Browser extensions can be very convenient, but they can also be dangerous in terms of privacy and security. You may already be using some to add useful functions to your web browser, but are you absolutely sure they’re safe?
How can you determine whether or not they’re safe, and what can you do to protect yourself? Read on to find out.
Why Can Browser Extensions Be Unsafe to Use?
While there are browser extensions that you can safely use, there are also plenty of malicious ones that can put your personal data at risk. There’s also the risk of them selling user data to third-parties, as well as the potential dangers of the extensions being sold to ill-intended individuals.
Malicious browser extensions usually come from third-party sites, but they can also find their way into official stores, such as Google Play, or Google Chrome Web Store.
Every extension requires certain permissions from the user before it can serve its purpose. When you grant those permissions to a malicious extension, you allow it to access particular data, such as your browsing history, or login credentials.
Cybercriminals can then collect your personal and sensitive data, without you even noticing. They can use phishing to access your sensitive data and steal your identity.
Crooks can even breach into a developer’s account and push an update that would turn a safe extension into a malicious one. Again, that would enable them to send phishing scams to the users.
Selling User Data to Third-Parties
Many developers send their user data to third-parties so that they can make more profit. They anonymize the data to protect their users, but the fact is they sometimes don’t anonymize it properly.
This is what happened with Mozilla’s Web of Trust extension a few years ago. The plugin collected full browsing history of all its users, so Mozilla removed it from all the stores. It wasn’t malicious, but what if cybercriminals had got their hands on the data? They could have used it for criminal gain.
Therefore, even extensions that are not malicious can be dangerous.
Sometimes, developers sell an extension to make a profit, but what if a criminal in disguise buys it? They could update it with various malware.
That’s what happened with a Chrome extension called Particle (formerly YouTube+) several years ago. After purchasing it, the new owner immediately turned it into adware.
The extension started requesting permission to “read and change all your data on the websites you visit,” and permission to “manage your apps, extensions, and themes.” Those were the red flags that led to the discovery of the suspicious activity.
How Can You Protect Your Devices and Personal Data?
The safest way to protect your devices and personal data is not to use browser extensions at all. However, if you don’t want to part ways with your favorite extensions, you can put some security measures in place that will keep you safe.
Install Only from Official Stores
Stay away from extensions originating from unknown sources. Install only those from the Google Chrome Web Store and other official stores for various browsers.
Utilize High-Quality Antivirus Software
Antivirus software solutions can detect malware in browser extensions and even stop you from installing a suspicious one.
Watch Out for Permission Requests
Take the time to read through all the permissions that an extension requires before installing it. A few minutes you spend that way could potentially save you a lot of trouble down the road.
If an extension you’ve already been using suddenly asks for new permission, that’s a warning sign of malicious activity. The wisest step to take in that case is to disable and delete the extension.
Use a VPN
A VPN is the best way to keep your data safe and secure. It will mask your IP address and encrypt your connection, preventing anyone from accessing your data. All your requests will go through an encrypted data tunnel so no one will be able to trace you or track your online activity.
With a VPN Chrome solution, you’ll effectively eliminate the risk of unauthorized data and data theft, keeping all your devices and personal information perfectly safe (you can download it here).
If you love your browser extensions, be sure to apply these tips right away. You’ll eliminate potential security risks, and prevent cybercriminals from exploiting your sensitive data.