According to Ars Technica, more than 500 browser extensions downloaded from Google’s Chrome Web Store uploaded users’ personal data to attacker-controlled severs.
Researchers discovered that these extensions, which had more than 1.7 million installations, were a part of a “long-running malvertising and ad-fraud scheme.” Since their discovery, Google has removed all known extensions, Arts Technica says.
The involved extensions were “presented as tools” that provided advertising-as-a-service utility, and infected browsers through a wild goose-chase of domains. From there, plugins connected to a domain using the same name as the plugin “to check for instructions on whether to uninstall themselves.” The plugins redirected browsers to one of many control servers for additional instructions, locations to upload data, etc.; infected browsers then uploaded users’ data, and moved onto a stream of redirections, which led to mostly “benign ads” for Macy’s, Dell, and Best Buy products, Ars Technica says.
The Scary Part, and How to Move Forward
While the overall attack wasn’t highly dangerous to users’ data, the situation is still concerning. To start, the researchers who detected this attack discovered that it had been happening at least since January 2019, and possibly earlier: “It’s possible the operators were active for a much longer period, possibly as early as 2017,” Ars Technica reports. On top of that, researchers’ most recent discovery comes only months after another researcher documented “browser extensions that lifted browsing histories from more than 4 million infected machines,” also mostly from Chrome users.
With each of these examples, Ars Technica warns users to be careful when installing tools onto their devices. They should only utilize extensions if they will truly benefit users’ experience. At the same time, when using extensions, Ars Technica recommends that users be on the lookout for red flags: “It’s always a good idea to read user reviews to check for reports of suspicious behavior. People should regularly check for extensions they don’t recognize or haven’t used recently and remove them.” Doing so can keep users’ devices clean, minimize risks, and keep their data protected.
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