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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

How to Use Google Chrome's Enhanced Safety Mode

As soon as you dip a virtual toe in the online waters, you're exposing yourself to danger, whether from suspicious links, dodgy downloads, data harvesters, or something else. The good news is that our web browsers have evolved to become more secure and savvy.

If Google Chrome is your browser of choice, you have access to an Enhanced Safe Browsing mode, which you might not be aware of: It's essentially what it sounds like, an extra layer of protection that you're able to switch on if you want to be as cautious as possible.

Why wouldn't it be on by default? Well, when it's on, you'll share more data with Google about where you go and what you do online—data that Google says is only kept temporarily before being anonymized, but you can't be blamed for feeling like you've already given Google enough data as it is.

How Enhanced Safe Browsing Works

Enhanced Safe Browsing is for "users who require or want a more advanced level of security while browsing the web," Google says. For example, it uses what Google knows about past security issues to preemptively block new security threats that might not have been cataloged yet.

More checks will be carried out on extensions you install and downloads you initiate. You'll get the option to send files flagged as suspicious to Google for further inspection if you're not sure about them. This might mean waiting a little longer to install something, but this extra caution reduces the risk of getting caught out by malware.

The Enhanced Safe Browsing mode works on top of the security measures already built into Chrome. For example, as standard, the browser checks sites you visit against a list of URLs known to be dangerous—a list that's updated every 30 minutes. Turn on the additional security protections, and Chrome uses machine learning models to recognize bad sites even if they're not on the latest list.

Google says Enhanced Safe Browsing is also better able to thwart hacking attempts against your Google account by monitoring a broader range of signals. By default, it'll also check to see if your email addresses and passwords are included in any data breaches leaked out on the web—you'll be sent an alert if this happens.

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For obvious reasons, Google doesn't publicly outline every detail of how Enhanced Safe Browsing operates, but you're placing more trust in Google's algorithms. Users who switch on the feature are phished 35 percent less on average, according to Google, though if you're confident in your own abilities to spot and evade threats, you might not need the extra measures or want the extra data-sharing that goes along with them.

How to Turn On Enhanced Safe Browsing

If you've decided that Enhanced Safe Browsing is for you, you can turn it on by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of the Chrome interface, then choosing Settings, Security and privacy, and Security. You have three choices: Enhanced protection (which we're discussing here), Standard protection, and No protection (which we wouldn't recommend).

Each setting comes with a brief description so you can understand more about what it entails and the differences between the three options. The Standard mode offers a couple of optional settings too, including the data breach alerts that come as standard if you switch to the Enhanced mode.

Google hasn't yet added the Enhanced Safe Browsing mode to Chrome for the iPhone and the iPad, though you will find it on the desktop edition across all platforms, as well as in Chrome OS. It's available for the Android edition of Chrome as well: From the app, tap the three dots (top right), then Settings, Privacy and security, and Safe Browsing to turn it on.

Changing the safety setting only affects your current, local browser. If you want to enable the feature on every device you use to access the web, you'll need to switch each one on manually.

In our time running Chrome with Enhanced Safe Browsing enabled, we haven't noticed any differences in terms of page loading or download transfer times. Google has already added several enhancements to the feature since it first appeared back in May 2020, so look out for more to come in the future.

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