Web browser extensions are simple pieces of software that add a unique feature or personalized functionality to a web browser. This can include a wide range of things – from organizing notes and removing pop-up messages, to managing your passwords and changing the look of tabs in your web browser.
No one can deny the usefulness of extensions, but the question remains – are they safe to use? Should we be careful with using the same? Where is the limit that we can say we have too many extensions?
How Do Web Browser Extensions Work?
Most of these extensions have partial access to everything you do online. This means that they can track what you visit on the Internet, ‘catch’ your password and insert personalized ads based on the content you visit on the Internet. Fortunately, extensions do not have access to everything automatically. Most of the time you give them access – whether consciously or unconsciously. For example, if you pay attention while installing extensions for Google Chrome, you will see a message similar to this: “Read and change all your data on the website you visit”. Most of us don’t see these messages or ignore them and install extensions without thinking about the consequences it carries with it.
Are the Extensions Safe?
The answer is – yes and no. It very much depends on the type of extension you are installing. The biggest security risk you have here is to give them too much authority.
The good news is that modern web browsers have a “permission system” and do not allow extensions to do certain actions for you. For example, some extensions cannot be run until you activate them yourself on a particular website by clicking on them and giving them the authority to do something. The bad news is that most web browsers allow extensions to run on virtually any website and have access to everything if you allow them to. You give them authority at the wrong time and in the wrong place, and you invoke a so-called ‘safety nightmare’.
How Can Extensions Risk Your Safety?
Here are some privacy and security headaches that extensions can give you:
- They can work as a potential keylogger and ‘capture’ your login details on specific websites. In fact, keyloggers can capture everything you type on your computer, and that is a huge threat to your private information such as card information and the like (it applies to any payment online – whether it is money transfers, buying clothes, furniture, gifts, betting on casinos that offer games from the best software providers like 4theplayer online casinos at TopCasinoExpert.com, etc.).
- Malicious extensions can redirect you to suspicious websites.
- Dangerous extensions can potentially download malware, adware, or trojans to your computer.
- Extensions can store information about you (such as the pages you visit and the queries you make) and sell them to third parties.
- Most extensions can be updated automatically, which means that even legitimate extensions can be ‘revolt’ and cause you potential damage without you knowing it.
There are many more things that can go wrong, and there is no guarantee that a particular extension is good or bad. Each extension can ‘prevail’ in one moment to one side or the other. Last year, Google removed 106 relatively popular extensions because they were reported by users and found to collect sensitive user data.
Ways You Can Minimize Potential Damage
Now that you know what dangers web browser extensions can bring, it is time to learn how to minimize the damage or avoid it altogether.
Avoid using too many extensions
When we talk about extensions, the rule “less is more” is valid. So, keep the list of extensions to a minimum. In addition, most popular web browsers can be nicely customized to your needs, and have a bunch of functionality. You don’t need 20 extensions.
Today you have ToDo lists built into web browsers, a “Read later” button when you find a good article and the like.
Install extensions from verified sources
It is extremely important that you install extensions only from verified sources such as the Chrome Web Store or an alternative on Mozilla. We cannot stress this statement enough.
At all costs, avoid quickly installing extensions from unverified sites because there is too much chance that someone will steal your data and collect too much information about you. Not to mention third-party Gmail or YouTube extensions. If they weren’t made by Google itself, don’t install them. The same goes for some other services. If you use Outlook for emails, then you will possibly install an Outlook extension made by Microsoft, and not by some untrusted person. Do you think companies would allow just anyone to tamper extensions for their services?
Google uses machine learning to detect and block malicious extensions, while Mozilla conducts automated checking of its extensions when placed on the store.
Get rid of extensions you don’t use
If you have extensions that just stand in your browser and you don’t use them, simply remove them. Go through all the installed extensions (it would be advisable to do this at some regular intervals) and delete the ones you don’t need. For instance, you may have the Evernote extension because you used Evernote a year ago. If you don’t use it anymore, you don’t need an extension either. You understand the pattern, right?
It should be noted that deleting extensions will speed up your web browser. And not only that, the whole system will work a little better because less memory will be spent on the web browser.
How to remove an extension? In Chrome, click on the extension icon in the upper right corner and select the “Remove” option. Alternatively, you can click the “More” button (three vertical dots) and then select “More Tools”. Then select “Extensions” and you will see a list of all installed extensions. Just delete the ones you don’t need and that’s it. A similar thing is in Mozilla.