Tablet users at Google I/O Developers Conference in San Francisco

Hidden URLs on web browsers spell danger warn experts

Tablet users installing new versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox could be targeted by cybercriminals.

Privileged identity management specialist Lieberman Software says that the new web browsers hiding the URL of websites visited by users, a technique known as compact web page navigation, is a "dangerous practice" particularly for novice users.

Internet users should be extremely cautious when installing the versions and be aware at all times of which web sites they are using, Lierberman president and chief executive Phil Lieberman said.

"While  I can understand the desire to increase the available Web page real estate for users of smaller screen devices, I think that there is a real risk that cybercriminals will target users of Chrome Canary and the upcoming plus unnamed version of Firefox in a bid to silently re-route them to infected Web pages," he said.

"There really needs to be more thought that goes into this compact Web page navigation strategy."

Lieberman said it was "interesting" that Firefox4 has a LessChrome HD add-on, which appeared to only hide the URL of the page being accessed on a selective basis.

"The danger, however, is that hackers will subvert the code of the add-in, perhaps by using a poisoned software update strategy," he said.

Lessons need to be learned from smartphone web browsers such as Safari on the Apple iPhone and iPad, which displays the URL details and search engine element at the top of the user's screens at all times, Lieberman said.

If the user wants to see more of the page on a smartphone, they can turn the handset 90 degrees and then scroll down, and can also zoom in or out of the page to get a better overview of the site  - a facility which also exists on most tablet computers.

Users of netbooks with screens of 10 inches or less can use similar techniques to see more of the web page, such as reducing the size of the text or using the scroll page down option, he added.

Specialised web browsers, such as Skyfire for the iPhone/Ipad and Android smartphones plus tablets, have their place in the portable web browsing market, but users must be proactive in downloading the apps and then set them up appropriately, Lieberman said.

"The danger with offering customised versions of browsers with a compact web page navigation facility as standard is that netbook and tablet computer users will use this version as standard, meaning internet newbies run the increased risk of a cybercriminal infection," he said.

"This is a really bad development in the Web browser software stakes.

"Web browser developers would be far better off if they focused their attentions on developing enhanced user control interfaces such as haptic or gesture-based control systems."

Further reading:

Read more on the compact web browser navigation plans

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