Google is updating its Chrome web browser, Chrome 12, with new performance and security features. Chrome 12 is now available in Google's dev-channel, providing users with a sneak peak of what Google has in store . Chrome 12 includes a new version of the V8 JavaScript engine as well as an overall code cleanup.

On the security side, Chrome 12 is introducing new protection for users to help mitigate the risk of malicious downloads. The new feature will alert users when they are downloading a file, if the file has malicious content in it.

The new safe downloading feature is still in the development phase though it is on by default for Chrome 12 and does require users to activate with a startup flag. The safe downloading capability is different than the safe browsing feature that Google Chrome has had since its debut. Safe browsing alerts users when they are about to visit a page that potentially includes malicious content.

"This feature was also worked on by the same team responsible for Safe Browsing, however, additional work and innovation has gone into making the new feature available to protect users," Ian Fette, senior product manager at Google told

Fette noted that the safe browsing was a pioneering effort in the field. Safe Browsing first debuted as a list of phishing sites available for Firefox users via a toolbar. The feature was subsequently integrated directly into Firefox 2. He added that with Firefox 3, Google launched a new list to protect users against malware websites, and both of these lists have been integrated with Google Chrome since its launch.

"The malware protection previously available via Safe Browsing is targeted against sites that attempt to exploit a user's computer without any action by the users," Fette said. "We believe that Google Chrome, via Safe Browsing and other security mechanisms built in, offers best-in-class protection with regard to this threat."

Though the safe browsing features helps to protect users, there still is a risk that users can still be exploited.

"A separate attack vector exists, which is a social engineering mechanism that attempts to convince a user to download and run a file," Fette said. "This new feature is designed to protect against the latter type of attack, where a user is convinced to download and run a harmful file."

From a privacy perspective, the safe downloading capability is still able to preserve user privacy as well.

"Similar to how Safe Browsing does not reveal to Google which websites you visit, this protection doesn't give Google a history of files you download," Fette said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.