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Google Chrome Extension Criticized for Data Collection

Security researchers spotted a Google Chrome extension recently that may have leaked personal information belonging to more than a million users.

Security researchers spotted a Google Chrome extension recently that may have leaked personal information belonging to more than a million users.

The third-party extension, known as ‘Webpage Screenshot’, has been removed from the Chrome Web Store. It had been downloaded some 1.2 million times. The extension allowed users to take a screen capture and store it. 

According to ScrapeSentry, the Chrome extension contained malicious code that allowed for copies of all browser data to be sent to a server in the U.S.

“The repercussions of this could be quite major for the individuals who have downloaded the extension,” said Cristian Mariolini, security analyst at ScrapeSentry, in a statement. “What happens to the personal data and the motives for  wanting it sent it to the US server is anyone’s guess, but ScrapeSentry would take an educated guess it’s not going to be good news.  And of course, if it’s not stopped, the plugin may, at any given time, be updated with new malicious functionality as well.”

A spokesman for Webpage Screenshot reportedly told BBC that there was nothing malicious about the data it collected, and that it was used to understand who the extension’s users were and where they were located to help drive development of the code. The terms of service for the extension also mention the possibility of data being collected for marketing purposes. 

According to Heimdal Security, a week after the extension was installed, the spyware capabilities would be activated via additional code downloaded from the web. 

“This smart behavior allows the extension to evade any security check from Google, which cannot analyze the entire code and detect its spyware features,” according to the firm. “Once the extension has activated its private data collecting ability, the sensitive information that can be used to identity an individual is transmitted in the United States at the following IP address: (Serverbeach, New York, USA).”

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The removal of the extension comes a week after Google pulled roughly 200 Chrome extensions from its store after classifying them as ad injectors.   

“There is no such thing as free,” said Wim Remes, manager of strategic services for EMEA at Rapid7, in a statement. “In an online world where personal information has become our accepted currency, users have to make decisions on what the functionality they desire is worth. AppStores can certainly implement rules that discourage or eliminate egregious data gathering practices. And in many cases, they do, but between safeguarding ethics and maintaining an ecosystem of developers, exists a gray zone where tradeoffs are made. AppStores could enforce proper advertisement of what the apps gather, but I’m not convinced that we can have free apps without some form of compromise.”

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