Google to intensify Chrome add-on lock-down in January
Citing continued abuse of loopholes, will require all Windows extensions to be published on the Chrome Web Store
Computerworld - Google on Thursday said that starting in January, only extensions offered through its own e-market can be installed on the Windows version of Chrome.
The move will be one more in a series of steps that Google has taken in the last 15 months to lock down the browser, pushing it and its add-ons toward the closed markets modeled by Apple's and Microsoft's mobile app environments.
Erik Kay, director of Chrome engineering, announced the change on the Chromium blog, saying that it was driven by "our continuing security efforts," and adding, "We believe this change will help those whose browser has been compromised by unwanted extensions.
Google has used similar explanations for previous steps to bar extensions from the browser.
At some point in early 2014, users of the "Stable" and "Beta" builds of Chrome on Windows will be able to install extensions -- what other browser makers call "add-ons" -- only from the Chrome Web Store, Google's official distribution channel.
Currently, some extensions not hosted on the Chrome Web Store can still be installed in the browser, including those associated with a desktop application -- and offered during the installation process of that program -- and ones written by a business for its workers. Generically, Google calls them "external extensions."
But Google has been clamping down on what it has viewed as rogue extensions since July 2012, when it first required that add-ons move to the Chrome Web Store. As of Chrome 21, which launched that month, the browser would not accept extensions installed directly from websites, but only from the Chrome Web Store. Before that, any website could prompt a Chrome user to install an add-on.
Then in February 2013 Google tightened its policies when it debuted a new security feature that blocked silent installations of add-ons and disabled those that had snuck into the browser.
Silent extension installation had been possible only on Windows; OS X and Linux did not offer slippery websites a way to sneak an add-on into Chrome.
Apparently, those moves weren't enough for Google.
"Many services bundle useful companion extensions, which causes Chrome to ask whether you want to install them (or not)," wrote Kay yesterday. "However, bad actors have abused this mechanism, bypassing the prompt to silently install malicious extensions that override browser settings and alter the user experience in undesired ways."
That prompted the company's more draconian move to require every extension to be hosted on the Chrome Web Store, so that Google can vet the software and, if necessary, yank the add-on if it turned out to be malicious.
Starting in January, extensions that had been installed locally or by businesses internally must be published to the Chrome Web Store, closing the remaining loopholes on Windows. Businesses can hide their extensions on the store from the public at large -- or continue to use group policies to offer the add-ons to their workforce from their own servers -- and developers will still be able to initiate "in-line" installs from their website, assuming the add-on is in the Chrome Web Store.
The move was not completely unexpected. In a May 2012 thread discussing the changes planned for Chrome 21, a Chromium developer noted that, "Our hope and belief is that this installation mechanism will be sufficiently complex that it will reduce the number of off-store extension installs performed. If it doesn't help, we'll try something else."
The new rules will not affect the "Dev" build of Chrome, the roughest-edged version, or "Canary," an even less-polished browser from the Chromium project, the open-source foundation of Chrome. Web apps will not be affected by the policy change.
Google did not specify which version of Chrome will be the first to require all extensions to originate from the browser's store, but by the company's usual tempo, it will likely be Chrome 33.
As of Friday, Chrome Stable was at version 30, and Beta was at version 31.
Browser extensions can be found at the Chrome Web Store.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
- Google rolls out new +Post 'social' ads
- Google details its Project Ara modular smartphone
- Google pushes I/O registration deadline back to April 15
- Google looks to push Glass into the enterprise
- Google touts extra encryption for Gmail, remains mum on other apps
- Google patches $310K worth of Chrome, Chrome OS bugs
- Google slashes Drive prices by up to 80%
- Chrome users attack Google for zapping unsanctioned Windows add-ons
- Google postpones add-on 'kill switch' for Chrome on Windows
- Google yanks option to restore Chrome's old-style new tab page, riles users all over again
Read more about Internet in Computerworld's Internet Topic Center.
- Data on the Move = Business on the Move; How Strategic Secure Managed File Transfer Adds Value and Drives Business This whitepaper describes the formal and informal file-sharing methods business employees use to perform their daily functions and explains that, from sending small...
- Why Projects Fail CIOs are expected to deliver more projects that transform business, and do so on time, on budget and with limited resources.
- The New Business Case for Video Conferencing: 7 Real-World Benefits Beyond Cost-Savings This whitepaper provides insight into the value of video conferencing in today's business environment, and how organizations are using visual collaboration to find...
- Gartner Magic Quadrant for Client Management Tools The client management tool market is maturing and evolving to adapt to consumerization, desktop virtualization, and an ongoing need to improve efficiency.
- Supercharge Your Web and Mobile App Development with High-Productivity Hybrid Cloud Webinar: Hear from industry experts about the amazing power at the intersection of next-generation web and mobile application development and cloud platforms.
- LIVE EVENT: 5/7, The End of Data Protection As We Know It. Introducing a Next Generation Data Protection Architecture. Traditional backup is going away, but where does this leave end-users? All Internet White Papers | Webcasts