Browser Extensions

October 22, 2019

 

 

In the modern business world, using the internet is a must.  Unfortunately, this means your data is at risk with each click and website you visit. Even legitimate websites can harbor hidden dangers. But I have some good news for you! There are some easy ways to help protect yourself that don’t take much effort on your part, and – in some cases – you can also save a little money. Today I’m going to talk to you about browser extensions.

 

In general, browser extensions are plug-ins or add-ons that extend your web browser with additional features, modify how web pages display, or integrate your browser with other services.  They are available for most major browsers and are generally free. Let’s look at a few categories of browser extensions.

 

Ad Blockers:

A good ad blocker is an easy way to protect yourself from irritating advertisements which want you to buy something you don’t need, are infected with a malicious payload, or direct you to a deceiving website. Currently my preferred ad blocker is uBlock Origin.  It blocks a community-sourced list of known advertisers on all pages except those you whitelist.  I’ve found this is by far the most useful extension I recommend to businesses, due to its reliable behind-the scenes protection. You can’t be harmed by a compromised ad that never loaded into your browser. There are other reliable ad blocker extensions available, but because of the large target market there are also many fakes: deceptive extensions that present themselves as ad blockers, but which are really just advertisers or spy-ware. Stick with proven extensions, and periodically review the privacy and security notices as described below under How to evaluate extensions, to make sure you’re choosing a trustworthy extension.

 

Password Managers:

A good password manager is another great way to protect yourself. Firstly, it allows you to use more variety and complexity in your passwords, increasing your overall security and decreasing your exposure due to a data breach.  Using a password manager also makes it less likely you will fall prey to spoofing websites that look authentic but are only after your account info. To the human eye, it might look legitimate, but a password manager extension won’t autofill if the website URL doesn’t match.  Current good choices include LastPass, Keeper, Dashlane and BitWarden.  Each have their own advantages, so review them and choose the one you find easiest to use.  A good password manager you’ll use is better than a great one that you won’t.

 

Price Checkers:

Possibly not as useful for businesses, but very insightful, are extensions like Honey, WikiBuy or The Camelizer. These extensions can help make sure you’re getting the best available pricing when shopping online. Price checker extensions offer price change notifications on sites like Amazon or Ebay, and coupon testing upon checkout to ensure you are getting the best price. Each extension has its own unique features so it would be worth checking them out to see if any would fit your online habits.

 

Web Traffic Encryption:

Most internet traffic has historically been transported using HyperText Transfer Protocol (the “http” you’ve seen before the “www” on web addresses). With plain HTTP, all the data is transferred in plain text, which means that if someone can intercept the data, they can read it. HTTPS (HTTP Secure) encrypts the data before sending it, functionally making it gibberish to anyone who does manage to intercept it. HTTPS Everywhere is an extension that does just what it says – encrypts all connections. Many websites do not default to the encrypted version of their site, or they leave links to unencrypted parts of the site. This extension simply requests all connections be encrypted. In my opinion there is no reason not to use this extension.

 

How to Evaluate Extensions:

If you wish to branch out and explore other extensions, do your due diligence. (These steps will also help you periodically review the extensions you’re already using.) Read the reviews on the extension store (addons.mozilla.org or chrome.google.com/webstore), especially recent reviews. A 4.5 star rating may not reflect the current extension if the recent reviews are less glowing. Make sure you view recent reviews and lower rated reviews to get a comprehensive picture of the extension. Additionally, privacy policies and change logs are usually available for viewing from the extension’s listing page. Check the privacy policy to see what the developer does with information they gather about you. If you’re up to it, read the most recent change logs to see what they are patching, how often they are updating, and what they are focusing their updates on.

 

I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available, and the landscape is changing daily. Explore what’s out there, but be cautious. Not all extensions are innocent and there are many imposters that slip through the security cracks. When deciding to install a new extension, please look at reviews on the extension marketplace or do outside research on forums and other websites. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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