Take the 2-minute tour ×
Information Security Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for information security professionals. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've recently read Google Chrome: The End of Drive-By Downloads. Is it true to say that drive-by-downloads are history in Google Chrome?

So if I have a link (from a spam email) I can right-click >> open in new incognito window >> and be 100% sure that there is no virus / damage to my system?

Initially i've asked this question at http://webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/15209/anonymous-links-in-email/15211 but I'm not getting a good answer (and besides the answers are all targeted at phishing-sites whereas my question is targeted at "virus-sites").

share|improve this question

migrated from webapps.stackexchange.com May 16 '11 at 2:34

This question came from our site for power users of web applications.

I don't like this question because any program can be sandboxed if you use the right technology (e.g. Sandboxie). Chrome just has a built-in sandbox, making it user-friendly. Sorry, but you get a -1. –  atdre May 16 '11 at 6:59
Even if it could be guarenteed that you can't get a virus from a visiting a website you could still end up informing the spammer that your email address is active as the links and images can have unique IDs. It's certainly something I've seen in marketing email from companies I've willingly given my address to. –  StephenPaulger May 16 '11 at 23:13
@atdre pls reread my question –  Pacerier May 17 '11 at 6:34
specifically the title –  Pacerier May 17 '11 at 6:34
@atdre heys read my follow-up security.stackexchange.com/questions/3879/… –  Pacerier May 17 '11 at 7:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Short answer: Yes, you can get a virus just by visiting a site in Chrome or any other browser, with no user-interaction needed (video demonstration). Even with Chrome you are not 100% secure - and you probably never will be with any browser, but Chrome is getting pretty close to it and the security research community seems to agree that at this time, it is the most secure browser you can use.

Long answer: Chrome, at this time, is the most secure browser that exists in windows, because of the sandboxing techniques it uses which add up to the security. A good description of this sandbox is here: http://blog.chromium.org/2008/10/new-approach-to-browser-security-google.html although a bit dated. A more recent and technical one is here: http://dev.chromium.org/developers/design-documents/sandbox

The general idea is that a malicious website will have to use two separate exploits to achieve code execution on your pc: The first one exploiting the browser, the second exploiting the sanbox. This has been proven a very hard thing to do - it has not be done ever.

Your question comes at a nice timing: A week ago the security research firm VUPEN claimed that it broke chrome sandbox and published the following announcement: http://www.vupen.com/demos/VUPEN_Pwning_Chrome.php If you watch the video, you will see that no user interaction was necessary besides visiting the malicious URL, and a sample application popped up out of nowhere (it could be virus instead). The attack description proved to be wrong (but that does not matter much to simple users): The sandbox itself was not breached. It turned out that VUPEN exploited a bug in Adobe Flash Player, which is a plugin almost everybody has installed - and this plugin was not sandboxed. The answer of Google is that they are moving and developing fast so that this plugin will be sandboxed eventually in the next versions.

To sum it up: As you could see in the video, you can never be 100% sure that you are safe, so be careful, don't open links you don't know where they go or don't trust the sites.

Sidenote: NSA recently published a document indicating "Best Practices" for user security on the internet: Among those is the recommendation to use a browser that has a sandbox.

Here is the report: http://www.nsa.gov/ia/_files/factsheets/Best_Practices_Datasheets.pdf

Another sidenote: Internet Explorer 9 is advertised as having a sandbox, but security researchers agree that it is not properly implemented and have demonstrated successful attacks against it.

And a third one: The incognito window has nothing to do with virus protection, but can be useful in certain classes of attacks where cookie stealing or similar is the target because it separates browser instances and isolates information available.

Finally, there are technologies that offer better protection, like sandboxie and running browsers in virtual machines.

share|improve this answer
@john - I'm not sure it's fair to say that exploiting Flash is not "breaking out of the sandbox" when Flash comes built-in to Chrome - the user has no choice in whether or not Flash is installed in that browser, or which version. –  Iszi May 16 '11 at 4:20
@Iszi Fair point, and that was a huge discussion between the researchers of vupen and members of the google security team some days ago in twitter. The consensus is that because flash is not sandbox-protected, they did not break out of the sandbox so.. terminology. The reason VUPEN talked about breaking sandbox is that they claim they did not know it (?), because it is a fact that google has never said that plugins are not sandboxed, in contrary has led everyone to believe that they were through this post: blog.chromium.org/2010/12/… :-) –  john May 16 '11 at 9:07
Yes it is subjective and unscientific, but couldn't be otherwise - there are no papers published comparing browser sandbox or the security of latest browser versions! What I am replicating is the consensus of the security research community, and the fact is that the chrome sandbox has never been breached (at least there is no public knowledge of that), while IE's sandbox has. –  john May 16 '11 at 9:50
@Avid , in support of @john often sited claims for Chrome security is also the fact that a flaw has never been found at pwn2own relative to other popular browsers IE8 and Firefox, Safari. Of course IE9, Firefox 4, Opera was not tested in 2011, maybe they will in 2012 (dvlabs.tippingpoint.com/blog/2011/02/02/pwn2own-2011). Another advantage also used to be Chrome's auto-up-date without user intervention. For ordinary users and companies this is major advantage now copied by Firefox and IE9. –  Rakkhi May 16 '11 at 14:22
@Rakkhi - What do you mean Firefox & IE 9 copy Chrome's auto-update? I don't use IE 9 much, but I'm pretty sure it still updates through Microsoft Update just the same as all other Microsoft products - meaning that they're at the user's discretion. My personal preference is Firefox 4, which also gives the user choice of how (or if) they will receive updates. In Chrome, auto-updates are mandatory as long as you have an Internet connection and use the browser - and that's not necessarily an advantage. t.co/wSBkIVI –  Iszi May 16 '11 at 17:06

I don't think we can say drive-by downloads are history (if you're using Chrome). Chrome does implement sand boxing but it's not impossible to escape the contained process space. The sand boxing and safe browsing only decrease the likelihood of attacker being successful.

share|improve this answer
-1 how naive, everything can be broken. Also the sandbox was recently comprised. –  rook May 16 '11 at 20:19
@Rook that's what I said, but less succinctly –  Ben May 17 '11 at 15:55

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.