How did Google Chrome Become the Least Safe Uption for Users?

A recent report from Atlas VPN showed that Google Chrome is the most vulnerable browser when compared to other competitors. Knowing that Chrome is the first choice for 3.2 billion users worldwide in 2021, (41% of the whole population), its credibility has been put to test.
Luckily for Google, an average user won’t spend his time digging deep about all the inconveniences – unless there is a huge public discussion about it.
So here it is, we’re starting it.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Google Chrome Security

Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

How did Google Chrome become the most popular browser? 

There’s a popular belief that Web 1.0 was all about readability, Web 2.0 was about writability, whereas Web 3.0 is about ownership. What’s different now is that internet users are concerned about their privacy, not out of fear, but because of making informed decisions. 

The fact that Google Chrome dominates the browser market share by 65.7% as of September 2022 is astonishing. But this success didn’t come overnight. 

Since Google is so inclined in our digital lives, it was only logical to use Google Chrome as the most convenient browsing option, loaded with other Google services. This is the main reason its usage has overgrown compared to other browsers. What’s more, even if you’re using an alternative such as Microsoft Edge, Chrome’s numerous pop-ups will try to persuade you to switch to an “easier choice” and you’ll eventually give in. 

safe browser

Photo Illustration: Freepik

Apparently, it was also said to have the best speed, offer the best extensions, and have the most appealing design, with dozens of customization options. This reputation has undoubtedly added to the belief that it is also the safest option for users, but this might be different based on new information available. Surprisingly enough, being the most popular one comes with the price of being the most vulnerable one. Before we tackle this in-depth, let’s see who else is in the pool. 

How did Google Chrome get compromised? 

I was once in a room filled with investigative journalists, and they all laughed at the mention of Chrome’s Incognito Mode. “That’s a complete joke”, one of them said and rolled their eyes. I remember thinking – If Google’s safe browsing mode isn’t secure, what can we expect from a regular Chrome? 

It all went down at the beginning of October when Atlas VPN published a report showing that Google Chrome is the riskiest browser on the market. Until now, Chrome is a definite leader in the number of all-time vulnerabilities, with a total of 3,159 as of October 2022

This is how the most used browsers rank based on the data collected by the VulDB database of vulnerabilities in the first three quarters of 2022: 

Browser 2022 All-time 
Google Chrome 303 3,159 
Mozilla Firefox 117 2,361 
Microsoft Edge 103 806 
Apple Safari 26 1,139 
Opera 344 

What’s important to emphasize here is that the same Chromium engine powers Chrome, Edge and Opera, meaning that any vulnerability found in Chromium would affect all three of these. 

On the other hand, should we really be surprised Chrome comes in the first place, considering how many users it has?  

And is this really the first time we’re finding it’s the most vulnerable browser?  

You guessed it – it’s not. 

Previous Google Chrome Data Breaches 

If you ask Google, they’ll tell you Chrome is secure by default.  Its built-in security includes the following: 

  • Site isolation
  • Sandboxing
  • Predictive phishing protection 
  • Password manager 
  • Regular updates 
  • Incognito mode 

However, it’s been subject to breaches over the years, with one of the most dangerous ones being a fake update in 2020 that tricked thousands of users. This scam, discovered by a Russian-based company called Dr. Web, was aimed to send users directly to a phishing site. 

privacy incognito mode

Screenshot: safety.google

Now, we need to mention the other side as well. Apart from having the most significant share of the market and therefore being the most exposed to cyber attacks, the reason why Chrome’s vulnerabilities are in focus and quickly detected is that Google pays the highest bounties to ethical hackers. Their role as security partners is to find out vulnerabilities and patch them before malicious hackers take their toll. 

What’s more, if Opera is powered by the same Chromium engine and reports zero vulnerabilities, doesn’t it sound a bit suspicious and therefore require further research?  

Since it doesn’t affect nearly as many users as Chrome does, and has significantly fewer data available, we’ll be having this discussion another time. 

