A new extension linked to Google's Safe Browsing service is now available that not only helps users see when a site might be unsafe but also allows them to actively take part in keeping the web itself safe for everybody else. The extension, dubbed Suspicious Site Reporter, is free of charge and does precisely what its title implies.
Offered on an official basis by Google, it switches a flag icon from green to orange next to the URL bar when the Chrome browser detects suspicious activities or other attributes — such as unusual characters used in the URL or domain and ranking metrics. Clicking on the icon provides in-depth details about exactly why the site has been flagged and the option to provide more details back to Google.
By default, the extension takes the URL address itself and the IP address but checkboxes are included to either include or exclude a screenshot in addition to a full rundown of the site's current HTML and a referrer chain. That means that Google gets not only the code associated with the site and its originating details but also information about where the site is referring to and from around the web, creating a much fuller picture of the site's activity.
What happens with all that data?
As always, sites that are found to be taking part in bad behavior such as phishing are listed out and handed off by Safe Browsing to the teams behind Google Chrome as well as those behind Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and internet providers. Thanks to recent collaboration between Microsoft and Google to build out a new Microsoft Edge browser experience based on Chromium, that browser's development team likely will have access to the reports too.
In effect, that means that by reporting sites that seem suspicious, users across the web on each of the most popular browsers can be kept safer from accidentally accessing or being tricked into navigating to sites that turn out to be malicious.
This is Google narrowing down its list of suspects
As of this writing, the extension is by its nature going to be limited in use to desktop environments including Linux, Chrome OS, Windows, and macOS. That's because the company hasn't quite gotten around to enabling full Chrome extensions working on mobile just yet. That doesn't mean users on mobile won't benefit though since Safe Browsing does have an impact on that front.
When browsing the web via Chrome and encountering a potentially harmful site, it isn't uncommon to see a red-colored page appear that showcases a warning that the site might be dangerous. Users are typically shown a button to navigate back and away from the site as well as 'advanced' options that allow navigation to the site regardless of the perceived risk. That's called forward by Safe Browsing and appears on mobile as well as on desktop.
The shift toward crowdsourcing data about sites may seem odd since Google effectively controls the web due to its browser's dominance.
The move represents a way for the company to begin closing in on sites that have been missed by the service so far and could either be a clear indication that the list of suspected malicious sites is shrinking or that it's growing. It may also be that the company is unsatisfied with its progress so far or that there's been almost no change in terms of the threat.
The former seems more likely to be the case, given its long history combatting malicious sites and site activity but downloading an additional tool to help weed out those that remain is going to prove useful to a significant number of users either way.