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Google Chrome to warn users of lookalike URLs masquerading as credible websites

Lookalike URLs are one of the biggest ways to spread hoax news and phishing attacks, but Google has a possible solution.

Published onJanuary 30, 2019

Google Chrome on the Google Pixel 2 XL.

Phishing and hoax news are two of the biggest problems facing internet users today, and these nefarious activities often spread via so-called lookalike URLs. But it seems like Google has a solution in the works for its Chrome browser.

The Chrome Canary browser, used to test upcoming features, has recently gained the ability to spot lookalike URLs, according to ZDNet. The feature has reportedly been available since Chrome Canary 70, and can be enabled by entering chrome://flags/#enable-lookalike-url-navigation-suggestions in the address bar.

Once enabled, an alert will appear when you mistype a URL (seen below, right). This alert points users to the legitimate website, much like Google Search points users to search queries with proper spelling.

According to the feature’s description, it’s able to provide suggestions for popular domains or domains with a site engagement score. So I wouldn’t expect Google to provide suggestions if you meant to visit an extremely niche website, for example.

The feature is available on Chrome Canary across Mac, Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS. It’s not available for Chrome on Android just yet, but it certainly seems like a useful addition to the mobile browser.

In any case, this should be a useful weapon in the fight against phishing in particular. Nefarious actors often take advantage of lookalike URLs to fool people into thinking a mistyped domain is a legitimate website. From here, these actors pose as banks and other websites in order to grab credentials and other sensitive data.

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