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Chrome Software Advertising Security

Adware Vendors Buying Chrome Extensions, Injecting Ads 194

An anonymous reader writes "Ars reports that the developers of moderately popular Chrome extensions are being contacted and offered thousands of dollars to sell ownership of those extensions. The buyers are then adding adware and malware to the extensions and letting the auto-update roll it out to end users. The article says, 'When Tweet This Page started spewing ads and malware into my browser, the only initial sign was that ads on the Internet had suddenly become much more intrusive, and many auto-played sound. The extension only started injecting ads a few days after it was installed in an attempt to make it more difficult to detect. After a while, Google search became useless, because every link would redirect to some other webpage. My initial thought was to take an inventory of every program I had installed recently—I never suspected an update would bring in malware. I ran a ton of malware/virus scanners, and they all found nothing. I was only clued into the fact that Chrome was the culprit because the same thing started happening on my Chromebook—if I didn't notice that, the next step would have probably been a full wipe of my computer.'"
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Adware Vendors Buying Chrome Extensions, Injecting Ads

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:03PM (#46001703)

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the free market works.

    The reputation of these plugins is worth money. The down side is that once the malware infected extensions are reported to Google, Google will kill them off in the browsers. They wont live long enough to make their money back. The adsheisters will quickly see their reputation vanish and their install base dwindle.

    • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:23PM (#46002127)

      Doesn't Google share at least part of the blame here for not allowing users to opt-out of automatic updates once an extension is installed? As the article points out, it's precisely this ability to automatically "push update" thousands or tens of thousands of users without recourse, combined with lax enforcement by Google of update rules, that makes this situation attractive to the advertisers. Why not instead allow users to decide what the update policy will be on their device, as in Firefox?

      • Have you ever tried to disable Chrome / Chromium auto-update? I had to find the 'task' and make sure it does not run, there is no other way to block. This is beyond the capability of a majority of users. It seems Google wants the auto-update to run no matter what.
        Other than 'feature bloat' - and may be closing few security issues - there are no great advantages to a newer browser anymore, at least on the desktops.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Njovich ( 553857 )

          Did you try searching for how to disable Chrome auto-update?

          Set the value of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Google\Update\AutoUpdateCheckPeriodMinutes to the REG_DWORD value of "0"

          That's it. A single register value change. Now, I get what you are saying, it's not a GUI option, they don't want average users to disable it, which gives me mixed feelings as well. Many users probably have never heard of regedit. However, for someone posting on /. it shouldn't be that hard.

          • So just save it as a .reg file and post it to dropbox, done. That is one of the nice things about Windows, you only have to change a reg key once and then simply save it as a .reg and from then on its "clicky clicky" simple. I keep a handful of .reg files on my flash for common issues and it certainly beats having to remember which reg keys to change/delete to fix a problem.

            As for TFA? If Google doesn't get ahead of this but quick they could find Chrome treated about like IE6 as it doesn't take too many m

          • by S.O.B. ( 136083 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @12:19PM (#46005355)

            Many users probably have never heard of regedit. However, for someone posting on /. it shouldn't be that hard.

            I've looked for regedit in the Fedora repo and I couldn't find it.

        • Have you ever tried to change Google-Chrome anything?

          I've got a CS degree and 5years development experience with a variety of poorly designed 4th-gen tools and figuring out how to do anything not listed in that minimalist menu is still beyond me.

          The majority of users are equally as capable at changing google-chrome's settings: they type into the search bar: "google chrome " follow whatever directions get returned.

          Though you have to check how recent those instructions are, it seems every couple days the Goog

      • by satuon ( 1822492 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @05:13AM (#46003965)

        This would not have prevented what happened, unless the OP likes to never update his software. At most, it would have (possibly) saved the OP some time if he would have made the connection (which is not at all a for-sure thing).

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        My only extension in Chrome is Google Docs. Somehow I think the malware authors will have trouble obtaining that one.

        In Firefox I have fifteen different extensions, many of which are restrictive in nature: they break websites by defeating cookies and scripts. Many of the rest are small (but vital) user-interface tweaks. Firefox is where I impose my own will on the web. Chrome is where I retreat for the bog-standard experience. Even if my chrome profile is suffering from a cookie cabal infestation (Hell

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They wont live long enough to make their money back.

      Damn you optimists. Maybe they will, and then they can use the profits to acquire more plugins and repeat the cycle.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      On the contrary, according to Ars an extension called "Add to Feedly" had ~30,000 before being sold. It now reports 32,354 according to the Chrome Web Store. It's just really hard to detect the culprit, apparently.

