Tech News : Chrome’s Real-Time Safe Browsing Change

Google has announced the introduction of real-time, privacy-preserving URL protection to Google Safe Browsing for those using Chrome on desktop or iOS (and Android later this month).

Why? 

Google says with attacks constantly evolving, and with the difference between successfully detecting a threat or not now perhaps being just a “matter of minutes,” this new measure has been introduced “to keep up with the increasing pace of hackers.” 

Not Even Google Will Know Which Websites You’re Visiting 

Google says because this new capability uses encryption and other privacy-enhancing techniques, the level of privacy and security is such that no one, including Google, will know what website you’re visiting.

What Was Happening Before? 

Prior to the addition of the new real-time protection, Google’s Standard protection mode of Safe Browsing relied upon a list stored on the user’s device to check if a site or file was known to be potentially dangerous. The list was updated every 30 to 60 minutes. However, as Google now admits, the average malicious site only actually exists for less than 10 minutes – hence the need for a real-time, server-side list solution.

Another challenge that has necessitated the introduction of a server-side real-time solution is the fact that Safe Browsing’s list of harmful websites continues to grow rapidly and not all devices have the resources necessary to maintain this growing list, nor to receive and apply the required updates to the list.

Extra Phishing Protection 

Google says it expects this new real-time protection capability to be able to block 25 per cent more phishing attempts.

Partnership With Fastly 

Google says that the new enhanced level of privacy between Chrome and Safe Browsing has been achieved through a partnership with edge computing and security company Fastly.

Like Enhanced Mode 

In its announcement of the new capability, Google also highlighted the similarity between the new feature and Google’s existing ‘Enhanced Protection Mode’ (in Safe Browsing) which also uses a real-time list to compare the URLs customers visit against. However, the opt-in Enhanced Protection also uses “AI to block attacks, provides deep file scans and offers extra protection from malicious Chrome extensions.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

As noted by Google, the evolving, increasing number of cyber threats, the fact that malicious sites are only around for a few minutes, and that many devices don’t have the resources on board to handle a growing security list (and updates) have necessitated a better security solution. Having the list of suspect sites server-side and offering real-time improved protection kills a few birds with one stone, allows Google a more efficient (and hopefully effective) way to increase its level of security and privacy. It’s also a way for Google to plug a security gap for those who have not taken the opportunity to opt-in to its Enhance Protection Mode since its introduction last year.

For business users and other users of Chrome, the chance to get a massive (estimated) 25 per cent increase in phishing protection without having to do much or pay extra must be attractive. For example, with phishing accounting for 60 per cent of social engineering attacks and, according to a recent Zscaler report, phishing attacks growing by a massive 47 per cent last year, businesses are likely to welcome any fast, easy, extra phishing protection they can get.

Tech Tip – Using Chrome As A Drag And Drop File Viewer

If you’d like to save time and conveniently view various types of files like PDFs, images, and text documents directly in the browser, eliminating the need for multiple separate applications, here’s how to use Google Chrome as simple, all-purpose, drag and drop file viewer:

– Open a new tab in Chrome.

– Drag and drop a document or image file into the tab.

– Chrome will display the file, allowing you to view PDFs, images, text files, and even some video and audio files without needing a separate application.

Tech Tip – Use Chrome As A Simple Note-Taking App

If you’re using Google Chrome to browse the internet and want a quick way to jot down notes or ideas without needing a separate app, this trick will turn a Chrome tab into a simple note-taking app. Here’s how it works:

– Open a new tab in Chrome.

– Copy and paste or type “data:text/html, <html contenteditable>” into the address bar and press Enter.

– A blank page will appear where you can type notes directly.

– You can now bookmark the page to save it for later so you can refer back to your notes within Chrome any time.

Tech Tip – Silence Distracting Website Notifications Using Chrome’s ‘Mute Site’

If you’re often overwhelmed by notifications such as customer service chats or discount alerts when you arrive on a website, Google Chrome has an in-built feature to instantly mute these. Here’s how it works:

– When using Chrome and visiting a website / having different tabs open for different websites, right click on the browser tab (at the top) for the website you’d like to mute the notifications for.

– Select ‘Mute site’.

– Now you can view the website without all the distractions.

Featured Article : Google Tests Tool Against IP-Based Tracking

Google is testing ‘IP Protection’, a feature for Chrome that sends third-party traffic for a set of domains through proxies to mask their IP addresses, thereby boosting privacy by fighting IP-based covert tracking.

IP Addresses 

An IP address can be explained as being like a home address for your computer or device on a network. It’s a unique numerical identifier that helps in sending and receiving information correctly over the internet or local networks. Each device on a network has a unique IP address, which helps in identifying it among all the other devices. For example, just as the post office needs a physical address to deliver your post to the right house, computers use IP addresses to send and receive information to and from the right devices. Typically, your IP address is the one given to your router and is given by your ISP and although not permanently assigned, it tends to stay the same until you disconnect or turn the router off.

What’s The Problem With IP Addresses? 

As useful as an IP address can be in acting as your identifier on the network, it can also be misused when used as an identifier for anyone who wants to covertly track you across multiple websites. For example, because your IP address is unique to your internet connection at that moment, when you visit a website, it sees your IP address and can remember it. If you go to another website, that site can also see your IP address. If both websites share data (like through ads or tracking services), they can ‘connect the dots’ and realise that the same person visited both sites.

