Plugins for our internet browser, we all have them. They keep us organized, tell us information about the pages we’re on, make bookmarking sites easy and can do some really interesting things, but are they all safe for use?
What Defines a Safe Plugin
On any browser, whether it is FireFox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, or some other browser, you are using the internet to access information. When you do this, the internet must in turn make contact with your browser to allow you access into the information. Plugins also must have access to this information through your browser in order to work properly. If your plugin is up to date, this means that you are running the most current version and that no bugs or exposed spots in the information are accessible to others easily. A safe plugin also does not have a “backdoor” for the developers to access your information from, other than what you allow to be shared with them via the Terms of Service.
Why Does It Matter
If you enjoy living a semi-private life, with peacefully running browsers then safety online should be a top priority for you as an internet user. Broken or “bad” plugins can crash your browser or in some cases, your entire computer. Plugins can also eat up bandwidth very quickly and quietly. If you have a plugin that promises to “pre-load” webpages for you, it is using more of your bandwidth than simply browsing without it. They can also transfer private information (such as location, browsing information or keystrokes) to unknown sources. Once that information is transferred from your computer, there is no way to get it back. Leaving a plugin not updated exposes it to potential loop holes that have been found and patched in newer versions. Think of the patch in the new version as a band aid; without it you leave yourself potentially open to diseases and dirt with direct access to your bloodstream. Would you want someone snooping around in your private life? I know I wouldn’t.
How to Find and Fix a Problem
There are a few simple, effective and free tools out there that you can use to quickly find if any of your beloved plugins are actually slowing you down.
Mozilla Plugin Check: Simply go to Mozilla Plugin Site and it will automatically tell you if all of your plugins are up to date. It will also tell you which plugins need to be updated now (for security purposes and smoothest operating ability) and which ones can go a few more days. This tool works in every browser, not just Firefox.
Qualys Browser Check: This one has a few more steps than Mozilla but works a little more in depth. Go to Qualys Site and find the “Install Plugin” button. Simply install the plugin and let it tell you which plugins are good to go and which ones need an update. It only appears to work on Windows machines unfortunately and does require a small download to be used.
Browser Options: Each browser should have a page in the settings or options tab where you are able to update all of your plugins at once. In Chrome you can go to chrome://extensions/ and click the “Developer Mode” button at the top of the browser and simply hit “Update Extensions Now”. This will ensure that no extension has been left behind.
What tools and tricks do you use to stay safe online?
If you ultimately want to learn more about cybersecurity or staying safe online, check out a computer and information science degree or keep reading these blogs!