You'll hate Google's experimental Chrome UI, but so will phishers

What do you want: Better security or long URLs?


Phishers might have a tougher time hooking victims if a new feature introduced into the experimental strain of Google's Chrome browser makes it into a future full release.

The "origin-chip" feature cleans up Chrome's omnibox – or address bar – by removing lengthy URLs and replacing them with just the domain name shorn of "http://" and "www". There's also the "origin chip" that produces the full URL.

Apple introduced a similar arrangement in Safari on iOS 7.

Google has tested the feature in beta versions of Chrome, but users didn't care for it and it was subsequently relegated to a default "off" state in later updates to the experimental Chrome fork, "Canary".

Much opposition to the feature centred on disorientation it caused to users who wandered lost on the internet unsure of what pages they were perusing, despite that URLs can be viewed with a click.

Google Chrome's own front-end developer Paul Irish chipped in with his distaste for the feature despite its anti-phishing function and adding its future was shaky.

"We're looking at a few key metrics to see if this change is a net positive for Chrome users. I imagine it may help defend against phishing," Irish said in a forum post.

"My personal opinion is that it's a very bad change and runs antithetical to Chrome's goals. I hope the data backs that up as well."

Opposition from users would "certainly" impact the feature's future, he said.

But fellow Chrome dev Jake Archibald backed the feature and said it would have saved him from nearly losing his bank details to a phishing site.

"Find someone who doesn't work in tech, show them their bank's website, and ask them what about the URL tells them they're on their bank's site. In my experience, most users don't understand which parts of the URL are the security signals," Archibald wrote.

"Browsers stopped showing the username / password part of URLs because it made phishing too easy. This is a natural progression."

Activate Origin

Archibald's card was nearly taken by clever phishers who established a mock Halifax.co.uk website which replaced forward slashes in the legitimate URL with full stops.

When rendered in the experimental browser, Canary sings an alarm in the form of a whopping big origin box.

But with so much opposition from Chrome power users and Google's own developers, combined with its relegation to a default off state, origin-chip's days seem numbered. ®


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