    • by MidnightBrewer ( 97195 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @12:12AM (#46002901)

      Your theory flies in the face of history. Spam now represents the majority of email sent and they only need a fraction of a percent in return in order to reap a significant reward to justify their efforts. This particular clever exploit has been around how long undetected? And all they have to do is take the same code and inject it into the next extension they buy, or roll out. This is even better than spam.

      Google's main reason for getting involved in this one is that it's leeching off of their core business. I guarantee that's not something they'll let slide.

    • It was inevitable. Probably a lot of plugins on defunct projects that they wouldn't even have to pay for, just offer to take over.

    • I am sure glad that I seen this. I was blaming my porn site for all the pop up videos. Now I can go back to watching porn. In fact I think I will cut this comment short and watch some right now.
  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:04PM (#46001711)

    What makes this really bad is that it's difficult to permanently remove Chrome extensions sometimes. If I delete it, it will just show back up in a few minutes, probably because it's saved somewhere in my central account. Now with this out there...

    • something similar happened to me (it wasn't through an auto update) they also got all my firefox saved passwords and defaced my web sites. thanks Mozilla for storing those in clear text.. no antivirus worked I had to reinstall.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Thank yourself for not setting up a master password.
      • Re:Great (Score:5, Informative)

        by Agent ME ( 1411269 ) < minus bsd> on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:09PM (#46002051)

        If you set your browser to remember your passwords, then anyone that uses your browser (including a virus) can get your passwords. That's exactly how the feature is supposed to work.

    • Re:Great (Score:5, Informative)

      by mgiuca ( 1040724 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @12:28AM (#46002987)

      Chrome developer here. If you are deleting your extensions and they are showing back up in a few minutes, you have malware on your system that is actively re-installing them (I have seen this in action).

      Under normal circumstances, deleting an extension on one machine (assuming you have extensions sync turned on) will cause it to be deleted in your central account, and this delete will propagate to your other machines. Chrome won't push an extension back to your machine that you just deleted. Also, side-loaded extensions (ones that you didn't get from the Web Store) are never synced.

      The problem is that many users have malware running in their system that continually installs a particular extension into Chrome, so if you delete it, it goes right back (through no fault of Chrome's). The only solution for now is to find and disable the malware. On Windows, we will soon be blocking side-loaded extensions [] to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

      • There's no malware. The issue persists across multiple computers, one of which I did a complete reformat before installing Windows 8.1 a few months ago. It seems to be an issue with Google Sync, although I'm sure what your suggesting is the cause for many people.

      • This is not the place to talk about removing features in a pisitive light mr chrome....

  • by IgnorantMotherFucker ( 3394481 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:08PM (#46001729) Homepage
    I've seen contract gigs like the following, more than once, on boards such as One specific contract offer wanted code that would reset the, uh, "users" homepage to a URL to be specified by the client, then make it impossible for the "user" to set any other homepage. That's it. Perhaps I'm in the wrong business. It's a lot harder than I thought to get a job as an iOS developer, but I am really good with assembly code, debugging and reverse engineering. Perhaps I should write malware for the Russian Mob.
    • Selling weapons, whether the traditional kinetic kind or the more modern software kind, tends to attract the wrong sort of attention. Unless you're under the protection of a government, either as an employee or a contractor working for or with them, I would advise against it. Making powerful enemies requires powerful friends to avoid unpleasant consequences the likes of which are better left to the imagination.
  • by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:13PM (#46001753)
    FTFA : - "Chrome's extension auto-update mechanism silently pushed out the update "

    Google need to disconnect their Chrome core update mechanism from the extension updates (unless ones of their own authorship). Of course, they cannot do anything about users accepting updates directly from independent extension writers.

    Otherwise, Chrome is dead in the water.
    • What if I reimage my computer? Can I get my old extensions back?

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:44PM (#46001913)

      Otherwise, Chrome is dead in the water.

      I wonder how you come to this conclusion. We live in a world where users don't want to be interrupted with mindless things like updating software. Combined with Microsoft's militant approach to harassing users if their computers aren't configured to auto update, and the general consensus that many user facing apps now auto update and the trend is moving towards doing it silently I don't see this affecting Chrome's user base one bit.

      • by stephenpeters ( 576955 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @04:25AM (#46003829) Homepage

        Otherwise, Chrome is dead in the water.

        I wonder how you come to this conclusion. We live in a world where users don't want to be interrupted with mindless things like updating software. Combined with Microsoft's militant approach to harassing users if their computers aren't configured to auto update, and the general consensus that many user facing apps now auto update and the trend is moving towards doing it silently I don't see this affecting Chrome's user base one bit.

        If this isn't rapidly nipped in the bud Chrome will soon be known as a hotbed of Malware, credit card fraud, bank fraud and porn ads to general users. Once it has this reputation it will be very difficult to get users to continue using it.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        More over many "apps" that people use these days are web sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Silent updates are the norm for them, even though there are often loud complaints from large numbers of users. Google wants Chrome to be that way too.

