How to make sure your browser extensions are safe

Browser extensions can be extremely useful, fill in feature gaps, add exciting new features and options, and generally make life on the web more convenient.

At the same time, they can pose a serious security risk: many ask to see everything you see online, some change key settings in your browser, and they can work and communicate with their developer (or advertisers). or other parties). in the background without your knowledge.

We don’t want to discourage you from using your favorite extensions, but you absolutely need to make sure that the ones you are using are safe.

First of all, all the usual rules apply: Keep your computer and its applications up to date. Run regular malware scans. This will go a long way in minimizing the risk posed by potentially questionable extensions. Beyond these tips, here’s how to run an audit.

How to spot threats early

Identifying a bad browser extension isn’t an exact science, but there are some general tips to follow. Always do your research before installing an add-on. Check the reviews of other users and the reviews on the web, if there are any. See when the extension was last updated, as really old and outdated tools may be less secure than newer ones, and definitely look for indications that the add-on has changed hands recently.

It is important to make sure that the extensions you install come from official repositories, such as the Chrome Web Store or the Firefox browser add-ons portal. This gives you some degree of certainty that the software you are installing is legitimate and safe, so be a bit wary of extensions you find elsewhere.

We’re not saying new, unrated add-ons from unknown developers are bad, but you need to be extra careful with them – can you find anything about the company or the person behind the tool? Is the financing of the extension clear or is it an exciting project? What clues can you get from the website linked to the extensions listing page, for example?

Check the permissions requested by an add-on. In some cases (Firefox) they will be listed on the extension page on the web; in others (Chrome), you won’t see them until you install the software. Be on the lookout for any permission requests that seem unreasonable or strange given what the add-on is supposed to do.

How to check Chrome extensions

Extensions in Chrome.

Screenshot: David Nield via Google

To see the extensions you have installed in Chrome, click on the three dots (top right), then choose More tools and Extensions. Click on Details next to any extension to reveal more information about it, including the browser permissions it needs to run and the space it takes up on disk.

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