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War on Error

John E Dunn

Google adopts plain English for new Chrome browser warnings

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The smallest changes are sometimes the best ones

The smallest changes are sometimes the best ones

Google is preparing a small but important tweak to the malware warnings thrown up when Chrome encounters a page blacklisted by Safe Browsing security, the firm has sneaked out in a Twitter post.

The new look, now on the Canary and Developer channels, adopts a consistent orange page colour that is harder to ignore than the coloured border around a white page, variants of which have been used by Chrome versions since Safe Browsing’s launch in 2007.

sbwarning1.jpgThe current version is also clearer in its wording, forsaking “Google Chrome has blocked access to xyz domain for now,” for the more user-centric “attackers on xyz.com might attempt to install dangerous programs on your computer that steal of delete your information.”

The phishing warning now states more starkly “phishing attack ahead” rather than the less certain “reported phishing website ahead.” The option presented to the user is now a simple “back to safety.”

Google tracks the number of Chrome users receiving these warnings, which makes an interesting measure of web-borne malware and phishing, at least for sites picked up by Safe Browsing.  This shows a marked peak in June 2012 when around 60 million warnings were being thrown up per day compared to today’s 13 million per day.

The same figures also show that the number of phishing sites detected by Safe Browsing has been on a steady if unsurprising uptick since 2007, standing at nearly 25,000 by June 2014; malware sites appear to have fluctuated more wildly between peaks and troughs.

The updated warnings are part of a gradual rationalisation of the somtimes chaotic way browsers give users security feedback. The most important innovation was probably February’s warning that informs users when their browser settings have been tampered with. Chrome users can also return their browser to its factory state.

The problem remains that the malware industry has recently taken to using rogue add-ons to carry out this operation, something that seems able to bypass such browser warnings. Forum posts suggest this this has recently become an issue on the supposedly super-secure Chromebooks. Better browser warnings won't win this war but are a step in the right direction.


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