Microsoft shuts down Google Chrome

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably know that there is a war raging among browsers for the top spot with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox as the key players. And according to data from one Web metrics firm, Chrome will surpass Firefox and become the second-most-popular browser by the end of this year meaning there is going to be serious competition between Microsoft and Google.

While browsers have been racing against each other in this competition at break neck speed, an incident has occurred that is sure to take the browser world by storm, literally! Google chrome has, or rather had (since Microsoft has already corrected its mistake), been marked incorrectly as malware by Microsoft security software which caused scores of Google Chrome users to unknowingly delete the browsers from their PCs.

The problem came into light when Chrome users began reporting the specious detection of the browser early Friday in a quickly-growing thread on a Google support forum. As the scope of the problem unraveled itself, it appeared that scores of Windows PCs running Microsoft’s (free, consumer-grade antivirus software) Security Essentials as well as Forefront (the antivirus product designed for enterprises) were affected – which amounts to some 3,000 customers.

So, what malware was Chrome (wrongly) identified as? Zbot, or Zeus, it was — a widespread botnet Trojan that focuses on stealing online banking credentials, which criminals use to steal money from accounts.

As if the browser vanishing from the users’ PCs was not enough (when they accepted Security Essentials’ advice and let the software delete “chrome.exe,” that is) some users also complained of their bookmarks being eliminated and not being restored after reinstalling Chrome.

Microsoft was quick to acknowledge the blunder and said in a statement posted to the Facebook Page of its malware research center, “An incorrect detection for PWS:Win32/Zbot was identified and as a result, Google Chrome was inadvertently blocked and in some cases removed from customers PCs. We have already fixed the issue…, but approximately 3,000 customers were impacted.”

A corrected definition file was issued by Microsoft around 10 a.m. PT Friday, which was about three hours after users began reporting the false positive on Google’s support forum. It did not immediately reply to questions about whether the Security Essentials’ blunder permanently eradicated Chrome bookmarks, though.

Microsoft also told users to update Security Essentials with the new definition file, then reinstall Chrome.

Google was not slow to react, either. It placed a red warning banner at the top of its Google support pages that read, “Alert: Google Chrome has been incorrectly marked as malware by Microsoft security software.”

This isn’t the first time a security software maker has goofed up, though. By fingering Chrome as a malware, Microsoft has added itself to the list of other security software makers (that includes all three of the world’s largest antivirus companies — Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro) which have issued defective definitions in the past and in some cases, the results have been worse.

Remember how a McAfee  antivirus update quarantined a crucial Windows XP system file in the April of 2011? An unknown number of corporate PCs worldwide were crippled at that time.

Let’s see which direction this particular slip up by Microsoft is going to take this war raging among browsers.

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