It's About Time
Google has been a major force on the Internet for the past few years, gobbling up large chunks of the search and advertisement markets and garnering it a hefty stock price in the process. This has allowed them to branch out and try its hand at a number of free software applications and web-based services meant to pull you even further into their warm embrace.
Given their massive presence and consumer loyalty, it seemed odd that they would ignore one very important piece of software, until now.
The Chrome web browser is an open-source attempt at grabbing their own share of the browser market and further extending their mind-share. There's been plenty of speculation as to how it changes things -- you can bet it will -- as well as a healthy dosage of paranoia over how it handles your data and if you're likely to see more targeted ads just by using the browser.
Beyond its usefulness as a portal to your day-to-day web browsing, the program does leverage several techniques to make your online jaunts quite a bit safer. Most of these features can be found on other browsers and add-ons that are available now (or soon to be) but Google's Chrome team managed to combine them in a tidy package that loads up in a snap, renders pages quickly, and has an overall polished feel despite its beta status.
Never mind the shiny exterior though, lets see what this browser really has to offer.
Save us from Ourselves
It used to be that only the "uninformed" would fall for such trickery as phishing or spoofed websites whose sole purpose is to fraudulently separate a user and from his or her bank account. It's not as clear cut anymore as many more sophisticated techniques are being employed that could redirect you to some impeccable copy with a DNS entry linked to the wrong IP address.
Chrome's built-in "safe browsing" techniques wisely relies on a site's SSL certificates to tell you if the site you're visiting is legitimate or not. Its been standard practice for web browsers but they improve on the protection by having the browser constantly download a list of websites known to host phishing/spoofed pages, transparently providing an extra layer of defense.
The company also thought it smart to provide the browser with a second blacklist that contains pages known to house malicious content in the form of malware that could harm your system if downloaded. Plenty of warnings are tossed up for users should they try and venture to such pages but some discretion is still advised.
Playing Nice with Everything Else
Another nice feature being touted by Chrome is its efforts to "sandbox" its environment. This allows the program to run each tab/window in its own process, limiting its effects on the browser. If something goes wildly wrong in one tab it wont bring down the rest of the application. An added benefit of this feature is that they also limit privileges to each process so it can't read, write, or execute code should a vulnerability in the browser allow for such an exploit.
Imposing limits on the permissions, and those of associated plug-ins, will go a long way toward limiting system damage. So far, it all sounds great. But we'll have to see how it stands up to some tailored attacks, which are likely to come sooner rather than later.
There is one other feature that should interest the privacy/security focused out there: Chrome's Incognito mode. The mode prevents information from your browsing session to be stored locally which includes browsing history, site file caches, and logs of files downloaded. Once you're done browsing in that mode any new cookies created by the browser will be cleared, leaving information from your normal browsing sessions intact.
While such a feat can be accomplished with other browsers it is nowhere near as intuitive as Chrome's simple mode. They do warn you that they only prevent the information from being stored on your computer, information you send out to a web server will likely be retained by that server as will any logging done on a monitored connection. It's not some magical proxy/anonymizer for your browsing.
Google's Chrome is a solid first step into the minefield faced by web browsers.
Its clean layout is inviting to first time users and its built-in security and privacy features are an added bonus to keep both seasoned veterans and the uninitiated safer right out of the box. They're bound to continue adding features and integrating their other services but even in its current beta form it's worth a look.
This article was first published on EnterpriseITPlanet.com.