Google broadens its malware sleuthing to sniff out deceptive downloads

More types of malicious software will be identified by Google's safe browsing service

Google is expanding its safe browsing technology to notify Web users of downloads that appear benign, but actually make unwanted changes to their computers.

Starting next week, the company's safe browsing service will identify more types of deceptive software on the Web, Google said Thursday. The company is homing in on programs that claim to be helpful downloads, but end up making unexpected changes to a computer like switching the homepage or other browser settings, Google said.

Sometimes referred to as a PUP, or potentially unwanted program, this type of software can come bundled with free applications. But it may end up doing more than is advertised, sometimes running processes in the background or creating pop-up ads.

Google said it would show a warning in Chrome whenever an attempt is made to trick a user into downloading and installing such software, and block it. If they want, people can still access the software from their downloads list.

Google created its safe browsing service in 2006 as a way to identify unsafe websites, malware and phishing attempts, and warn users and webmasters about them. Google checks URLs against a constantly updated list of suspected phishing and malware pages, testing the questionable sites using a virtual machine to see if the machine gets infected.

With the technology, more than 3 million warnings are shown per week, Google says. The company claims to have had "very few" false positives.

In addition to Google's Chrome, the service is also used by Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari. Google did not immediately respond to clarify when those browsers would begin to recognize the enhancements.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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