3 Crucial Pieces of Safety Advice When Using Browser Extensions in Windows

Browser extensions have been around for a while, but it wasn’t until recently that they started playing more of a role in your browsing experience than the pesky toolbars we used to see back in the days of Internet Explorer 6. Granted, there are still many people new to the whole extension thing, along with many hardened veterans in the computing world who feel a certain distrust born back in the days when toolbars were shoved down your throat at every instance. Things have changed immensely as soon as Google Chrome and Firefox became major players, but we still have a long way to go. That’s why I’m going to teach you how to employ safety when using extensions.

chrome web store malware

When you look through Firefox’s add-ons site or the Google Chrome store, you’ll find a ton of browser extensions, each with their own ratings and descriptions neatly laid out for you. There’s a ton of stuff you can get and most of it is free.

Both of the above-mentioned sources are very trustworthy and come from the developers of the browser you may be using. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that you should just hop right in and download anything that meets your eyes. There are a lot of malicious extensions out there that can be used to hijack your computers. Granted, browser developers do their best to keep malware out of their extension stores. However, their security isn’t always going to stop the bad guys from butting in and giving you a bad apple. It’s the unfortunate truth of the Internet. To prevent compromising your computer, only get extensions that have lots of positive feedback. Search Google for the name of the extension, the name of your browser, and then the word “malware” after it. See what you find!

It shouldn’t have happened to me, but it did: I downloaded malicious software and opened it. It happens to the best of us. During the installation, it sneaked in an extension on my Chrome browser that popped up ads every few pages I visited. I looked at my list of extensions and, surely enough, there it was. There was something there I didn’t ever install myself.

Forcible infections via proxy have a way with making your computer behave in all sorts of inexplicably funny ways. To prevent something like this from happening, download software that comes from trusted publishers. Avoid big green “Download” buttons that appear next to a ton of other “Download” buttons on some websites. A lot of people fall for this trick and it’s sad to see how many actually get infected.

extensions - lastpass

Seriously, I can’t stress it enough: Use extensions only from trusted developers. Just because an extension is working as it should be doesn’t mean that it won’t unintentionally leak information about you to malicious sources. A hacker can access the extension developer’s database and steal all the information it collected about you. In this day and age, that’s how most compromises happen. Large database leaks can really disrupt the lives of many people.

Make sure you know what the extension is taking from you. Does it need your credit card info? Your phone number? How about your passwords? Don’t give a browser extension any information that you would mind being leaked, unless you’re certain the information is encrypted upon storage and decrypted on your computer with a passkey that you control.

It’s all about trust and scrutiny. Before downloading anything, scrutinize it carefully. Playing detective is always fun, anyway! If you have more thoughts on the subject, leave a comment below!

2 comments

  1. I’m retired, but I have a voluntary job in conjunction with Age Concern UK teaching basic computer use to seniors at a local community centre and I keep tub thumping to them about security and safety and how to look for concealed unwanted add-ons. I’m very careful about downloading anything. I always click on “Custom” install, go through unchecking all the “Add *** toolbar” and other junk and I do, indeed, try to avoid all those minefields of “download” buttons which are scattered all over webpages so thickly that most of the time I can’t find the one I want! However, I’ve just got a new Win 8 PC and have been happily downloading and installing all the stuff I’ve also got on my Win 7 laptop – so I’ve now spent the past 3 days fighting with Selection Links, that very Chrome extension you mentioned! All is not lost though. After a lot of googling I found a forum on the subject and a wonderful member posted explicit step by step instructions on how to remove it by going into the registry and deleting it from there. Voila! Poof! It’s gone! Unfortunately, I’ve also got something else – Delta Search which does much the same thing on my four other browsers, not just Chrome. I’m throwing a lot of stuff at it to try and eradicate it. I’ve found that a little freebie program called adwcleaner, which is developed by a French programmer, found quite a few nasties which Spybot, CCleaner and Malwarebytes missed. All of these remove Delta Search, but it keeps coming back again. I’ve set up a home network so I can link my laptop and my PC but I daren’t use it until I’ve got this cleared up in case it infects my (so far) clean laptop. I have a friend who is always calling me up because she’s downloaded some nasty or other. She knows very little about computers, is very impatient and just wants to get what she wants when she wants it so either can’t or won’t spend the time to dig down into the sneakily checked boxes in the depths of downloads – despite my frequent nagging and her having written down what I tell her! Consequently, she’s always got at least 5 toolbars in each browser and a collection of seemingly randomly highlighted words which, when I hove the cursor over them, resolve into adware site links – not to mention a ton of other stuff which I hav to go around and remove for her every so often. Sigh. I’ve bookmarked your article so I’ll hand out the link to this site to my students when the next term begins in September – and email it to my friend as well!

  2. @Caroline:
    “I’ve found that a little freebie program called adwcleaner, which is developed by a French programmer, found quite a few nasties which Spybot, CCleaner and Malwarebytes missed. ”
    There are many, many bogus “anti-malware” programs that first install nasties and then claim to find them. I would not trust any “freebie little programs” developed by a single programmer. Or, at least, I would scour the ‘Net trying to find as much information about it as I can.

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