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Chrome Updates Accommodate Windows 10 Security

image credit: Microsoft

published by Chand Bellur
January 3, 2021 at 2:08 p.m.

  • Windows 10 anti-malware software currently locks files created by browsers to ensure security.
  • This temporary file lock caused Windows 10 to block specific browser actions, such as saving a bookmark file.
  • The Google Chrome for Windows team recently fixed this issue by retrying the file action until it succeeds.
  • The Chrome team will also gather data from this fix to fine-tune future releases.
  • Google has not yet issued a release date, but an update will likely deploy soon.

Windows 10 Anti-Virus and Malware Software Interferes With Chrome Browsers

The modern-day browser is much more complicated than its ancestors. It’s almost like an operating system embedded inside another OS. Modern web pages bring us more than text-based publications. Today’s browsers deliver games, ultra-high-resolution video content, and, unfortunately, sophisticated malware.

In addition to emails and other Internet-based communications, the browser is a malware vector. Unwitting users can visit a website, installing malware that may do something annoying, such as inserting extra ads into your webpages. These make up the bulk of malware attacks on Macs and PCs. In the worst-case scenario, malicious users can completely “pwn” a victim’s machine, sometimes demanding large sums of money as ransom to restore access.

Given the threat, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others work hard to thwart malware. Google’s Project Zero recently discovered a flaw allowing nearby hackers to completely control any iPhone within a few minutes. Apple eventually patched the vulnerability, thanks to Google.

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Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system features anti-malware software known as Microsoft Defender. The software is free and comes pre-installed with Windows 10. Although it can’t prevent all malware and intrusions, Microsoft’s free anti-virus software is one of the best options.

Unfortunately, Windows anti-virus software must place a temporary lock on incoming files created by the browser, such as a saved list of bookmarks. Sometimes users cannot save these files unless they turn off anti-virus software. This presents a considerable risk, as they may forget to reactivate malware protection.

Google Releasing Chromium Fix for Windows 10 Anti-Malware File Locking Issues

Google’s Chrome for Windows team is well aware of the issue, with a fix deploying soon. Using standard exception handling, the call to save a file, such as bookmarks, will be retried until it succeeds. This gives Microsoft Defender the time it needs to scan the file for malware. Once the file lock releases, the attempt to save it should succeed.

Typically, most software systems would employ some sort of callback method to let the caller know when the file is unlocked. Malicious code could likely take advantage of this design. Since a standard solution won’t work, Google engineers had to come up with a bit of a hack.

The Chrome for Windows team also added telemetric code to detect how many retry attempts it takes to save a file. This will be used in a future release to fine-tune the behavior.

The effort’s result is that end-users will no longer have to fiddle with anti-virus software to save a bookmark file. The endeavor also taught developers a valuable lesson about working around problems with third-party integration. Google’s developers likely wished they could re-write some of Microsoft’s code. This isn’t always an option. Working with third-parties can often necessitate unorthodox solutions, although retries are nothing unusual.

File Lock Issue May Affect Other Operating Systems

One ominous comment on the Chromium developers blog seems to indicate that the issue may surface on other operating systems:

“This is only done on Windows because that is hoped to be the only place where it happens.”

Researching the issue, it appears that Chrome on macOS may have suffered from the problem up until last year. Scattered reports of bookmark files not being saved or synching improperly indicate the issue may be rare on macOS. Given that complaints stopped in 2019, we can assume that either Google or Apple quietly fixed the problem.

File Lock Fix Coming Soon

Being unable to save a bookmark file reliably can be both irritating and impede productivity. If you’re working off bookmarks and sharing them between devices, it makes life harder, as you’ll need to track URLs manually. Fortunately, a fix is coming soon. Google hasn’t disclosed when the patch will deploy; however, it should release shortly.

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