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Here’s Why You Need to Pay More Attention to Your Chrome Extensions

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How many extensions do you have installed on your Google Chrome browser? You know, those tiny icons that sit in the top right corner, next to the address bar? If you’re like most people, you may not know exactly how many extensions you have installed and active on your web browser. It’s probably more than the many little icons that appear, though.

Why do these extensions matter? For one thing, they may enhance the functionality of your browser and allow you to do things like take screenshots or save articles more easily. These extensions can be a problem, though. They can slow down your browser and even present security risks.

It’s worth taking a few minutes to look through your Chrome extensions to see which ones you have installed and whether you’re actually using them. If you’re not using them regularly, you should disable them. Here’s why.

What are browser extensions and how do they work?

A browser extension adds extra functionality or features to your Chrome browser. They can make the browser easier for you to use or let you personalize things. Here are some examples of what Chrome browser extensions can do:

  • Modify the user interface
  • Block ads
  • Translate text into a foreign language
  • Bookmark pages
  • Record your screen
  • Manage your password vault
  • Block cookies and analytics
  • Check your spelling and grammar
  • Convert HTML text to a PDF file
  • Shorten links

There are thousands of browser extensions available for Chrome with myriad capabilities. You could find an extension that does just about anything. But you shouldn’t just start installing every new extension that intrigues you. Some of them — a lot of them, actually — aren’t safe to use and could open you up to security vulnerabilities. Also, having too many extensions installed and running can slow down your Chrome browser.

How to find, add, disable, and uninstall chrome extensions

Because browser extensions can have security and performance risks, you need to know how to manage them. Let’s go over the proper ways to find, add, disable, and uninstall extensions on your Chrome browser.

How to know which extensions you already have installed

Open your Chrome browser and click on the three dots in the upper right corner. Then click on More Tools, then Extensions. In a new tab, you will see all the extensions you have installed. Scroll through all your extensions and click on Details for the one you want to manage. Next, you’ll see a page with the extension’s information and settings, where you can select different options.

How to add a new extension to your Chrome browser

Any time you want to add a new extension, navigate to the Chrome Web Store. Never add anything to your browser that doesn’t come from the official store. If you know the browser’s name, you can search for it in the Web Store’s search bar. Click on it in the search results list. Then, take some time to read the extension’s permissions and other fine print. Then, click Add to Chrome.

How to disable an extension

To disable an extension, you will have to go to the Details page for that extension. At the top of the page there should be a slider button to enable/disable the extension. Slide it to the “off” position to disable the extension. Once you do that, the extension is disabled. To re-enable it, slide the button to the “on” position.

Disabling extensions is good for turning off any extension you don’t need to use at the moment. You might need to use it again later, though, so you don’t want to remove it completely. Keeping disabled extensions prevents your browser from slowing down too much and stops that extension from actively processing any data you’ve given it permission to utilize.

How to uninstall an extension

If you no longer want to use a particular Chrome extension at all, you should uninstall it. Go to the Extensions page in your Chrome browser. Find the extension you want to delete and click the Remove button. There will be a popup window asking you to confirm. Click Remove again to delete the extension.

Browser extensions could be a security risk

Chrome browser extensions can certainly make the web easier to use, but they also come with security and privacy issues. Some extensions only work by accessing everything your browser sees, including the sites you visit, your keystrokes, and even passwords. Also, because anybody can develop an extension, they come from all kinds of publishers. It’s hard to know which ones come from legitimate and well-known developers and which ones are malware in disguise.

The trouble with extensions is that you can never be completely sure which ones are dangerous, or how dangerous they are. 

Malicious extensions

Some extensions can simply be malicious, meaning they go against the Chrome Web Store guidelines but somehow still sneak onto the market. One example was when Google found extensions with 500,000 downloads that were infecting users’ computers in a click fraud scheme.

With the Chrome browser, users are prompted to grant permissions such as “read and change all your data on the websites you visit” when installing extensions. That’s how malicious extensions can get away with fraudulent schemes.

Hijacked extensions

Extensions have large user bases, so they’re a target for hackers. They get updated automatically too, so if an extension gets hijacked or bought, it might be updated with malicious features and the user would have no idea. Even legitimate developers can have their accounts hacked and a malicious update can be pushed out on their extension.

Because it’s not easy to generate revenue from extensions, many developers are eager to sell their extensions to another company as well. But that company could add malicious features to the extension after purchasing it, like what happened with the Particle extension.

Not malicious but shady

Even if an extension isn’t malicious or hijacked, it can still be a privacy risk. Extensions can read your data and some developers will take that data, anonymize it, and sell it to third parties to help pay development costs. The problem is that sometimes they don’t anonymize the data enough, allowing the parties that purchase the data to identify the users.

While these types of extensions may not cause a malware infection on your computer, they can still expose your data. If the wrong person gets a hold of that information, it could lead to bad consequences for you later on. Knowing the latest Chrome privacy features is a good way to protect your data.

Tips for using Chrome extensions safely

The safest way to browse the web with Chrome extensions is…not to have extensions at all. But some of them are pretty useful and still safe to use, so we wouldn’t blame you if you want to keep your extensions installed. If you do rely on these extensions to help make your life online a little easier, then you should know how to use them safely. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep extensions to a minimum: The more extensions you have installed,you have opened yourself up to more potential vectors for attack. Extensions also slow your browser down considerably so the more you have, the slower your browser will run.
  • Only install from the official Chrome Web Store: Although extensions on the Web Store still aren’t 100% guaranteed to be safe, they’ve at least undergone some testing and evaluation by Chrome’s security specialists. Ironically, one way to keep your browser safe is to add Chrome extensions focused on security
  • Always review extension permissions: Before installing an extension, read the fine print. The Web Store page for the extension should have all the info you need, including what permissions you have to grant the extension to use it. How do you know if a permission is legitimate or not? Use common sense. If you’re installing an extension that bookmarks articles for you to read later, it shouldn’t need to see all your passwords. If any permissions for an extension or add-on raises a red flag and you can’t think of a good reason why that extension needs that permission, don’t install it. Also, if an extension that’s already installed suddenly requires a new permission, it’s a good indication that the extension has been hijacked or sold. It would be wise to stop using it.
  • Utilize good browser security: Maintaining good browser security overall can help minimize risk from extensions as well. Using a secure browser, clearing your cache and cookies regularly, turning on “do not track” settings, and using a VPN are all good habits to get into. Anti-malware and antivirus programs installed on your device also can’t hurt.

Be careful with Chrome extensions

As you can see, you need to exercise caution with your Chrome browser extensions. Disable or delete any that you don’t use and do some vetting before adding new ones. By staying on top of your extensions, you can minimize the risk of downloading malware or exposing your browsing data.

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