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Chrome Extension Permissions: Security Risks & Tips

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Chrome extensions have become indispensable tools, enhancing productivity and functionality while adding convenience to our web browsing experience. Yet, hidden within these seemingly harmless add-ons are a set of vital elements – Chrome Extension Permissions. These permissions govern how extensions interact with your browser and your data, and understanding them is essential in safeguarding both your personal and business data.

This article will help you understand the Chrome extension permissions crystal clear and make more informed choices next time you want to install an extension.

What is a Chrome Extension Permission?

Chrome Extension Permissions are a set of rules and privileges that users grant to Chrome extensions, allowing them to perform specific actions and access certain data within the web browser. These permissions are crucial in determining the level of control an extension has over your browsing experience and data security. 

Understanding and managing these permissions is essential for safeguarding your online privacy and security while enjoying the benefits of Chrome extensions. In this section, we will delve deeper into the categories and implications of Chrome extension permissions, empowering you to make informed decisions about the extensions you use.

How do I check Chrome extension permissions?

You can check Chrome extension permissions during installation or by accessing your browser settings:

  • During Installation: When installing or upgrading an extension, you'll be prompted to review and grant permissions. Take this opportunity to assess the requested permissions.
  • In Google Chrome Settings: To review permissions for installed extensions, click on the three dots in the upper-right corner of Chrome, go to "Extensions," and then click "Manage Extensions." From there, you can view and control each extension's permissions.

Categories of Chrome Extension Permissions

API permissions for chrome extension

1. API Permissions

API Permissions are one of the fundamental categories of Chrome browser extension permissions. These permissions grant extensions access to various Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) provided by the Chrome browser. Each API serves a specific function and provides access to different aspects of your web browsing experience. Understanding API permissions is crucial for assessing the capabilities and potential risks associated with an extension.

Here's a closer look at API Permissions:

  • Cookies: Extensions with cookie permissions can interact with and manipulate browser cookies. While this is essential for certain extensions like password managers, it can be a potential security concern if misused.
  • Tabs: Tab permissions allow extensions to manage and interact with your open tabs. They can open, close, and manipulate tabs, which can be convenient but may also raise privacy concerns.
  • Storage: Extensions with storage permissions can access and modify data stored in your browser's storage. This includes local storage and indexed databases, potentially affecting your browsing history and stored preferences.
  • Web Navigation: Web navigation permissions enable extensions to monitor and control your browsing activities. They can observe URL changes and intercept web requests, which can be useful for certain functionalities but may also raise privacy and security considerations.
  • History: History permissions grant access to your browsing history, allowing extensions to view and modify it. While some extensions may legitimately require this access, it can be a privacy concern if misused.
  • Web Request: Web request permissions are powerful as they allow extensions to monitor and modify network requests made by web pages. This can be useful for ad blockers and security extensions but also poses potential risks if abused.
  • Identity: Identity permissions pertain to user authentication and access to identity-related information. Extensions with these permissions can potentially access your login credentials, posing a significant security risk if not managed properly.

Understanding the specific API permissions an extension requests is essential for evaluating its necessity and potential impact on your online privacy and security. 

Also read: API Key Security Best Practices

host permissions for Chrome extensions security

2. Host Permissions

Another crucial category of Chrome extension permissions is Host Permissions. These permissions determine which URLs or websites the extension can access. Host Permissions come in two subtypes:

  • Explicit Hosts: These permissions control the extension's access to specific APIs that can read or modify data. For instance, an extension may request access to a particular API related to cookies on specific websites.
  • Scriptable Hosts: This type dictates the hosts on which the extension can use content scripts. Content scripts allow extensions to interact with web pages. It's essential to differentiate between these two subtypes as they impact the extension's capabilities.

Host Permissions are essential for extensions that need to interact with specific websites or APIs to perform their intended functions. For example, an extension designed to enhance e-commerce websites might request Host Permissions for those specific websites to enable its features.

chrome extension security

3. Manifest Permissions

Manifest Permissions are similar to API Permissions, as they control access to specific functions or features. These permissions are defined in the extension's manifest file, which serves as a blueprint for the extension's behavior.

