July 20, 2024

Tech Talk in McHenry County: Extensions add customized value to your web browser

Web extensions are small programs that let you customize your browser. You also might hear them referred to as plug-ins or add-ons, and they offer functionality you won’t find elsewhere.

Here’s how to install, manage and monitor your browser extensions.

You might be familiar with browser extensions in the form of ad blockers like AdBlock Plus or the anti-malware plug-ins that come with your antivirus software. Password managers like 1Password and LastPass use them, as do productivity apps like Evernote and shopping sites like Honey. Some extensions integrate with other sites you already use, like the many extensions that work with Gmail.

Where do you find web browser extensions? Apple offers them for Safari, and Microsoft has some for their Edge browser. Chrome, Firefox and Opera users will find them in the appropriate stores. Some extensions are free to use, while others require payment.

Just like there are fake apps, there are fake browser extensions that are really malware in disguise. These often mimic real plug-ins or otherwise take the form of a program that seems legitimate. Only download extensions from legitimate app stores, and watch for copycats.

It’s a red flag if an extension (or any app, for that matter) starts asking for permission to access more data than it needs to do its job. Your antivirus software can help to detect and remove malicious browser extensions.

For the most part, extensions work seamlessly with your browser. However, too many open at once can slow things down. I recommend that you only use a few extensions at a time, and turn off those you don’t use frequently. You always can turn them back on when the need arises.

Extensions sometimes also conflict with one another. If you’re having trouble with your extensions, try turning them off, then on again one by one. By process of elimination, you can discover the culprit.

Like all software, web extensions require continual updates. This is especially important in the case of plug-ins, because they connect with your web browser in ways that could leave you vulnerable to hackers if not maintained. A malicious web extension can capture your keystrokes, steal your credit card number, and even invite its little malware friends over to play. Updates fix software bugs that could be used to turn the most innocuous web extension into a covert cybercrime tool.

Sometimes, an extension may become obsolete and no longer supported by its original developer. You should uninstall outdated or unsupported extensions. Remember that updating your web browser isn’t the same thing as updating your extensions. Your browser should notify you when new versions of your extensions are available, but you also can check manually.

If you're following my recommendation of using separate browsers to isolate your financial logins from social media and general web-surfing, you can customize each browser using different extensions. For example, I would suggest making sure that the browser you use for banking has antivirus extensions to protect from phishing scams, and that your
general-use browser has both antivirus and an ad-blocker.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. For computer help, visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com.