiable information, so you can use the search engine you want without being tracked.
Lukol is powered by Google search results, but it maintains your privacy in the process of fetching them. Your request is delivered through a proxy after being stripped of its traceable elements. Though less known, it’s still a powerful tool that allows you to use Google’s results while maintaining your anonymity.
MetaGer uses a branch of the Tor network as a proxy to send your search requests. It’s a meta search engine, meaning that it sends a request to multiple databases and creates a list of the results. Unlike Google, it doesn’t favor results that are clicked more often, so you might stumble upon something that would otherwise be buried.
Secure Web Browsers
Secure search engines are a good start, but using a secure browser can often take you further. In addition to providing anonymous search results, secure browsers usually come with ad and tracker blocking, built-in malware protection and, sometimes, a secure password manager.
Brave is one of the better-known secure browsers. It blocks ads and cross-website trackers, but still gives you a way to support content creators. Verified publishers can accept blockchain-based tokens. Those tokens, based on the Ethereum blockchain, can be exchanged between the user, advertiser and publisher as a different form of currency.
Tor is often considered synonymous with privacy. It works by encrypting your initial connection, then bouncing it off of a series of proxy servers in hopes of obfuscating your location. That works a lot better in theory than it does in practice, though. The proxies are run by the volunteers, and Tor has a bad rep for infecting users’ connections with malware.
Cliqz comes from the same company that makes Ghostery. It builds the ad and tracker blocking pieces of Ghostery into a web browser that has unique features. For example, it displays search results in the address bar. If you’ve begun a search, Cliqz will automatically take the top results and display them.
That’s just one example of how Cliqz helps make the browser experience more convenient and secure.
Firefox Focus is a mobile browser based on Firefox. It also comes from Mozilla, but it’s a privacy-focused alternative for mobile devices. You can use it as a standalone application or as a content blocker in Safari on iOS devices. In addition to blocking ads and trackers, it optimizes webpages by replacing extraneous fonts and only loading images when you scroll past them.
Orbot is an Android browser based on Tor. Like Tor, it encrypts your traffic and bounces it off of several proxy servers before it reaches its destination. It comes with the same drawbacks, though. Nodes are still maintained by volunteers, so the true security of your connection is up in the air.
Windows Privacy Tools
Windows 10 gives up a lot of your privacy before you even open a browser, its privacy settings notwithstanding. Even if you’ve blocked every tracker, bypassed every geoblock and secured every password, Microsoft can still gather your usage data. We’re going to look at Windows tools that protect against that data mining.
W10 Privacy gives you a more robust control panel in Windows 10. While Microsoft offers basic privacy settings, there’s a lot going on deep in the OS that you can’t configure. W10 Privacy gives you a simple way to adjust those privacy settings.
OO ShutUp10 is another Windows privacy tool that gives you control over the settings that Microsoft buries. Unlike W10 Privacy, though, it doesn’t need to be installed. You can run the executable from memory, adjust the settings you want and get rid of the application.
Destroy Windows 10 Spying is an open source tool that, once again, accesses the hidden privacy settings in Windows. Instead of giving you control over these settings, though, it simply removes tracking.
Spybot Anti-Beacon addresses privacy concerns in Windows and popular browsers. It supports Windows 7 to 10 and, like our other options, lets you configure the privacy settings hidden in the depths of the Windows OS.
Windows has a good firewall built in, but it doesn’t offer much user control. TinyWall is a lightweight and easy-to-use utility that gives you more control over the Windows firewall and how it operates.
Windows Washer, as the name implies, is like giving your OS a bath. It cleans malicious or unwanted processes, deletes cached files and speeds up your desktop experience. It also deletes identifiable data before it’s sent to Microsoft.
Buyer, or downloader, be warned, though. While the application is free, some user reports claim it has incessant nagging to purchase a registration key.
Other Privacy Tools
There are plenty of other tools for protecting your privacy, many of which are unique. We’ve rounded up the miscellaneous options that couldn’t fit neatly into another section.
Tails is a live OS that can be started on almost any computer from a USB drive or DVD. The benefit of a live OS is that it builds itself when you start it and destroys all activities when you close it. It’s as if you built a new computer every time you sat down, ensuring that no trace of your online or offline activity is logged.
Privacy Badger is similar to an ad blocker, but we included it in this section because it doesn’t actually block ads. Instead, it focuses on blocking browser trackers that log your activities across websites. It starts by sending a Do Not Track signal to websites and, if they don’t comply, it learns to block the trackers they’re sending.
HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Android and Opera that forces websites to use an encrypted connection whenever you load them. As you can read in our SSL vs. TLS guide, many websites will downgrade connections instead of not loading. This extension forces a secure connection across the websites you use.
Disconnect is a browser extension and mobile tool that makes you aware of everything websites have going on behind the scenes. It will block trackers, including advertising, analytics and social requests. The service is free, but there’s also a paid version that includes a VPN for three devices.
GlassWire is a free firewall and network monitoring tool. It shows a graph of incoming and outgoing connections, so you get a better understanding of what your system is connected to. It gathers that information mainly to inform you of intrusions on your network. If something suspicious pops up, GlassWire will notify you.
Wireshark is like GlassWire in that it’s a network monitor, but it’s much more advanced. Used mostly by hackers, it’s a packet sniffer that lets you monitor everything flowing through your network. While it shouldn’t be used by novices, Wireshark can be a powerful tool if you’re comfortable sorting through packet data.
KeyScrambler is a simple tool that performs a cool function. It protects against keyloggers by scrambling your keystrokes in your browser and desktop applications. Anywhere you’re entering data will still receive what you input, but applications standing in between will receive a bundle of nonsense.
CCleaner is a popular application that cleans and optimizes Windows computers. It can end extraneous processes hogging machine resources, clean your registry and delete temporary files taking up space. While intended as a performance optimizer, CCleaner also helps with privacy by removing deep-seated files that may contain identifiable information.
Privacy Checkup is a tool built in to Facebook that will walk you through the privacy settings the social media giant offers. While it doesn’t secure you from Facebook, Privacy Checkup will protect you from other users. Power users are likely aware of most of the settings, but Privacy Checkup still serves as a good reference for newbies.
Panopticlick is a website that scans your browser to identify privacy issues it may have. It will let you know how effective your browser and extensions are at combating ads, trackers and fingerprinting. Though the tool doesn’t do anything other than test for vulnerabilities, it’s still a good routine checkup.
Do Not Track isn’t a tool, but a setting you can enable on your desktop or mobile devices. It’s made by the Future of Privacy Forum and allows you to send a Do Not Track request with your web data. Compliant websites will receive the request and not use trackers. Since many great websites aren’t compliant, it isn’t an ideal tool, but it’s still an option.
PeerBlock is an open source firewall for Windows. There’s also a Linux version called PeerGuardian. It analyzes the packets your computer is sending and receiving and blocks anything from blacklisted IP addresses. It mainly uses iblocklist.com, but you can set your own blacklist, too.
If that wasn’t enough to scratch your privacy itch, you’re probably better off with a paid alternative. If you’re willing to do due diligence, though, you can keep yourself protected without spending money.
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VPNs, password managers and antivirus software benefit from upgrades, but there’s a lot you can do for free. From ad and tracker blockers to encrypted messaging, all it takes for you to protect yourself is a bit of searching.
We also have a guide on how to encrypt Android devices.
We hope that we’ve helped. What privacy tools are you using? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.