Can Chrome Extensions Be Dangerous? Yes, So Be Safe With These Tips
Google Chrome extensions provide plenty of valuable features that make everyday browsing more convenient. However, it may just be that the purpose of a feature is to infect your device with malicious software, compromise your data, tweak the settings in your browser, or in the worst-case scenario, even steal your identity.
Most of us take our online safety for granted. But the danger can come in all shapes and sizes, and even Chrome extensions can be malicious. When installing them, you need to make sure the add-on is safe and secure for use.
How a Chrome Extension Can Be Dangerous
When you install an extension in Chrome, you start a kind of a trustworthy relationship with its developer. This extension now lives in your browser, the platform you rely on for performing multiple tasks each day. From browsing the internet, watching videos, playing a movie, or working – you’re in constant touch with your browser, and now the added extension is a part of that experience.
Luckily, Chrome has a permission system to help you prevent this type of action. But systems are only as good as the users. This means that if you don’t pay attention to the list of permissions you allow the newly installed extension to have, no system can help you protect your privacy.
Even the most popular and trustworthy extensions can get infected with a virus or become compromised in another way. They can be transformed into data harvesters that collect valuable information about your search history, personal information, and maybe even credit card information.
There are numerous cases where developers build a free extension and then sell it to a company that bombards the app with ads and tracking tools for profit.
To wrap up, browser extensions can be dangerous in numerous ways – or they can become dangerous, depending on the situation. It’s important to beware when adding a new extension on Chrome, but also keep track of the add-on upon installation.
Tips for Safe Chrome Extension Usage
To help you get around malicious extensions, we’ve come up with a list of the top eight tips on how to use Chrome extensions safely.
1. Download Extensions From the Web Store
There are numerous places where you can get extensions for any browser, and Chrome is no exception. Naturally, the best place to look for such an add-on is on credible stores. For Chrome, the place of trust is the Chrome Web Store.
You can search for more than 200,000 extensions, web apps, themes, and tools to help you get the most out of your browsing experience. You can find creativity tools, password managers, graphic design add-ons, and much more.
Still, be careful when downloading an add-on from the Chrome Web Store. Once you find a program that you like, proceed to the next tips to verify whether it’s trustworthy or not.
2. Inspect the Developer
You shouldn’t download Chrome extensions without inspecting the developer behind it first. There are a few ways to perform this research.
First, you can see whether this is a professional developer or not by visiting their website. There should be a public website or at least a public profile available when you click on their name in the extension window. If you can’t find a link to any of the two sources, then dig a bit deeper and perform a Google search or try to find the developer on other platforms.
3. Read the Extension’s Description
This is a very important tip to follow. When we say read the description, we mean all of it. You should have a good look over the entire thing and identify elements that may be suspicious or questionable. This can include data sharing and tracking information. Make sure you’re aware of how the extension will use your data throughout the experience.
Do note that some extensions don’t offer information like this in the description. Usually, the information about the add-on will be featured on the right-hand side of the Chrome window, next to the images of the extension.
Look for the “Disclaimer” part in the description that may mention whether the extension works with Google Analytics tracking or any other platform that could make use of your data.
The best advice here is to follow your common sense and intuition. If the description seems too good to be true, it probably is.
4. Check the Permissions
Usually, as you get ready to install an add-on, you’ll see a new window pop up. This window will list the permissions the given extension requires in order to work properly. These permissions fall under two categories:
- Site permissions
- Device permissions
Here’s a detailed list of permissions an extension can require depending on its type:
- Downloads – access, edit, remove or bypass download files
- Desktop Capture – take a screenshot of your desktop
- Cookies – find or write cookies
- Bookmarks – create, edit, manage, and manipulate bookmarks
- VPN Provider – can set up a VPN tunnel
- Video Capture – can use your webcam to screen content
- USB – can interact with a USB device in raw format
- Tab Capture – get a video or picture of your current tab
- Proxy – manage your browser’s proxy settings
- Privacy – turn off your antivirus or malware protection
- History – access to your full search history
- Audio Capture – can capture audio from your webcam or mic
- Browsing Data – clear the browsing data
- Content Settings – let the plugins run unsandboxed
Most of the time, you can either give the software permission for everything or don’t allow it altogether. There’s no option in between. In fact, if you want to install an extension, you must agree to all of its permissions. Just make sure you’re comfortable with them.
A general rule of thumb to keep you safe on the web is to not allow extensions that want access to all your actions online.
If it’s been a while since you’ve installed an extension, you can check which permissions it asked for by following the steps below:
- Open your Chrome browser.
- Hit the three dots on the top right to open the drop-down menu.
- Press “More Tools,” then navigate to “Extensions.”
- Hit “Details” next to the name of the extension you want to check.
You’ll get access to information such as how much storage space the app takes on the disk, which permissions it requires to run, and more.
Underneath, you can see the list of websites your extension can access. You can either choose “On all sites” or “On specific sites.” Go with the latter option if you want to restrict your extension to only a few pages. Additionally, you can choose the “On click” option that will have the extension ask for your permission every time it requires to access a website.
5. See if The Developers Update the Extension Regularly
You only want to install extensions that are regularly updated. This indicates that the developer keeps up with the latest security patches, cares about user feedback enough to change for the better, and dedicates a good amount of time to making the extension functional.
Extensions that haven’t been updated for more than a year are outdated and bound to be less secure than recently updated extensions.
The last thing you want is to install an extension that is plagued by issues dating from a few years back. If the add-on you want hasn’t been updated in more than six to eight months, try finding an alternative solution.
6. Read the Reviews
Checking the reviews on the extension is a great way to gauge the experiences of other users. If the add-on has an average of three or fewer stars out of five, it’s a red flag. Make sure that the reviews describe the extension in a way you plan to use it and that users don’t report issues with the functionality of the app.
Overall, when reading the review section, you can get a better idea of the average user experience. If you find many negative reviews, you may want to look for an alternative extension where the users have a more positive experience.
7. Use the Extension Source Viewer
This feature is Chrome’s way of allowing professional IT folk to dig a bit deeper when it comes to assessing the safety of a browser and its extensions.
If you’re familiar with coding and have the skills to identify a malicious piece of code, then you can benefit from Chrome’s extension source viewer. You don’t even have to download the code – simply open the viewer, and you’re all set.
8. Get an Antivirus Software
Antivirus software is a great firewall that helps keep users safe on the web. You can get a trustworthy program that will check every website you visit for potential threats. The same goes for extensions – no add-on will go unverified, so you can have peace of mind knowing you’re getting a virus-free program.
Getting Away With Chrome Extensions
Chrome extensions are often necessary to make our internet experience more comfortable and functional. Despite the apparent benefits of using them, these add-ons can also cause issues for the user.
If you’ve made up your mind to install an extension, make sure to follow the tips from this article to ensure you don’t put yourself and your data at risk. Whether you need an extension for a simple task or for long-term use, it’s worth researching the developer, reading the reviews, and seeing when it was last updated before starting the download, at the very least.
Which extension are you trying to install on Chrome? Can you find the developer and data management details in its description? Share your experience in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.