Google Chrome Update Addresses Super Sneaky URL Trick

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The latest version of Google’s Chrome web browser addresses 29 vulnerabilities, including one that allowed hard-to-detect URL spoofing.

Outside researchers discovered 12 of the vulnerabilities in the Chrome release Wednesday and were paid bounties totaling $14,000. One flaw, reported by Xudong Zheng, dealt with the way some browsers display punycode, a behind-the-scenes process of converting words into ASCII characters for internationalized domain names.

Zheng’s discovery showed how malicious parties could register names of well-known companies, such as, using international letters. Instead of a Latin “a,” the website address could use the Cyrillic “a” character but still look like to web users due to autoconversion—if they used Chrome, Firefox or Opera browsers, Zheng wrote on his blog. Thinking they're on a trusted site, users could be tricked into entering personal or payment information.

Some browsers try to avoid this type of homograph attack by displaying the punycode, which looks more like a random string of dashes and characters and could give users a visual clue they may be on the wrong website, according to a Naked Security report.

Mozilla also released Firefox 53 fixes, but the punycode issue was not “patched.” The company instead took a stance against favoring one alphabet over another.

“IDN was invented so that everyone could have domain names in their own scripts and languages, not just people who speak languages which use the Latin script,” according to a frequently asked questions page. “People have been working hard for decades to make this happen. We support that admirable goal, and isn't going to give up on it now.”