How to Make Sure Your Browser Extensions Are Safe

Browser extensions allow be extremely useful, inserting gaps in functionality, adding interesting new features and options, and generally only making life on the web more convenient.

At the same time, they have the potential to be a serious security risk – some require you to view everything you see online, some change key settings in your browser, and can operate and communicate with their developer (either with advertisers or other parties) basically without your knowledge.

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

First, all the usual rules apply: Keep your computer and its applications up to date. Perform regular malware scans. There will go a long way toward minimizing the risk posed by potentially dodgy extensions. Beyond these suggestions, here’s how to do an audit.

Cume Spot Spot Threats Early

Identifying a bad browser extension is not an exact science, but there are some general indicators to follow. Always do your research before installing an add-on – check reviews from other users and reviews on the web, if any. See when the extension was last updated, as really old and obsolete 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 ensure that the extensions you install come from official repositories, such as Chrome Web Store or Firefox Browser Add-Ons portal. It gives you a certain degree of certainty that the software you are installing is legitimate and secure, so be a little warier of the extensions you find elsewhere.

We’re not saying that new add-ons, without revisions, from unknown developers are bad, but you have to be extra careful about them – can you find anything about the company or the person behind the tool? Is it clear how the extension is funded, or is it a passion project? What clues can you get from the linked website on the extension’s listing page, for example?

Also check the permissions that an add-on requires. In some cases (Firefox), they will be listed on the extension page on the web; in others (Chrome), you won’t see them until the software is installed. Look for any permission requests that seem unreasonable or strange considering what the add-on should do.

How to Check Chrome Extensions

Chrome extensions.

Screenshot: David Nield via Google

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

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