Google Chrome Trades Performance for Safety

Google has chosen safety over performance with their new fix for Chrome 67. In a blog post, Google revealed that they will be releasing a ‘Site Isolation’ feature that will reduce the chances of an intruder violating someone’s privacy using speculative execution side-channel attacks. These attacks are possible thanks to the previously reported Spectre processor flaw.

The update will also increase the amount of RAM Google Chrome will use.

Though it’s probably the most popular and widely used web browser in the world, Chrome is known for consuming a lot of memory, especially when you have multiple tabs open.

This is an issue that a lot of users have complained about in the past, but Google decided to fight the spectre threat instead, which was sniffed out by Google’s own engineers more than year ago.

Specter attacks

Hackers can take advantage of the CPU flaws, with new techniques that could be used to extract sensitive info like passwords from devices.

What is Site Isolation?

Site Isolation is now enabled by default. The feature limits the web renderer to process content from a single site, preventing an attacker’s page from sharing malicious code through an innocuous page or site.

Google first introduced Site Isolation back in 2017 with their Chrome 63 update, enabling an option for enterprise IT staff members who could customize it to shield workers from threats on external sites.

What Google Has To Say

The feature generally shouldn’t break legitimate site behavior. However, it will put extra strain on your system. Google software engineer Charlie Reis says

There is about a 10-13 percent total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes.

Chrome’s memory usage will increase across Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS as a result of this change. Obviously this isn’t a welcome news for Chrome users but Google is working to reduce the impact. “Our team continues to work hard to optimize this behavior to keep Chrome both fast and secure,” explains Reis.

Google also promises additional security checks in future updates. Mobile users will have protections, too. Chrome 68 for Android will be adding an experimental Site Isolation flag as well.


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