Avast Secure Browser review
Avast Secure Browser is a free Chromium-based web browser by security company Avast that is advertised as private, fast, and secure on the official download site.
The web browser is the official successor of Avast SafeZone Browser which Avast discontinued some time ago to focus development on the new browser.
We will take a close look at the web browser in our review; you will learn about installation and use, functionality that it provides, and whether the fast, secure and private promise is kept.
Avast Secure Browser
Avast Secure Browser is available as a standalone download for Microsoft Windows and also as part of Avast's security products. You find the download link in the summary box below the review.
SafeZone installations will be updated automatically to the new browser.
The standalone download is offered as a web installer which means that most program components are downloaded during installation. A click on options on the first installation screen displays several setup preferences:
- Place a shortcut on the desktop (yes), taskbar (yes), and in the start menu (no).
- Launch the browser when the installation finishes (yes).
- Set the default program language.
- Import bookmarks and settings from my current default browser (no).
- Import cookies from my current default browser (no).
- Make Avast Secure Browser my new default browser (no).
You need to check the import options if you want to import bookmarks, settings or cookies from the default system browser. Note that the import function supports imports from the default system browser, and that the import will fail if the default browser is not supported by Avast (example: if Pale Moon is your default browser, imports will fail as it is not supported).
Note that the browser supports the importing of bookmarks and settings from other browsers after installation.
Just load secure://settings/importData at any time to configure the operation. Supported browsers are Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer. You may import from a bookmarks HTML file as well.
Note: Avast collects and sends usage statistics and crash reports to company servers automatically. Users are not prompted about this during installation. You may disable the collecting and sending on secure://settings/ under privacy and security.
Using the browser
Avast Secure Browser is based on Chromium, the open source part of Google Chrome, Vivaldi, Opera and other Chromium-based browsers.
If you used Google Chrome in the past, you will feel at home right away as the interface resembles that of the browser.
You will notice some differences though as well as Avast's browser comes with several built-in browser extensions.
Three extension icons are visible in the browser's toolbar that provide video downloading and ad-blocking functionality and a link to the new Security & Privacy Center.
A quick check on secure://extensions/ (yes, Avast uses secure:// for internal pages and not chrome// or about://), lists a total of seven extensions of which five are enabled. The installed extensions are:
- Adblock -- an ad-blocker powered by uBlock Origin. Supports third-party filter lists, custom rules, and whitelists.
- Avast Passwords (disabled) -- integrates with the passwords component of Avast security products. You need to install compatible software on the device to use it.
- Avast SecureLine VPN -- integrates Avast's SecureLine virtual private network in the browser. Enabled by default but requires that Avast SecureLine VPN software is installed on the Windows machine.
- Bank Mode (disabled) -- switch to a virtual desktop to communicate with important sites such as online banking sites. Bank Mode is only available if Avast Antivirus or other Avast security programs that support it are installed on the PC.
- HTTPS Encryption -- enforces the use of HTTPS on supported websites.
- Privacy -- an anti-tracking extension that blocks companies and sites from tracking you online.
- Video Downloader -- download videos to your PC.
Avast Secure Browser users may disable or enable extensions but it is not possible to uninstall any of them.
Security & Privacy Center
Security & Privacy Center is another feature of the browser that is a unique feature. It is a control interface to enable or disable built-in features, and is used by Avast to list company products that complement the browser.
You control the ad-blocking, privacy, HTTPS encryption, and password manager extensions from the Security & Privacy Center, and new tools that are not listed as extensions.
- Anti-Fingerprinting (disabled) to block or limit fingerprinting for tracking purposes.
- Anti-Phishing (enabled) to protect against phishing attempts.
- Extension Guard (enabled) to block the installation of untrusted browser extensions.
- Flash Blocker (enabled) to block all Flash content.
You may launch a new private browsing window (called Stealth Mode) and a Privacy Cleaner (clean browsing data) from the Security & Privacy Center as well.
Avast's browser lists the installation status of Avast Antivirus, Bank Mode and Avast SecureLine VPN at the top of the page. Download links are provided when products are not installed; the links redirect to the Avast website.
Avast Secure Browser Benchmarks
How fast is Avast's Secure Browser? My initial assumption was that the browser's performance should be more or less identical to that of Google Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers.
I ran tests using stable versions of Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Vivaldi, Opera and Avast Safe Browser. Benchmarks are linked; feel free to give this a try on your end and report the results in the comments below (Basemark and HTML5 Test: higher is better, Ares: lower is faster).
|Browser / Test||Basemark||Ares||HTML5 Test|
|Avast Secure Browser||581||26ms||528|
The benchmark results show that this is indeed the case. The small score differences between Avast Secure Browser and Google Chrome are not significant; expect the same performance in Avast's browser and Google's browser.
To sum it up: The performance of the web browser is excellent. It is as fast as Google Chrome in benchmarks and that carries over to real-world usage as well. While you won't see a five times performance boost when you compared it to Mozilla Firefox, it is an area that the browser does really well in.
What about privacy?
One of Avast's main promises is that Secure Browser protects user privacy better than other browsers. I decided to run tests using the default configuration and with all privacy features enabled.
Panopticlick by EFF stated that Avast Secure Browser offered "strong protection against Web Tracking" and that the browser did not have a unique fingerprint (in both configurations).
Other privacy tests highlighted that the browser's protection was not perfect but still better in many cases when fully enabled. The test on Maxa Tools, for example, listed the number of installed plugins, the device's IP address and the location based on the IP, as well as other information. A rerun of the test with fingerprinting protection enabled did not improve the results.
You may see some improvement depending on which test you run and whether you connect to Avast SecureLine VPN, but the same can be achieved with any other VPN as well.
To sum it up: Avast Secure Browser comes with built-in functionality to protect user privacy. While that is good overall, it does not offer 100% protection against all forms of invasive data collecting or fingerprinting.
Closing Words and verdict
Avast Secure Browser is a brand new browser that is based on Chromium. The browser is fast and comes with privacy enhancing extensions and settings that do improve privacy up to a point.
The fact that usage statistic and crash reports sending is enabled by default damages that somewhat; I'd expect a prompt from a privacy-focused browser during setup that asks me whether I want to enable the send-home functionality or not.
Another negative is that you can't uninstall extensions that the browser comes with. Disabling may work for most users but if you like a clean browser, you may not like the sticky nature of all default extensions.
Avast is off to a good start with the new browser. It offers better functionality than the company's SafeZone Browser and does well in benchmarks and other tests. The company needs to publish regular updates to not fall behind the Chromium release cycle and leave security issues unpatched for too long after patches become available.
It is too early to tell whether Avast is up for that. I'll revisit the browser in a couple of months and keep an eye on it in the meantime to find out more about that.
Now You: What's your main web browser right now, and why?