Manifest Permissions allow extension developers to specify which functionalities the extension can access. For example, an extension might request Manifest Permissions related to Bluetooth functionality, enabling it to connect with and interact with Bluetooth devices.

granted extension permission

4. Granted Permissions

These are the permissions that the user has agreed to and hasn't revoked. Some granted permissions may come with the initial installation of the extension, while others can be acquired through updates. Users often grant permissions without thoroughly reviewing them, which can lead to potential security risks.

It's crucial for users to regularly review the permissions granted to Chrome extensions, especially when extensions receive updates.

Sometimes, extensions expand their scope of permissions during updates, and users may unknowingly agree to these changes without proper scrutiny.

For businesses, ensuring that employees are aware of the permissions they grant to extensions is essential. Security policies should encourage employees to review permissions and discourage the use of extensions with excessive or unnecessary access.

Suggested reading: Access Control Best Practices

Risk Levels of Chrome Extension Permissions

chrome extension permissions risks for security

1. Low Alert Permissions

Low alert permissions are typically associated with relatively low-risk activities. These permissions include reading your browsing history, accessing your physical location, copying and pasting data, accessing bookmarks, viewing installed apps and extensions, and monitoring tabs and browsing activity.

While these permissions may seem like a no-threat, it's essential to consider their potential implications. Even low-risk permissions can pose security and privacy concerns if misused. For example, an extension with access to your browsing history could potentially track your online behavior and compromise your privacy.

2. Medium Alert Permissions

Medium alert permissions encompass a higher level of access and control over your online activities and data. Extensions with medium alert permissions have the capability to not only view but also edit the data on the websites you visit. These permissions grant extensions the authority to interact more deeply with your browsing experience.

Here are some examples of permissions categorized as medium alerts:

  • Access and Editing Rights: Extensions with medium alert permissions can modify content, fill out forms, or even perform actions on websites on your behalf. While this can be convenient for certain tasks, it also presents the risk of unauthorized or unintended actions.
  • Data Interaction: Extensions may be allowed to access and interact with your data, such as your emails, messages, or files stored on web applications. This level of access increases the potential for data breaches and privacy violations.
  • Cross-Site Tracking: Some extensions with medium alert permissions may track your activities across multiple websites, collecting valuable user data. While this may serve legitimate purposes like analytics, it can also lead to concerns about user tracking and privacy invasion.

3. High Alert Permissions

High alert permissions represent the most significant level of access an extension can have to your data and computer resources. Extensions with these permissions can potentially access and modify data stored on your computer, including sensitive files and settings. Here's what high alert permissions encompass:

  • Data Stored on Your Computer: Extensions with high alert permissions can access and interact with data stored on your computer's hard drive. This includes files, documents, and any other locally saved information. Such access can pose severe security and privacy risks if misused.
  • Hardware Access: High alert permissions may grant extensions access to your computer's hardware components, such as the camera and microphone. This level of access is a significant concern as it can lead to unauthorized surveillance or data collection.
  • System-Level Changes: Some extensions with high alert permissions can make system-level changes, affecting how your computer functions. These changes can include altering system settings, installing software, or modifying system configurations.
  • Network and Connectivity: Extensions may be allowed to establish network connections and access your internet activity. This access can result in data interception, monitoring, or even man-in-the-middle attacks.

Security Risks of Chrome Extension Permissions

When it comes to Chrome extension permissions, there are various security risks that users should be aware of. These risks primarily revolve around the access to sensitive data, lack of user awareness, and concerns related to business security. Let's delve into each of these aspects:

chrome extension security

Access to Sensitive Data

One of the most significant security risks associated with Chrome extensions is the potential access to sensitive data. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Broad Permissions: Extensions with extensive permissions can gain access to sensitive information, including your browsing history, personal data, and even data stored on your computer.
  • Data Vulnerability: Extensions, whether intentionally or inadvertently, can expose your data to potential vulnerabilities, jeopardizing your privacy and security.

