[REVIEW] Google Safe Browsing Protection

Category: Security

Google’s livelihood depends on people’s trust in the Web. So Google devotes enormous resources to keeping the Web a safe place to explore. Collectively, these resources are called Google Safe Browsing. Let’s see how Safe Browsing works, and how it protects your web browsing, email, and downloads -- even if you don't use Google services...

What is Google Safe Browsing?

Safe Browsing begins in the browser's address bar, or the “omnibox” as Google calls the space at the top of the Chrome browser where URLs appear. Google uses “omnibox” to denote that the box does much more than merely show the address of the web page you are currently viewing and accept addresses of pages you wish to fetch. The omnibox also tells you whether it is safe to visit the page in question, among other things.

Whether a web server provides a connection encrypted with the SSL protocol is one indication of safety. SSL obscures the data that passes between you and a server so that, for instance, your credit card data is not visible to casual eavesdroppers. When the current connection is secured with SSL, an icon shaped like a lock appears to the left of “https” in the omnibox.

If a server does not use SSL, the words “not secure” will appear in the omnibox and there will be no lock icon. The stigma of that “not secure” label puts pressure on webmasters to do the right thing. If you want to see a harmless example of this, visit http://neverssl.com.

Google Safe Browsing protects more than browsers

Safe Browsing also protects users by warning them when they request a page that could do them harm. “Harm” could be a phishing attack in which a page tricks the user into divulging sensitive data or clicking a link that triggers a malware download. Malicious sites can even download malware in background without the user’s knowledge.

Safe Browsing recognizes such hazards and blocks malicious links while warning the user, effectively, “you don’t want to go there.” It is possible to override such a warning, but in most cases that is a bad idea. Even if you have visited a page many times without a problem, it may have been infected with malware recently.

Often, the webmasters of compromised pages do not know that their pages have been compromised. Google Safe Browsing includes programs for webmasters that monitor a site and send alerts if anything suspicious happens. Google gives webmasters the steps they should take to recover from an infection, along with examples of the malicious code that was used by the intruders. A great many people are very grateful to Google Safe Browsing.

Bad guys can exploit trusted sites by injecting code that triggers malicious events. Simply loading the homepage of a compromised site can trigger a silent malware download. Traditional antivirus tools often miss these rogue executables, because they rely on "blacklists" of known viruses. That's why I love the "whitelist" approach in PC Matic's SuperShield, which only lets known good programs run on your computer. Learn more in my article PC Matic - An Overdue Review.

Not Limited to Google Products

In addition to alerting users to unsafe sites in the Chrome browser, the Safe Browsing initiative also extends protection to links in your Gmail messages, the Chrome Web Store, and the Google Play app store for Android devices. And it's not limited to Google Products. Apple's Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Vivaldi browsers also use the Google Safe Browsing database to protect their users from phishing and malware.

Over three billion devices are protected every day by Safe Browsing, according to Google. That figure includes your phone or desktop PC or laptop, plus the servers that send you my pages and emails. That’s a lot of responsibility that Google handles almost invisibly.

In their daily scans, Google flags thousands of unsafe or malicious sites. Many of them are legitimate websites that have been compromised by bad actors. (And I don't mean Sean Penn or Charlie Sheen.) Google offers a Safe Browsing site status lookup tool where you can enter the address of a website to see if it's safe to visit. The Safe Browsing Transparency Report gives insights into how many unsafe sites are discovered each week, the types of hazards that are identified, and a global map showing the primary sources of malware distribution.

“People should expect that the web is safe and easy to use by default,” said Emily Schechter, Chrome Security product manager, in a recent interview with Wired magazine. ”You shouldn’t have to be a security expert to browse the web, you shouldn’t have to know what phishing is, you shouldn’t have to know what malware is. You should just expect that software is going to tell you when something has gone wrong. That’s what Safe Browsing is trying to do.” Thank you, Emily and Safe Browsing.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[REVIEW] Google Safe Browsing Protection"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

Bob, thank you for the article.

