Google expanding security feature that prevents malware installs

Google's Safe Browsing feature can often be your "last line of defense" against unwanted software, like malware and browser toolbars.

Google's Safe Browsing feature in Chrome (Image: Google/Blogspot)

Ever seen something like this appear in your browser? The good news is that you're likely safer because of it.

Google said Thursday it will expand this feature, dubbed Safe Browsing, which aims to prevent installs of "unwanted software." The feature works by checking against a Google database of affected links and sites to determine if a page is safe.

The feature is baked into Chrome, but also works in other browsers across Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Although the feature already prevents phishing and malware installs, soon it will also work to reduce installs of "piggybacked" software, adware and browser toolbars, and apps that spy on a user's internet browsing traffic or send information back to a server without consent.

"Unwanted software is being distributed on web sites via a variety of sources, including ad injectors as well as ad networks lacking strict quality guidelines," said Google's Moheeb Abu Rajab and Stephan Somogy in a blog post. "In many cases, Safe Browsing within your browser is your last line of defense."

That includes most recently a one-off update that led to some defunct or retired apps hosted on Sourceforge.com listed as unsafe, because the company had bundled ads within the installer.

But the Google staffers added that the team's mandate "remains unchanged," in a bid to allay fears the feature might be used to prevent rival software from being installed. "We're exclusively focused on protecting users from malware, phishing, unwanted software, and similar harm," they wrote.

The search giant turned browser maker also published an unwanted software policy in order to help users (and developers) understand what kinds of software will be caught in the expanded safety net.

"Software that violates these principles is potentially harmful to the user experience, and we will take steps to protect users from it," the policy says.