Just as you wouldn’t walk around aimlessly with your social security number written in sharpie on your forehead, you also don’t want to leave any of your personal data out in the open online.

So what should you do? Enter the humble browser extension.

Which browser do you use?

This guide is based on which browser you use. Jump down to your section using these links:

View Chrome Extensions

View Microsoft Edge Extensions

View Safari Extensions

View Firefox Extensions

What is a browser extension?

In its basic form, a web browser is an application that allows you to view content on the Internet.

Browser anatomy
Common placement and purpose of browser controls in Chrome, Firefox, and other common browsers.

The online world is as vast as it is deep, and it can be all too easy to forget that we don’t exist in a vacuum when consuming content on the Internet. Web browsers are often described as “windows to the Internet”, but they’re actually more like a front porch on a busy street. You’re mostly watching, but they can also interact back with you — or rob you, if you’re not careful. You feel secure, but you’re in plain sight and unless you put up a fence, there’s nothing to stop people from invading your privacy/security.

Put simply, a browser extension is an add-on that expands or adds to the functionality of the web browser you use to access the Internet. These extensions serve multiple different roles, from filling out forms automatically to saving you money while shopping online. In this guide, we’ll be focused squarely on those that enhance your security.

Extensions vs Plugins vs Add-Ons

You’ll hear all three of the above terms used in conversation when discussing browser extensions. Although there are some slight variances in meaning depending upon which browser you are using—and the context in which you are using it in—for our purposes here, we will use all three to describe in a general sense anything that provides added functionality when installed on your browser.

Browser security flaws worth worrying about

If you’re looking to get setup with the best security extensions for your specific browser, your first instinct might be to simply Google “security extensions” and download a ton of different recommendations from guides similar to this one. Our opinion: don’t do that.

Instead, take a bit of time to truly understand the key categories of add-ons that can affect your security and privacy in-browser. From there, you can select one reliable option for each issue:

Adblocking

True to the name, ad blockers are extensions that automatically remove all sorts of advertisements from the websites you visit. There are quite a few different options available, some of which feature more robust levels of control than others.

Here’s the truth about ads: Nobody really likes seeing them when browsing the web. What’s more, they actually slow you down online[1], and can eat up data allotments at an alarmingly speedy rate.[2] Many users report that simply installing an ad blocking extension speeds up & improves their experience online tremendously.

Cookie management

Browser cookies are text files usually kept on your computer that pertain to specific websites. These files usually have some sort of information on them, such as a user or session ID, and websites use this information each time you visit in order to optimize your experience.

For instance, websites with login systems utilize cookies to allow you to remain logged in, ensuring that the next time you visit, you won’t have to go through that process all over again. Although this sounds convenient at first, cookies can also be used for more nefarious purposes.

Advertising and tracking networks use cookies to watch your movements online, allowing them to tailor ads to your specific interests. Managing and deleting your cookies periodically safe from third parties — who rarely have your best interests at heart.

Browser trackers

Similar to cookies, browser trackers such as web beacons observe and collect data on your usage habits on various websites. The primary difference between these beacons (also known as web bugs or pixel tags) and cookies is that beacons inform companies about your habits directly.

This kind of tracking can tell organisations, for instance, whether or not you’ve opened their email, how long you read it for, and many other small details about your behaviors online. Managing who has access to this sort of information (and when) are crucial components of keeping yourself secure online.

HTTP/HTTPS

When accessing the web, you’ll likely notice that most of the website you frequent day in and day out such as Amazon.com, Facebook.com and others feature a green “Secure” sign before the URL. This means that they are utilizing HTTPS, instead of HTTP. As you might imagine, the “S” stands for Secure.

If you happen upon a site that uses standard HTTP, you should know that there’s no real way to tell if you are in a secured setting or not, as the website itself is not encrypted. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit them — just that it’s highly advised not to enter in any personal information such as passwords, usernames, or bank account information.

Password management

Ah, the classic password debate. Chances are, you’ve heard the same advice over and over through the years: “don’t use the same password for everything.” That said, what’s the real harm?

It doesn’t take a security expert to realize why this might not be the best idea. If one website that you frequent incurs a data leak, and your password falls into the wrong hands, those individuals now have potential access to every single account you’ve made online using that same password. That kind of power can only be used to hurt you, and so you should always use different passwords for each website that you need one for.

Think that using separate passwords will be too much to remember? We’ve got your back — check out our recommendations below.

Rich content: javascript, activex, iframes, and Flash

If the Internet is the street (to continue our earlier analogy), this type of content represents the seedy underbelly of creepy tunnels and plumbing chock-full of crocodiles. Okay, so that might be a bit dramatic, but the fact remains that these sorts of technologies pose several different “under the hood” security risks that need to be managed properly in order to stay safe when browsing the web.

Extension recommendations for browser security: Chrome

Google Chrome launched in 2008 as the software giant’s unassuming first foray into web browsing. By 2012, it was already a powerhouse, challenging the likes of Internet Explorer, which at the time was the most widely-used browser out there.

Fast forward to today, however, and Google Chrome now holds the title for most-used browser in the world.[3]

Extension recommendations for browser security: Microsoft Edge

Hot on the heels of Internet Explorer’s demise, Microsoft Edge arrived alongside Windows 10 with plenty to prove.[4]

Luckily, Edge has been generally well-received since its launch, and the browser features some fantastic built-in security functions that make it a real contender for those looking to take their online security up a notch.

Extension recommendations for browser security: Safari

Safari is Apple’s MacOS answer to Internet Explorer. Pre-installed with the operating system, Safari is widely considered one of the better web browsers on the market, thanks in part to Apple’s ever-present “it just works” mentality.

Extension recommendations for browser security: Firefox

Firefox is developed by Mozilla. Though it’s never been the most popular browser out there, it’s carved out a fan following for itself over the years due to the robust level of customization and control that it allows.

Are extensions all I need to stay safe online?

In short: definitely not.

Extensions make security online easy and accessible, but they can’t solve every issue, or protect you from every threat. The world of cybersecurity is an extremely fast-paced one, with new technologies, threats, and loopholes appearing every single day.

Our goal with this guide is to simply arm you with the tools you need to begin securing your data and privacy online.

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Experts

James Webb

James Webb

James Webb is a tech and gadgets expert with a focus on educational content development. He draws on his background in the startup world to make complicated technologies and topics easy to understand for normal folks.

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper is a former networking consultant and current technical writer in the IT industry. He enjoys sharing his expertise through articles about topics like PC gaming, cord cutting, and technology trends.

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