Tech Matters: How to use Google’s Enhanced Safe Mode
Gmail users: Have you seen a pop-up message from Google offering the option to activate an enhanced security mode? While it’s not a new feature, Google has decided to bring it to the attention of its 1.8 billion users. Perhaps it is a response to the check mark system hack identified in June that enabled hackers to gain verification for their accounts that were in fact illegitimate. Google fixed that particular issue within two weeks, but the company may want to shore up its reputation for being a secure email system.
Google’s enhanced safe browsing feature was introduced in 2020 and protects against phishing and malware attacks across both the Chrome browser and Gmail. The Safe Mode works automatically in the background to provide faster, proactive protection against dangerous websites, downloads and extensions. It works in real-time, monitoring links to suspicious websites, scanning downloads and extensions for malware, and then issuing warnings to users who can proceed at their own peril, but clearly should not.
The mode also scans usernames and passwords associated with data breaches to see if your information has been compromised. Google will alert you if that’s the case. Do not panic. You’ll want to check any accounts where you’ve used that password and change your password. That’s why it’s important to never reuse a password on multiple websites. If you have reused a password on a sensitive account — one that contains data that could be used to steal your identity or a financial account — check the account for suspicious activity and take action as needed.
Google’s data on the effectiveness of Enhanced Safe Mode is impressive. The company said following one year after release, Enhanced Safe Browsing users are successfully phished 35% less than other users. Similarly, the number of malicious extensions available in the Chrome Web Store that were disabled to protect users grew by 81%. Google’s policy is to review extensions by new developers over a period of several months for them to reach “trusted” status.
Once a developer is trusted, that status remains in place. This does raise the point that you should be cautious about downloading new extensions from the Web Store — better to wait until an extension has enough reviews to show it’s reliable, say at least six months. The Safe Mode will tell you whether or not the extension developer has reached trusted status, but there’s no guarantee that the status won’t change.
For most users, Enhanced Safe Mode should be turned on. Here’s how to do it even if you haven’t seen the offer. Go into your Google account by clicking the three dots in the upper-right corner of your screen while you are browsing using Chrome. Choose “Settings” and then “Privacy and Security.” Choose “Security” and toggle Enhanced Safe Browsing on. Note that if you use Chrome on more than one device, you will have to enable the mode on each one.
You may be wondering why Enhanced Safe Mode isn’t on by default. Like with most things in life, there’s a bit of a trade-off between security and privacy: More security means less privacy.
For Google to be able to provide the enhanced security, you have to share more data with Google for it to scan for malicious software and other harmful elements. When you are signed into your Google account, your data is temporarily linked to your browsing data. After a short period of time, this data is anonymized to add more information to the system, which helps identify dangerous websites and downloads for other Google users.
To me, this is a fair price to pay for continuous security while online.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.