IT Risks of Toolbars

IT Risks of Toolbars

IT Risks of Toolbars

Toolbar add-ons are a type of browser extension that typically provide users with various additional functionalities by adding a bar with several buttons within the browsers, oftentimes along with a search box as well. Toolbars may also have features for altering the user’s homepage, allowing searches of third party sites (e.g. Amazon, eBay, IMDb), and modifying page scripts or the html page display. Although toolbars can provide advantages to the user, IT administrators often do not want toolbars to be installed on the computers in their network; toolbars can introduce various non-monetary costs as well as create risks for enterprise networks.

The “costs” and IT risks of toolbars

Screen Space:

Every browser toolbar takes up browser page space. More toolbars means less space for the browser to display the website page content. In some extreme cases, up to 80% of the browser view has been occupied by the “toolbar armies.”

Performance:

Each toolbar increases the amount of memory which is used by the browser. Web browsers consume significant memory when loading complex or scripted pages. Installing a few toolbars on the system may consume additional amounts of the computer’s physical RAM and slow things down considerably.

Privacy:

Most toolbars are embedded into the browsers and collect private data. Even reputable toolbars from companies like Google have this behavior. One of the Google Toolbar’s “extended” features sends certain information back to Google. If the computer belongs to a private intranet system, and it accesses internal content through a web browser, installing a toolbar is introducing a risk that sensitive information could be compromised to the outside world and interferes with the user’s ability to safely view and access data.

Viruses and spyware:

Toolbars can function as an entry point for malware to gain access to your “secured” systems. Since users rarely have the ability to verify the complete list of toolbar behavior, some publishers could simply use them to collect anonymous information about browsing habits, network usage and login accounts. In some case, toolbars could be used as a “Trojan horse,” concealing viruses inside the installation package. Even in the cases of non-malicious toolbars from reputable providers, the toolbar still represents another network exposed surface potentially vulnerable to attack, one that is likely much less tested and secured than other internet facing software.

Determining whether a toolbar may be malicious

Toolbars generally do not provide as much value as the cost and risk they introduce, but this does not mean that all toolbars are malicious or dangerous; some of them are just annoying and introduce inconvenience. So how can users or IT administrators determine whether a particular toolbar is a malicious one? Here are some clues to look for:

  1. Degradation of speed: you notice the computer is functioning slower than usual.
  2. Unfamiliar buttons: you find unknown buttons or other unexpected features have been implanted inside your browser or inside web pages rendered by your browser.
  3. Hijacked homepage: you notice the browser homepage has been modified without your knowledge.
  4. Modified Hosts file or DNS settings: you realize the URL address is no longer pointing you to the expected website.
  5. Annoying popups: you receive a lot of unwanted popups, fake advertisements or sometimes system errors while you are surfing the internet.
  6. Strange search engine: you notice that when you are doing a search request, the return result is not from your expected or preferred search engine, and not from a provider such as Google or Microsoft Bing. It may constantly redirect you to pages which contain unexpected results unrelated to your keywords.
  7. Deactivation of phishing protection: you notice that even though your browser’s anti-phishing protect option is enabled, your computer is not getting any security alerts from the browser when you visit suspected phishing sites.
  8. Loss of sensitive information: you realize some of your personal information related to credit card accounts or insurance information has recently been stolen from your computer.

If any of these occur on your system, the installed toolbar may be malicious. Based on the costs associated with the toolbar and potential risk involved, you may want to uninstall the toolbar from all associated browsers as soon as possible.

Jianpeng Mo

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