What is a browser extension?
Browser extensions extend your web browser with additional features, modify web pages, and integrate your browser with all of the other services you use. Different browsers have different extension systems. Firefox and Chrome tend to have the more robust extension ecosystems. Read this post from How To Geek to get a better handle on extensions and their role in your browser.
Extensions can do a lot of different things in your browser, and possibly have access to your information. They are like any other piece of software, although some browsers place some limits on what these extensions can do. If you’re looking for a specific feature, there’s a good chance someone developed a browser extension to do exactly what you want to happen.
Security threats of browser extensions
Browser extensions can be much more dangerous that people realize. These small programs often have access to everything that comes in and out of your browser. Some examples of this include the ability to capture passwords, track your browsing, insert ads into your webpages.
One of the main security threats involved in browser extensions is when you add one to your browser for specific service, and then forget about it. Popular browser extensions have been sold to shady companies or hijacked. Without you even knowing, automatic updates can turn them into malware.
Unless you’re regularly paying attention to the developer page, or reading technology focused news services, you might not know about the security threat until it is too late.
Clean out your browser extensions
One of the best ways to mitigate risk is to regularly clear out your browser extensions. Delete the ones that you don’t regularly use.
Think about the tools you regularly use in your kitchen. You might have some tools, like an espresso machine that you put away for some occasions. Whereas, you leave your coffee maker out on the countertop all of the time (at least in my house 🙂 ) If you recognize that the coffee machine has been getting old, or you find that it has been faulty, you may try to fix it, or buy a new one. The key thing is that you keep a focus on the tools you use, and remain safe in the process.
Regularly reviewing and maintaining your browser extensions will go a long way toward keeping your information safe.
Delete and pay attention
One of the first rules of thumb is to use as few extensions as possible. I regularly test out new extensions. If it doesn’t do much for me…I delete it.
Minimize your installed extensions to just the ones that you definitely will use on a regular basis. Delete any extensions you don’t need.
Pay attention to your browser and the web pages as you surf online. If something seems like it is not normal, or perhaps a bit slower, take a look at your browser extensions and possibly delete ones that might be compromised, or at least slowing things down.
Pay attention to the developer or company that made the extension that you’re installing. You cannot trust that the web store for Chrome or Firefox is making sure the extensions are all safe. Read the reviews for the extension. Does it work? Do you recognize the developer for the extension? As an example, if you’re using an extension for Evernote, is the extension developed by Evernote, or a third party?
Pay attention to the permissions required by the extension. As you install the extension, it should tell you about the information, data, and access of the extension. As an example, you should have questions if the extension is built to modify one website, but asks for permission to other websites like your email.
Browser extensions can be great tools that really help you as you search and sift online. They also can be a security hazard if you’re not paying attention to them after installing them.
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Also published on Medium.