Google is rolling out some changes to the Chrome web browser that will improve security in several ways. The changes are being spread out across several updates, and exactly when they will arrive on your devices depends on some security-related settings.
Warnings about compromised passwords
When you enter a user ID and password on any web site using Chrome, the browser can check whether that combination is on a list of known-compromised IDs and passwords. Chrome started doing this earlier in 2019, but you had to install the Password Checkup extension to use it. A couple of months ago, Google added this feature to passwords stored in Google accounts, protecting anyone who logs into their Google account in Chrome.
What’s new is that this password protection is now built into Chrome itself, and will now protect all Chrome users by default, regardless of whether they are logged into their Google account.
According to Google, “You can control this feature in the Sync and Google Services section of Chrome Settings.” In my installation of Chrome (version 79.0.3945.88), there’s a new option:
Warn you if passwords are exposed in a data breach.
Real-time protection against unsafe sites
Google’s Safe Browsing service provides a continuously-updated list of unsafe sites. When you visit a web site or download a file, Chrome checks the address (URL) against the Safe Browsing list. The file it checks is on your computer, and updated every 30 minutes.
Previously, only a local copy of the unsafe URLs list (updated every 30 minutes by Google) was checked. What’s changed is that a new safe URLs list (stored on your computer and updated by Google) is checked, and if the site you’re visiting isn’t listed as safe, Chrome then checks an unsafe URLs list hosted by Google.
This change allows Chrome to use the most up to date information when deciding whether to warn you about potentially unsafe sites.
You can control this behaviour in Chrome’s settings:
Sync and Google Services >
Make searches and browsing better.
Expanding predictive phishing protection
When you enter a username and password on a web site, Chrome can check whether you are on a suspected phishing site.
Previously, Chrome only performed this check when you entered Google Account credentials on a web site, and only with the Sync feature enabed. What’s new is that Chrome now checks all passwords stored in Chrome’s password manager, and it does so as long as you’re signed into Chrome, even if Sync is not enabled.
It’s not clear whether there are specific Chrome settings that control this behaviour.
Safe to use
In the blog post announcing these changes, Google is careful to explain that the process of checking your passwords is itself completely secure, and even Google can’t determine your password as part of the process. The other checks that involve sending information to Google’s systems are also secure and private. In other words, you don’t need to worry about any of your information or activity being intercepted or misused, even by Google.