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Google defends online safety by attacking 'unwanted software'

In a blog post Thursday, Google announced it would be improving its safe browsing application by targeting what the company calls 'unwanted software.'

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    This image provided by Google shows an example of the warnings generated when Google’s safe browsing technology detects a website riddled with “unwanted software.” Google has obscured the URL in this example because of its policy of not publicly citing specific websites.
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Google announced Thursday that it will be improving and increasing access to its Safe Browsing search by signaling individuals when ads, websites, or downloads come attached with what the company calls “unwanted software.”

Google defines “unwanted software” as any program installed without a user's explicit permission. This includes software that tricks an individual into downloading it, piggybacks on another installation, or is found “bundled” with other programs. The unwanted software is typically difficult to uninstall and can disrupt a user’s system. The most widespread complaints have been about unwanted pop-ups or advertising, hijacking the default browser, and sending individuals to unrelated pages when they click a link.

This breach of security affects both users and website owners, who can find their website compromised with the troublesome software without any knowledge.

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Google is looking to address the problem in four ways. The tech giant will provide Safe Browsing data for developers to learn which domains have a history of hosting unwanted software. It will extend Safe Browsing notifications into Google Analytics, so owners can discover issues with a website – the alerts were previously only available through Webmaster Tools. Google has begun identifying ads that target people with the undesired feature. And the company will alert individuals before they visit a site or download a file with a clear warning about the threat.

Google’s safety feature has already been warning Chrome users against unwanted software with a giant red security alert, but the company has been working on extending the features into a broader range of “safe browsing” applications that are compatible with other browsers such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s FirefoxMicrosoft’s Internet Explorer runs on an alternative warning system called SmartScreen Filter.

Google launched Safe Browsing back in 2011, but the company has been scanning for malware since 2008.

According to a quote in Google’s blog post, safe browsing protects 1.1 billion people all around the world. The tech giant alone sends out more than 5 million warnings a day over sketchy websites and uncovers more than 50,000 malware sites and an additional 90,000 phishing sites every month.

"The folks trying to make a buck off people are having to come up with new stuff and that puts us in a position where we have to innovate to keep pace with these guys," says Stephan Somogyi, Google's product manager of safe browsing, in an interview with AP. "You are now going to see a crescendo in our enforcement on sites that meet our standard of having unwanted software."

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