A tiring bit of Internet security advice one often hears suggests using a separate and dedicated browser for sensitive transactions such as online banking or checking your medical data. In the past this meant sorting out which was the secure browser and then avoiding it for other purposes or even using a different computer altogether.
“Set up a separate, Java-free browser dedicated just to shopping and banking,” security software company F-Secure suggested in December ahead of the holidays. “Busy, distracted people doing their holiday shopping online may be more susceptible to falling into malware traps that attempt to steal credit card info or banking passwords.”
“Java-free what?” would be most people’s response. Now several companies are making this process easier and ever safer through cloud-based browsers that store no data from each session and prevent any malware from interacting with your computer.
One such product is Authentic8’s Silo, a standalone browser that starts only after entering a password. It then executes on the cloud and calls up a list of links the user has previously entered, and can store passwords for those sites. All code executes on their remote servers, providing security against malware and privacy against tracking.
“People are starting to realize the browser is a pretty insecure element ,” says Scott Petry, Authentic8’s co-founder and CEO. Now “literally Swiss banks are using us.”
At a consumer cost of $100 a year, the browser streams a copy of the web session to your computer without a noticeable lag. “It’s a hard technical problem to solve, the not least of which is that users expect real-time performance,” says Petry, whose track record includes founding the email filtering service Postini (now part of Google GOOG +1.74%) in 1999.
Authentic8 is not intended to serve as a full-service browser. It does not allow the importing of bookmarks from other browsers and it disables audio, which in effect hobbles video as well. The startup focuses mostly on business applications. including the ability to allow firms to limit what sites employees can visit using the browser. But it also has a strong use case for consumers. Authentic8 has raised more than $10 million in venture funding, and got its first customers in October.