Anti-phishing in Google Chrome a shaky work in progress

The anti-phishing feature, currently available in the test version of Google's Chrome, would unlikely provide the boost the browser needs to catch up with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, an expert says.

Chrome trails IE in its ability to protect users landing on malicious websites through phishing attacks. The experimental feature in Chrome Canary Version 36.0.1975.0 would try to narrow the gap by displaying the root domain of a website to theoretically make it easier for a person to distinguish between a legitimate and bogus site.

If the domain is supposed to be "amazon.com," but what's shown is "amazon_scam.com," then the Chrome user would know they've landed on a fake site.

However, such a feature is unlikely to be of much help.

"I believe it is far too soon to assess success or failure," Randy Abrams, research director for NSS Labs, said. "That said, allowing users to see the true top level domain (TLD) name will be of limited effectiveness.

"Many users do not know what a TLD is or even have the knowledge to distinguish a good one from a bad one."

In addition, such tactics do not help when cybercriminals compromise a web server and load malicious pages on the site, Abrams said. In those cases, the URL would look fine, so the only tip-off would be if the page seeks personal information unrelated to the site.

"There will be users who do not put two and two together to figure out that 'kinder_peope_love_you.com' is probably not a safe place to share their banking credentials," Abrams said.

A recent comparison of browser malware detection found Chrome trailing IE with a block rate of 70.7 percent versus 99.9 percent, according to NSS Labs.

The malware threat typically starts when criminals send email crafted to trick the recipient into clicking on a link that leads to a malicious webpage. Chrome and IE use a combination of URL filtering and application reputation technology to detect bogus URLs and malware.

Besides questionable effectiveness, Google's anti-phishing feature is also flawed, according to PhishMe, which provides security training to companies.

PhishMe reported this week that the feature failed to display long URLs. How long would depend on the size of the browser window, but URLs over 98 characters were certain to disappear.

Chrome Canary is intended for developers and early adopters of the browser. Because it is meant for testing, Google warns that the browser could "sometimes break down completely."

This story, "Anti-phishing in Google Chrome a shaky work in progress" was originally published by CSO.

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