User Profile Built Over Time 

Over time, as you visit more and more websites, a ‘persistent user profile’ gets built up and although those tracking may not know your name, they know what the barcode equivalent of you is – your IP address. By looking at the websites you visit, trackers can figure out your interests, habits, and maybe even your location and by combining this information with other semi-permanent information from your browser, a fairly accurate ‘fingerprint’ of you can be built up.

Who? 

Advertisers and marketers may use cookies, pixels, and other tracking technologies embedded in websites to track IP address to understand user behaviour, preferences, and demographics for targeted advertising and personalised content.

Other trackers of IP address may include websites and online services (e.g. to analyse traffic, understand user engagement, and improve the user experience) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for network management, troubleshooting, to ensure the security and integrity of their network, plus (perhaps) for law enforcement purposes. Other tracking entities can include government and law enforcement, cybersecurity professionals (monitoring for and respond to security threats), content providers and streaming services, and research and analytics companies tracking IP addresses.

It’s also important to remember that cyber criminals track IP addresses to find vulnerable devices or networks.

No Direct Way To Evade Tracking 

The key point is that although IP addresses are necessary and useful for routing traffic, preventing fraud and abuse, and for performing other important functions for network operators and domains, they can pose privacy concerns but, unlike third-party cookies, users currently don’t have a direct way to avoid being covertly tracked. An effective solution, which Google believes could be its IP Protection, needs to strike the right balance between retaining user privacy and not having too much of a negative impact on the normal running of the Internet and the online economy.

VPNs, Proxy Servers, and Secure Browsers 

Many people must resort to use a proxy server or a VPN to hide their IP address, both of which mask a user’s IP address with one of their own. There are also many private browsers available which use third-party ad blockers, onion routing, and other security features. These include Brave, DuckDuckGo, and the Tor Browser, among others.

Google’s IP Protection 

Google’s IP Protection feature, which it is currently testing with a view to rolling it out in multiple phases, sends third-party traffic for a set of domains through proxies, thereby protecting the user by masking their IP address from those domains.

Test 

The first testing phase is reported to be to ensure that the feature will work without impacting third-party companies, e.g. Google’s own Ad Services.  Google says this test will involve a single Google-owned proxy, will only proxy requests to domains owned by Google, and will allow to test its infrastructure while preventing impact to other companies, and gives it more time to refine the list of domains that will be proxied.

Google says that IP Protection changes how stable a client’s IP address is but “does not otherwise cause a breaking change for existing sites.” 

Opt-In 

Google says that IP Protection will be opt-in initially to make sure there is “user control over privacy decisions” and that Google can monitor behaviours at lower volumes.

List Based Approach 

It’s understood that a list based approach is to be used by Google and only domains on the list in a third-party context will be impacted, and the focus will be on scripts and domains that are considered to be tracking users so as not to disrupt legitimate use of IP tracking.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

IP addresses play a vital and legitimate role in the functioning of the web and its economy.

However, user privacy is important and despite browser vendors trying to give users additional privacy, covert cross-site IP tracking enabled by IP addresses is a problem and is a threat to privacy. Most web users aren’t happy with the idea that their web activities can be secretly tracked and a profile of them compiled which is stored and used by faceless companies to target them with ads and offers – it feels like an invasion of privacy and a risk to user security.

Until now, users haven’t had a direct way to avoid being covertly tracked and have needed to proactively opt for measures like using VPNs and proxy servers. Google IP Protection (opt-in at first) could therefore provide a much more direct and effective background privacy-protection solution for users that could, along with ecosystem changes, expand over time to be effective at protecting users’ privacy from cross-site tracking. For companies, organisations, marketers, and advertisers that use IP tracking, however, this could represent a real threat to their operations. Indeed, it could represent a threat to Google’s own domains and ad operation if it doesn’t work properly (hence the testing). IP Protection, therefore, looks promising and the hope is that it will be able to strike the right balance between user privacy and the safety and protecting functionality of the web.

Tech Tip – How To Get A Full Long Page Screen Capture In Chrome

If you’d like to capture long web pages in their entirety, e.g. for use in documentation, presentations, or competitor analysis, Google Chrome has a lesser-known but built-in way for doing this. Here’s how it works:

– Go to the web page you’d like to capture.

– Press Ctrl + Shift + I (or Cmd + Option + I on Mac) to open Developer Tools, then Ctrl + Shift + P to open the Command Menu (right-hand side).

– In the search bar at the top (next to ‘Run >’) type “screenshot” and select “Capture full size screenshot”.

– The screenshot will be saved in your ‘Downloads’ folder as a PNG file.

Tech Tip – Google Chrome’s Link To Highlighted Text Feature

If you’ve found a specific passage of text in a web page that you’d like to show to another person, Google Chrome has a built-in feature that allows you to share a link that goes straight to that text. Here’s how it works:

– In Chrome, highlight the passage text in any web page that you’d like to show to, e.g. to a customer or colleague.

– Right-click.

– Select ‘Copy link to highlight.’

– Share the link.