Google Chrome Safe Browsing Feature Updated With Real-Time Privacy-Preserving URL Protection

Google Chrome offers users a Safe Browsing feature that checks for malicious URLs before loading web pages, and the search giant has now given it a major upgrade — a privacy-preserving real-time link scanning mechanism that checks an encrypted version of links that a user is visiting via an independently operated server. While the company claims that the ‘standard’ version of the browser’s Safe Browsing feature is much more effective at detecting threats, the ‘enhanced’ version will still be more effective against specific threats.

The company stated in a blog post that it was upgrading the standard version of the Safe Browsing feature with a real-time protection protocol that it claims is much more effective at protecting users from unsafe sites. Until now, the standard Safe Browsing mode would check for malicious websites from a list that was regularly downloaded onto a user’s smartphone or computer — the upgrade will now allow Google to check for dangerous URLs via a third-party server.

Google says that when you visit a website, Chrome will check the locally stored list of websites for malicious URLs, following up with a real-time check if it is not in the database. In order to do so, the browser hashes the URL, truncates them into smaller prefixes, and encrypts them before sending them to a third-party ‘privacy’ server operated by Fastly.

This third-party server will strip away potential user information, mixing the requests with those of other users, and send them to the Safe Browsing server. Google will then check the truncated prefixes with its server-side database — if a match is found, Google checks the full hash of the original URL against the unsafe URL hash and shows a warning if they match.

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The upgraded ‘standard’ Safe Browsing mode with real-time checks
Photo Credit: Google


According to the company, one of the advantages of the real-time, privacy-preserving Safe Browsing is that unsafe sites can be blocked as soon as they are detected. Another benefit of the server-side scanning for malicious URLs is that the list of unsafe sites can be much larger than the one that is stored on a user’s device.

The upgrade to the standard Safe Browsing mode is now available to users on Chrome for iOS and Chrome for Windows, macOS, and Linux computers. Google says that it will roll out to users on Android over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, users who want even more AI-based protection from malicious URLs, as well as Chrome extension and file scanning can opt for the enhanced version of the Safe Browsing feature, according to the company.

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