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Google asks Chrome users for help in spotting deceptive sites

Google this week asked for help in identifying suspicious websites, offering users of its Chrome browser an add-on that lets them rat out URLs.

The Suspicious Site Reporter, which can be added to desktop Chrome, places a new flag-style icon on the top bar of the browser. "By clicking the icon, you're now able to report unsafe sites to Safe Browsing for further evaluation," Emily Schechter, a Chrome product manager, wrote in a Tuesday post to a company blog.

Safe Browsing is the name of the technology used by Google's search engine, Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and Android to steer users away from sites that host malicious or deceptive content. On the back end, Google uses robots to scan the web and build a list of websites that host malware, harmful downloads or deceptive ads and pages. Software developers can then plug into an API to integrate this list into their own applications, something rival browser makers have done for years.

The end result is a warning that intervenes to tell the user that the intended destination is shady and should be avoided. In Chrome, one of the many alerts Safe Browsing triggers reads, "Deceptive site ahead" followed by explanatory text.

Now, Google wants users as well as its bots to finger nasty sites.

But some of the information in the pop-up box deployed after clicking the Suspicious Site Reporter icon itself seemed suspect. When at one of our regular destinations, Suspicious Site Reporter identified "Site not in top 5K sites" as what made the URL suspicious. When at a national news organization's site, Suspicious Site Reporter said "Haven't visited site in the last 3 months."

Schechter also touted a more subtle enhancement of Chrome that she said protected users. The unnamed warning appears when the browser steers toward a site with a deceptive URL, a common trick hackers and phishers play.

"For example, it's easy to confuse 'go0gle.com' with 'google.com,'" she said. "This new warning works by comparing the URL of the page you're currently on to URLs of pages you've recently visited. If the URL looks similar, and might cause you to be confused or deceived, we'll show a warning that helps you get back to safety."

Schechter said that the new warning was launching on Chrome 75, the current version that debuted June 4. Computerworld tried her example and off-kilter permutations of other frequently-accessed URLs, but no such alert was displayed. Like other developers, Google often rolls out new Chrome features in stages as part of its quality control efforts.

The Suspicious Site Reporter add-on can be downloaded from the Chrome e-store.

This story, "Google asks Chrome users for help in spotting deceptive sites" was originally published by Computerworld.