One thing I've noticed using Google Image Search: the site warnings that appear on site results don't appear on image results. You either have to rely on your memory (less than ideal to say the least) or perform a separate site search for each of your image results. This makes Google Image Search much less usable than it could be.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

I just use Adblock Plus and whatever is currently built in to Firefox. (With all the updates to everything, I can't keep track.) I got one small ad in the header for a PC scan, one (sort of) ad for Ask Bob Rankin at the bottom, and four small electronics ads in a horizontal row between the main article and the comments. I didn't really even notice anything was there until I read the ad-blocking comments.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

I have switched from ABP to uBlock Orgin. Seems to do a better job than AdBlockPlus.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

I always add WOT (web of trust) extension to any browser. It basically does the same as google's protection and more.
WOT will color code a link on a search page which informs you of a malicious site before you even click on it.
So if you search for " useful kitchen gadgets" for example, you'll get a page of top searches for that topic and each link or website has a colored ball on it depicting the safety or verdict of that sites reputation.
Google may be great for helping you stay safe, but WOT extension prevents you from going to unsafe sites to begin with.
And it's a free extension !

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

Firefox, Disconnect,& AdBlocker Ultimate, = NO Ads except PC Matic, of course!

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

Wow, Ghostery cleaned the ads up beautifully. I realize you need advertisers for your website Bob; however,they are over-running it.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

Google and security or safe browsing in the same sentences is a classic oxymoron. Anything to do with Google is a massive security hole which I trust as far as I can spit upwind in a Class 5 hurricane.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

@Fred. WOT (Web Of Trust) was found to be untrustworthy a couple years ago. Not only were their recommendations not accurate, they were actually collecting and selling your browsing habits.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

Hmmm. I had the normal ads. Not too many or too big. No problem reading article. Maybe the problem had been fixed by the time I read the article.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2018

If you want security, then you should avoid everything that has with Google to do. Tor browser, Firefox are much more secure. I would also avoid Gmail, use Protonmail instead. Based in Switzerland, a neutral country who takes peoples privacy seriously. A VPN with this, like NordVPN, makes you very secure. Avoid VPN from USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, France,Norway, Finland,Germany...
"NordVPN is based in Panama, as the country has no mandatory data retention laws and does not participate in the Five Eyes or Fourteen Eyes alliances."

Posted by:

13 Oct 2018

I just installed Ghostery and the difference is stunning.

Posted by:

13 Oct 2018

Interested that other browsers use Google's work on safe browsing. I notice Microsoft is not mentioned. And based on the sort of results innocuous searches on Bing can generate (described in a recent How To Geek article) it would seem desirable Microsoft did join.

Posted by:

Carol Y
13 Oct 2018

uBlock Origin works well to block ads.

Posted by:

13 Oct 2018

no ads, but then i try not to have anything to do with google and big brother...i only use firefox.

Posted by:

13 Oct 2018

I agree about Google and security--those two words are like oil and water.
I have noticed those warnings Bob describes on some websites (I use Firefox and Opera) but did not know that Google Safe Browsing is involved. I'm sure it's not bad having such a warning produced by Google. It's just that even seeing "Google" on anything bothers me. Oh well...

Posted by:

15 Oct 2018

I always look for the padlock icon in my "omnibox". If I don't see it I don't trust the web site with my info.

Posted by:

15 Oct 2018

Hilarious, all these folk telling us to use Ghostery. So I took a look and the first thing I saw was that I can't use the app because I have anti-tracking protection and their app doesn't work if I won't let them track me. They didn't even offer an option to exclude their site from anti-tracking. And no doubt after using them for x days there will be a bill to pay too (hey, they gotta live).

Posted by:

19 Oct 2018

Bob, we need to stop using the term “SSL” when telling people about securing their web connections. The SSL protocol is very outdated and was replaced by TLS (Transport Layer Security). Indeed, we’ve been thru TLS v1.0, v1.1, v1.2, and v1.3 is about to go mainstream. Though SSL still exists and can be used, it is no longer considered secure. Minimum TLS 1.2 with all insecure cipher suites disabled is the new minimum for security.

Posted by:

Eve Hunt
23 Nov 2018

I’m so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.

Posted by:

Harold Burton
29 May 2021

P.S I was also a HMA user, but when it took to activate the system for 5 hours and they requested my ID – thats enoguh – thank you, I do care about my personal stuff!

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