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What is browser isolation? Benefits and types

Browser isolation is a technique for isolating browsing activities from networks and devices. Essentially, isolated browsing happens in a confined environment, like a virtual machine. If malicious code from a suspicious website runs, browser isolation keeps it contained in a secure environment. Web browsers are one of the most common attack vectors. So, isolated browsing can protect endpoints from the effects of malicious web content.

What is browser isolation? Benefits and types

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is browser isolation?

Browser isolation definition

Browser isolation is a technology that generates a secure, frequently cloud-based environment that prevents web threats from harming users’ devices. By running in the cloud, away from endpoints, isolated browsing removes direct contact between devices and the internet.

The cloud environment handles web content on your behalf and absorbs the damage caused by malicious or corrupted elements. Instead of relying on endpoint solutions like firewalls or antivirus, you let benign and malicious content run in separate environments. So, even if users encounter malicious web assets, they won’t affect the device.

However, remote browser isolation is not exactly seamless. Its main users include corporations, and they turn to isolation mainly for highly confidential activities. Despite its promising nature, isolated browsing is not something you can enable via browser settings.

Types of browser isolation

Remote browser isolation (RBI) is only one of the ways to build a separate browsing environment. The selected type determines how the isolation works and deals with users’ activities. Every type of browser isolation deletes information about a user’s browsing session as soon as it ends.

Remote browser isolation

Remote browser isolation means web pages and JavaScript are loaded on cloud servers. In this scenario, the user is as far away from the web browser activity as possible. Such isolation is achieved thanks to cloud servers and cloud vendors.

Furthermore, remote browser isolation can load web content differently depending on its setup:

  • Pixel pushing. Web pages get rendered as pixels, and users receive images or videos of their browsing activity.
  • Delivering the final version of websites. This technique loads website components and presents them as vector graphic representations.
  • DOM rewriting. This remote browser isolation removes all potentially dangerous code and elements before displaying the page.

In general, remote browser isolation risks significantly increasing latency, which can diminish the user experience.

Note: You must trust the cloud vendor to deal with your web activities with discretion, care, and respect. Similarly to a VPN, your chosen provider can make or break your security.

On-premise browser isolation

The on-premise option isolates the user and handles web content on a server set up internally. Thus, there is no need for a cloud vendor, as the server is likely within the private network. However, maintaining servers can be costly, and some risks still exist. For instance, internet networks can still be affected by web threats.

Client-side browser isolation

Client-side browser isolation uses virtualization or sandboxing to isolate web traffic and activities from devices.

  • Virtualization means dividing a computer into multiple individual virtual machines. For instance, you can run multiple operating systems on the same device.
  • Sandboxing creates a contained virtual environment commonly used for testing and malware detection.

Benefits of browser isolation: What does it protect from?

Web isolation is a modern approach to more secure browsing, incorporating many ideas from zero-trust security. The main idea is that users go online in a controlled environment.

It keeps devices away from potentially malicious code execution and other threats. For instance, it can even work against stopping zero-day exploits.

So, isolated browsing can be an effective solution to many rampant web risks:

  • Clickjacking. Websites can be deceptive and trick users into clicking options that do not reach their intended destinations. Web isolation protects users from accidentally downloading malware from unsafe websites.
  • Malicious ads. Malvertising means that dangerous ads get presented to users. Isolated browsing ensures that their code execution does not affect endpoints.
  • Cross-site scripting. Dangerous scripts could work on websites to steal session cookies or login information. Browser isolation prevents such codes from working on users.
  • Redirect attacks. Isolated browsing ensures that sudden redirects to unknown websites would not cause device issues.
  • Browser vulnerabilities. Outdated versions of browsers can contain multiple vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Web isolation stops such flaw exploits from occurring.
  • Drive-by downloads. You can download unwanted files or software simply by visiting a website. In an isolated environment, such sneaky installs do not compromise your device.

Alternatives for browser isolation

Unfortunately, browser isolation still needs to be refined before it can be a seamless, consumer-friendly security option. For now, you can try traditional protection measures, such as reliable antivirus tools, ad blockers, and private browsers.

Also, following essential cyber hygiene tips can significantly reduce the chances of getting your data or device compromised. For example, a VPN is one of the recommendations if you wish to apply more protection to your browsing. While it does not isolate web activities, it reroutes them through a remote server. Additionally, all web traffic gets encrypted using modern encryption solutions.

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