What happens when good Chrome extensions turn bad

Tips & tricks
3 mins
Donald Trump speaking.

In one of the strangest (and funniest) web faux pas of the century, Wired magazine recently published an article accidentally referring to Donald Trump as someone with teeny-tiny hands. How did it happen? The unlikely culprit was the Trumpweb Chrome extension, which automatically replaces the words “Donald Trump” with “Someone With Tiny Hands.”

This isn’t the first case of rogue extensions wreaking havoc. In 2015, antivirus software AVG (ironically) released a Chrome extension that exposed the personal information of nearly 9 million users.

Novelty Chrome extensions like this are growing more popular. But instead of simply installing a random extension, having a few lols and then promptly moving on, people sometimes forget these extensions are installed, which leaves room for random extensions to not only cause embarrassing grammar gaffes (see above) but also potentially leak your private info.

Even worse, they can invite dangerous malware onto your system.

The Rise of Novelty Chrome Extensions

For the unaware, Chrome extensions are mostly free plugins users can download for their browsers.

These extensions come in a wide variety of uses—from helping protect your privacy to making sure you don’t accidentally read the latest Game of Thrones spoiler.

Last year Google removed 200 malware-infused extensions

But while most are just for fun and/or helpful, there are malicious extensions out there that can leak your personal information and cause gnarly computer viruses. Just last year Google removed more than 200 random extensions, citing the fact that many contained malware.

How You Can Install Add-Ons While Staying Safe

Luckily, there’s an easy way to check if your extensions are clean. You can use the Chrome Cleanup Tool to scan your extensions and install the Chrome Protector add-on, which will notify you if and when any of your extensions is acting sketchy.

Simple, right?

Never take an extension at face value. Make sure you read the reviews and take the time to thoroughly research an extension before you invite it into your browser.

Super Happy Mega Fun Chrome Extension Time!

Now, ExpressVPN couldn’t write an article about random Chrome extensions without offering a bunch of crazy options. So, for spits and giggles, here are a few office favorites:

  • nCage  For those who can’t get enough Nic Cage (which, let’s face it, is everyone), this novelty app replaces every web image with a pic of Cage himself. This one’s great for about five seconds. After the novelty’s worn off it’s probably best to uninstall it and move on with your life.
  • Wurstify – When you’re itching for a “hairier” web experience, this app adds a beard to each and every image.
  • Downworthy – Tired of the same old boring headlines? This little extension reinterprets article headlines to be a little more realistic–and funny.

And for the privacy-concerned and productively impaired, here are a few all-around useful extensions.

  • Stay Focused – If you’re like us and have trouble focusing, this app helps you buckle down by limiting the amount of time you can waste on random sites. A very nifty app.
  • Wunderlist – Nothing screams organization more than lists, and Wunderlist helps you create them with ease. From organizing your grocery items to helping you plan your next vacation, Wunderlist is pretty a-ok.
  • DuckDuckGo – If you’re reading this post, chances are you care about your privacy. This extension takes the “ogle” out of Google, meaning it works in basically all the same ways but has much, much better privacy settings.

Additionally, the ExpressVPN Chrome extension is also available to keep your network safe and secure at all times.

Remember, folks, to scan your extensions from time to time, and if you see one you’re not using anymore, let it go! And if you’re in the mood for even more extension awesomeness, check out ExpressVPN’s best privacy extensions tips for Chrome and Safari.

What are your favorite extensions? Leave your top picks in the comments below. As always, stay safe, stay private, and stay secure.


Featured image: “Donald Trump speaking at CPAC” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.