Lack of User Awareness

User awareness plays a critical role in ensuring online safety. However, there's often a lack of understanding regarding Chrome extension permissions:

  • Limited User Knowledge: Many users are unaware of the permissions granted to Chrome extensions during installation or upgrades, leaving them susceptible to potential risks.
  • Privacy Concerns: Extensions collecting data without users' knowledge or consent can compromise their privacy. Users may not be aware of the extent of data collection.

Business Security Concerns

In business settings, the security risks related to Chrome extension permissions can have far-reaching consequences:

  • Data Breaches: Employees may unknowingly install extensions with excessive permissions, putting sensitive company data at risk of breaches or leaks.
  • Productivity Impact: Extensions that collect excessive data or display intrusive ads can hinder employee productivity, impacting overall workflow.
  • Compliance Challenges: Businesses may face compliance issues when sensitive customer or employee data is mishandled by extensions, potentially resulting in legal repercussions.

Chrome Extension Permissions Security Best Practices

To mitigate the security risks associated with Chrome extension permissions, it's crucial to adopt best practices that enhance your online safety. Here are some recommended security measures:

browser extension security tips

1. Audit Extension and Developer Information

Before installing any Chrome extension, conduct a quick audit to assess the developer's credibility and the extension's legitimacy:

  • Developer Information: Check for developer details such as their organization name, legal address, and contact information. A reputable developer will provide transparent information.
  • Privacy Policies: Review the extension's privacy policy to ensure it contains essential legal information, including the company's name and registration address. A well-documented privacy policy signifies trustworthiness.
  • Website Verification: Confirm the existence and functionality of the developer's website. A broken or missing website link can be a red flag.
  • Developer Contact: Pay attention to the developer's email address. A general or unprofessional email domain may indicate a less trustworthy source.
  • Update Frequency: Check the extension's version history. Frequent updates suggest active development and maintenance, which can enhance security.

2. Review Permissions Before Installation

Always examine the permissions requested by an extension before installing it. If the permissions seem excessive or unnecessary for the extension's intended function, consider seeking alternative tools with more reasonable permissions.

3. Regularly Review and Delete Unused Extensions

Over time, users tend to accumulate various extensions. Periodically review your extensions and remove those you no longer use. This reduces your exposure to potential security risks and streamlines your browser's performance.

4. Keep Extensions Updated and Secure

Ensure that all installed extensions are regularly updated to the latest versions. Developers release updates to fix bugs, enhance security, and improve functionality. Keeping extensions up to date helps minimize vulnerabilities.

5. Use Third-Party Tools to Control Chrome Extensions

Consider leveraging third-party tools designed to manage and control Chrome extensions within your organization. These tools can provide administrators with insights into which extensions are in use, monitor permissions, and enforce policies to maintain a secure browsing environment.

As a SaaS security solution, Resmo can help you track the Chrome extension installed to your employees business account browsers and weed out the risky ones.

You can try Resmo for free to see if there are any Chrome extensions with excessive permissions in your organization.

By following these best practices, both individuals and organizations can bolster their Chrome extension security, reduce the risks associated with excessive permissions, and ensure a safer online experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the security risk of Chrome extension?

Chrome extensions can pose security risks when they request excessive permissions. These permissions may grant the extension access to sensitive data or device functionalities, potentially leading to data breaches or other security incidents. It's essential to carefully assess the permissions an extension requires to mitigate these risks.

Why does a Chrome Extension need permissions?

Chrome extensions need permissions to perform their intended functions effectively. Permissions grant access to various browser features and data sources, allowing extensions to customize your browsing experience or enhance productivity. However, it's crucial to ensure that the permissions requested align with the extension's purpose.

Can an extension access my personal data without my knowledge?

Extensions can access certain data and functionalities based on the permissions you grant them. It's essential to review permissions during installation or updates to avoid unintentionally providing access to sensitive data. By staying vigilant and making informed choices, you can prevent extensions from accessing personal data without your knowledge.

How often should I review my extensions and their permissions?

Regularly reviewing your installed extensions and their permissions is essential for maintaining a secure browsing environment. Consider conducting reviews on a monthly or quarterly basis to ensure that your extensions align with your current needs and security standards. Keeping permissions in check helps minimize potential security risks.

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