Anyone who uses search engines like Chrome, Safari, Edge or Firefox probably has at least one extension installed. Whether it’s an ad blocker or a download manager, extensions are meant to be helpful tools. But the truth is, browser extensions can actually be more threatening and dangerous than most users realize.
When it comes to privacy, browser extensions can be a nightmare. They have the tools to capture and track everything you do online, which includes your passwords, web browsing data, etc. Extensions can also play a role in the ads that are placed on websites you visit.
Whether they’re sold or hijacked by sketchy companies, popular browser extensions can be easily transformed into malware because of automatic updates. Read on and we’ll give you a more in-depth look at browser extensions and how unsafe they really are.
What are browser extensions good for?
Like anything else we do and use in life, everything comes with a list of pros and cons. Browser extensions are no different. Extensions are programs that alter or enhance the way your browser operates. They can be used to customize the way you utilize and navigate the web.
As we mentioned earlier, some of the more popular extensions are those that help block unwanted ads, assist with how files are downloaded or protect your privacy when you surf. Extensions are good for adding and subtracting features and content that you either love or hate, and in doing so, enhances your online experience overall.
The danger behind browser extensions
The real problem with extensions is if they are given too much access to the websites you visit, they have the power to do just about anything. They can act as a key-logger to capture your passwords and banking details, place ads on websites you visit, reroute your search traffic elsewhere and track everything little thing you do while you are online.
Having access to this info puts you and your identity at risk and leaves you vulnerable to more serious attacks. Chrome extensions, for example, have been criticized for secretly collecting and selling users data to the highest and often most shady bidder. Google is doing all it can to put a stop to this, but it’s not enough.
Additionally, modern browsers automatically update your extensions, often without your knowledge. This is where new problems can arise.
Chrome has been under constant attack and scrutiny because of its popularity, but Firefox is at even greater risk. Why? Simply because Firefox operates without system permissions, which means every extension you install automatically has access to everything.
Microsoft Edge is another example of a browser that comes with a permission system for extensions, but many require access to everything in order to work properly. Even an extension that only needs access to one website can be dangerous as well. In the end, it’s all about gathering as much info about you as possible and passing it along later.
How to protect yourself from harmful extensions
For starters, use the least amount of extensions as possible. If you have an extension installed that you barely use or doesn’t perform as well as you thought, uninstall it.
Stick with only the extensions you know that you need and actually work. It’s also crucial that you install extensions from names and brands that you can trust. Specifically, from credible web stores hosted by one of the big four browsers.
You must pay close attention to the permissions that some extensions require as well. Go with your instincts. If an extension asks for permission to access something that it shouldn’t need access to, you may want to dig deeper and find it’s true motives. When in doubt, walk away.
Also, it’s always a good idea to have important files backed up. If anything goes wrong you don’t want to lose those precious photos and documents forever.
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