Which browser is the safest in 2022? 

In the last 12 months, this is how the browser market share looked worldwide on all platforms: 

safest browsers

Source: Atlas VPN

Based on the same data, the browser landscape somewhat changes depending on the platform. Compared to the graph above, Safari rises up to 24,55% on mobile devices, whereas Samsung Internet doubles up to 4,69%. However, these increases do not reflect significantly on Google Chrome, which is still the dominant one with over 65% share. 

Sure, Chrome is the best when it comes to numbers, but what about the other factors?  

That’s where other players step into the game. 

When it comes to privacy, all major players found unique ways to enhance data protection. 

Browser Number of users in 2021 Advantage 
Safari 944,576,100 Security indicators and malware protection 
Firefox 181,435,430 SmartBlock feature against cross-site tracking 
Microsoft Edge 171,327,607 Prevents accidental leaks on corporate data 

Last but not least, you’ve probably heard about the predominant domestic browsers in China (QQ Browser, Baidu) and in Russia (Yandex). 

As reported by the Ministry of Digital Development of the Russian Federation, they advise using domestic browsers exactly for safe browsing purposes. Apparently, they guarantee that local certificate authorities will ensure users’ protection but – wait for it – Yandex is also powered by the Chromium engine. 

What’s interesting about the Chinese browser market is that many tech companies are in fact developing their own browsers using open-source technology. But even in these two countries, Chrome is still the #1 choice by the majority of users. 

google data breach

Photo Illustration: Freepik

How do I know if Chrome is safe? 

So, what does it mean for an average user if his internet browser is compromised? Giving away access to passwords and using browser cache to obtain sensitive data is only the beginning of potential risks. 

As Atlas VPN reports, some of the most recent Chrome vulnerabilities in 2022 are subject to memory corruption, meaning that computer memory can be altered without an explicit assignment. This enables cyber-attacks which exploit memory bugs and can even lead to hackers taking full control. 

This is exactly what the experts from the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) are warning users about – the possibility of remote hacking, without users even noticing it. 

How do I make Chrome a safe browser? 

If you want to ensure your web browsing is as safe as possible, these are some of the possible solutions: 

Switch to an alternative 

If this recent information has left you concerned, there are other browser options to explore. The one with the least reported vulnerabilities is Opera but if you wish to switch to a browser that doesn’t use the Chromium engine, then Mozilla Firefox is worth trying for Windows and Android devices, while Safari is the most convenient option for Macs and iPhones. 

Regularly update your Chrome 

Many users are loyal to Chrome and getting used to another browser seems like a hassle, we get it. However, knowing it has many vulnerabilities, make sure to keep it updated since its developers are usually fast at releasing patches. 

Use additional layers of protection 

There’s a reason why cybersecurity experts advise users to take precautions by installing the antivirus software of choice. Based on your preferences, you can choose an option that prioritizes VPN, firewall, safe banking, parental controls, and more. 

Block Pop-ups and Flash 

If you’ve noticed your Chrome has become slower, the reason for that may be related to the memory leak. In the Task Manager, you can see how much memory is each tab using. Sites that are running Flash can be using up more memory and a way to fix that is by blocking Flash on Chrome and making sure it’s updated to the latest version. 

Browse responsibly 

Finally, each of us decides what responsible browsing means for us. But there are certain points we can all agree on. For example, although Chrome has over 137,000 extensions, you have to be really careful about which ones you install. Check for credibility and reviews and if anything seems fishy, it’s better to avoid it. Last but not least – never click on attachments and links in emails if you don’t know the sender. 

Finally, If you look up Google Chrome Security, you’ll notice that the whole internet is shocked by the news surrounding it right now. We don’t want to jump on this train of inviting you to cancel Chrome because we don’t think that’s the necessary solution if you’ve been enjoying it so far. Spreading this information is only useful if it makes you take more responsibility for protecting your privacy. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.

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