    • The reason for this is that often new core updates break old versions of extensions.

      They could make the extension updates a more visible process like Firefox does, but most people are going to be pressing "yes" to the update box anyway.

    • by BZ ( 40346 )

      The other option is to review updates to extensions before pushing them out to users. That's what Mozilla does with Firefox extensions.

      • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

        I would be perfectly happy with the option to simply disable an extention until it is updated.

        In the event that Chrome updates, it would be nice to see which extentions offered tethered updates and if they were something I didn't feel like trusting, simply disable until I click the "Manual Update" button. An option to also remove the extention would be nice also.

    • by Deathlizard ( 115856 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @01:15AM (#46003237) Homepage Journal

      No. what it should do is act like android plugins and pop a security warning if any permission level changes between updates, or if it modifies settings.

      Disabling auto update may add more problems if the app has bugs that can be exploited. I'd rather have Chrome disable the plugin if permissions change instead of removing auto update altogether.

      On another note. why is this all of a sudden news now? I've been seeing all of these Virus ads and plugins posts on slashdot this week and I've been seeing this stuff going in chrome for Months now. Hell 60-70% of my service calls are from this stuff.

      Hell, I had two Chromebooks come in infected and you can't just remove the extension on a chromebook. You basicially have to log into google using Chrome on a windows PC, Infect that chrome, disinfect it using ADWCleaner or JRT to remove the extension enough in chrome so it deletes the plugin in your cloud settings, and reset the Chromebook to factory (otherwise it comes back). So much for "Chromebooks don't get viruses", although Google now has a browser reset button (The two chromebooks were infected before this feature was added in the WIndows builds) so that might make it easier to remove. I sure hope so for Chromebook's sake.

      Google. You Seriously need to start monitoring and cracking down on this stuff ASAP. And start paying attention to your damn Google ads! I'm sick of people installing buldleware virii everytime they search for any of the following:

      Google Chrome (Thats right! They're hijacking your OWN BROWSER'S ADS ON YOUR OWN SEARCH ENGINE!)
      Internet Explorer
      Windows Media Player
      Openoffice/Libreoffice ETC
      VLC Media Player
      Quicktime/Itunes ETC
      ETC. (I can literally go on forever with this list. Just as a rule of thumb, if it's a popular software download, it's most likely been install hijacked by a Virus Inc.)

      Anytime anyone uses adwords to get listed on a legitimate app, and it doesn't go to the Legitimate program's website, I want a big red light to start blinking with 150DB Sirens going off and a Evil Sounding voice that says WARNING!! ADWORDS HIJACK DETECTED!! going down somewhere in your security dept so your security team scours their ad submission in fear of the big red light of screaming Terror going off. And they better damn well ban that entire domain and any subdomains from ALL ADS FOR LIFE! Either Get Tough and declare war on spam and virus pushers or get steamrolled!

      The same goes for you too MS. Fix Bing! See what Google is doing? You're doing the exact same thing and need the exact same remidies! Hell! Slahdot? Want a Bash MS Story for your front page? There's malicious apps in the Windows 8 Store! Just open up the store, search for "getdesktopapp" and see the Virus and Adware crap MS's Own Store is infecting people with! Now get on bashing M$ like you love to do. Chop Chop!

      And as for Antivirus firms. (And frankly, I don't care who you are. You ALL suck when it comes to this) Wake The F Up! You detect Gator, A 10 year old adware/spyware mess as a virus, but Conduit SearchProtect is totally legitimate and in no way is a threat to computer users even though it does thins that are 10 times worse than anything Claria did? BS! Wake Up, Grow a Pair and start doing your damn job! It's a shame that the only people that detect these things is the people behind ADWCleaner and the Junkware Removal Tool (thanks BTW for making these two tools since noone else detects adware anymore). Adware is a VIrus now. Bundleware is a Virus. Start detecting and removing this crap as malware like you should! It's real easy to find out what to detect. If you install a wanted program (like Adobe reader), and it installs Something the person didn't want (like Ask Toolbar, or whatever garbageware of the day adobe gets paid to infect PC's with) It's malicious and should be flagged as such. I don't care if it's got a Checkmark to not install or who the hell is pushing the junkware or who the junkware creator is. the practice is bad and needs to die.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        +10 Spot on

        It is Google's job to sort out the malware it hosts and now the problem is known about it really shouldn't be hard for technically proficient people to root out and report bad apps.

        Why would anyone want to use the browser made by an advertising giant that puts the NSA to shame with regard to watching everything on the web (google analytics, google+ web-bugs etc).

        Todays Anti-virus software is truly pathetic, I don't waste my time with this useless nagware. I haven't had AV installed for over 5 yea

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The internet has ads?

