An experimental feature in test versions of Google’s Chrome browser that is intended to provide greater protection against phishing can, in some cases, do the opposite, according to a security company.
The “Origin Chip” feature shows the root domain of a website which in theory makes it easier for users to spot if they are going to “paypal.com” or “paypalripoff.com” without the distraction of the rest of the URL describing the exact location of the webpage.
Origin Chip is a beta feature in “Chrome Canary,” a browser intended for developers and early adopters that has features under consideration for future release. It moves the full domain out of the “Omnibox,” used for search and to one side of the browser. The feature can be turned on in “chrome://flags/,” a menu of experimental features, in Chrome Canary Version 36.0.1975.0. The experimental feature can also be activated in the stable version of Chrome, however.
PhishMe, which runs antiphishing training programs, found that if a URL is long enough, Canary doesn’t display the domain at all. Instead, it displays a blank Omnibox with ghost text.
“While Canary is intended to help the user identify a link’s true destination, it will actually make it impossible for even the savviest users to evaluate the authenticity of a URL,” wrote Aaron Higbee and Shyaam Sundhar of PhishMe.
Google warns that Chrome Canary is bleeding edge and can break down completely.
Higbee and Sundhar entered longer and longer domain and subdomain combinations to see how Origin Chip would perform. URLs exceeding 98 characters were not shown by Origin Chip, they wrote.
Origin Chip’s reaction to long URLs was also dependent on the size of the browser, they found. Smaller browser windows caused Origin Chip to stop displaying URLs shorter than 98 characters.
The behavior means “that even security savvy users who have been trained to recognize malicious URLs will be at risk,” Higbee and Sundhar wrote.
One solution may be to keep the whole URL intact and put a visual focus on the root domain, they wrote. “Merely extending the length of the URLs it will display isn’t a solution, because attackers will just make URLs as long as they need to be to avoid being displayed.”