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Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/20/2010
06:15 PM
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Google Adds Developer Fee To Enhance Extension Security

It's only $5 but Google hopes the fee will limit abuses by malicious developers.

In addition to launching a developer preview of its forthcoming Chrome Web Store on Thursday, Google moved to make its developer ecosystem more secure.

Hoping to impose a cost on those who create multiple fake developer accounts for the purpose of propagating malicious extensions and manipulating reviews, the company introduced a nominal $5 fee for developers of Chrome Extension, Themes, and (soon) Apps who wish to host their content in Google's galleries and store.




Top 15 Google Apps For Business
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)

"The developer signup fee is a one-time payment of $5," wrote Google product manager Gregor Hochmuth in a blog post. "It is intended to create better safeguards against fraudulent extensions in the gallery and limit the activity of malicious developer accounts."

Confronted with criticism that $5 is a meaningful amount of money in some countries, Google Chrome developer advocate Arne Roomann-Kurrik defended the fee in a developer forum post. "We understand that $5 USD can be significant for some developers, but we feel that this one-time cost compares favorably with fees charged by other developer platforms," wrote Roomann-Kurrik. "You will also be able to continue to develop extensions and even host them on your own Web site for free -- the $5 developer fee only applies to publishing an extension/app in the gallery."

Google also introduced a domain verification system to allow developers to create "official" extensions for their Web sites.

This marks a change in the strategy that Google announced back December, 2009, when the plan was to let anyone rate extensions. The company assumed that malicious extensions would get low ratings and the community would police itself, thereby offering a layer of protection beyond technical measures like privilege separation.

Google recognized that there were flaws to this approach in February. Noting in a post to the Chrome Extensions developer forum that the company's policy of allowing anonymous ratings was being exploited to manipulate extension-related searches, Roomann-Kurrik declared that users henceforth would have to be logged in to post extension reviews.

The wisdom of the crowd, it seems, remains unable to anticipate the malice of the scammer, despite past efforts to take advantage Firefox's Add-ons site (AMO or add-ons.mozilla.org) and the Android Market.

Google says its extension gallery contains more than 6,000 extensions and that 10 million extensions are downloaded by Chrome users every month.

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