    I haven't seen em in years...

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:26PM (#46001803) Journal

    The commenters in arstechnica also mentioned search engine hijacking too. Maleare if you ask me?

    This and advertisers circumventing adblock which was mentioned yesterday shows a war.

    Is IE the only defense? Firefox has a lot more powerful API for extensions and add ons so I wonder if that is unsafe as well? However Mozilla has a greater track record in protecting freedom and privacy as an organization. Taco was an infamous extension that did what ghostery does for Firefox but a spammer bought it and ruined it.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:27PM (#46001815)
    to my Firefox extension [] and they were all kinda shady. Extension development is kinda niche to begin with, so I figured they were planning something like this. I'm just surprised it took so long for people to notice.

    I don't see it as a huge problem though. Most extension developers are like me, hobbiests and enthusiasts. There's really only a few big ones (like Adblock Plus and Firebug) and those are big enough they're not a target for these sorts of things.
  • by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:31PM (#46001845)

    ...these malware companies buy out AdBlock. :-/

    • by KPU ( 118762 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:19PM (#46002109) Homepage

      They already have. The option to allow ads from people that have paid AdBlock is checked by default. []

    • Well, there's at least two - Adblock Plus and Adblock Edge, which is a fork. So it would take a few more dollars to both buy them both AND re-license it with a mean lawyer who takes out the forking permission rights!

      • Actually, I use Adblock Plus. I've never tried Adblock Edge; I guess I'll look into it.

        But still, whatever plug-in we're talking about, there's always the chance that the owner can be bought out. For, in the words of the most beloved children's entertainer of our times: They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house! I'm not made of stone!

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      ...these malware companies buy out AdBlock. :-/

      They already did, years ago.

      If you haven't switched to AdBlock Edge, yet, you're behind.

  • by acidradio ( 659704 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:31PM (#46001847)

    Many people have defected from IE due to its problems with malware and adware. Firefox, but more so Chrome seemed to be safe. So now that the awesome, "safe alternative" browser is compromised, what's next? I can't imagine there an easy fix to this. Is it time to go to yet another browser?

    This is almost like how pharmaceutical scientists keep having to modify and discover new antibiotics. The current batch of drugs eventually becomes less and less effective and the bacteria become resistant, prompting us to constantly evolve the offerings.

    • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:42PM (#46001901) Homepage
      I can't imagine there an easy fix to this. Is it time to go to yet another browser?

      Obviously what we need to be really secure is a Open Source browser.... uh... oh... never mind....
      • by anubi ( 640541 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:38PM (#46002201) Journal

        Obviously what we need to be really secure is a Open Source browser

        I think you typed in jest, but I think you are still spot-on.

        The biggest problem I see is all these scripting thingies where webmasters can insist you run arbitrary code in order to view their page. The magic of our legal system allows them to do all this ""hold harmless" stuff regarding anything you ingest at their site. See if this "hold harmless" talk also applies to restaurants. It won't. You eat some restaurant's food and get sick, the restaurant owner has a lot of explaining to do. If common law held anyone who insisted arbitrary code be run in order to view content - hold them liable for malcontent - this would soon stop.

        Business went to our Congress over the DMCA and had really stiff penalties legally levied on anyone who violated their business model. Any chance our Congress take our computer infrastructure integrity as seriously as they take the illegal downloading of a song?

        If some business made it mandatory you eat one of their candies in order to enter the business, should they be held liable if the candies they insisted on caused a diabetic to go into a coma? Or should their relationship with the U.S. Congress insulate them from liability?

        The difference I see is that business will organize and put their concerns before Congress and hound them until they pass whatever legislation they want, whereas voters seem to vote for whoever has the best sound bites, and do not hold their congressmen to their campaign promises. So we end up with software we can't trust.

        I rant and rave all the time here bagging on Microsoft for caving in to special interests for things like backdoors and DRM, both of which are hijackable and used to annoy the hell out of those who lack the hacking skills to pirate the damm stuff in the first place. But then, very little of this is Microsoft's doing... its just that they provide the means for others to do this.

        I posted a few days ago about Micrium's stuff. ( uC/OS II). I guess the only OS I consider truly secure. Rom-able. Why this is not the standard for standalone industrial controllers is beyond me.

        I get so fed up with the way we do things in these Von-Neuman ( Princeton ) architecture machines where we mix code and data. I do not think anyone can really code a secure OS where there is no hardware line of demarcation over what is OS and what is user code. Personally, I would love to see someone come up with something like the Android - running ROM - on a Harvard machine, requiring a physical jumper to re-flash its ROM. Something completely open-source so nobody is trying to hide anything about the inner workings of the OS. The OS would be like a toolbox - handling all the devices on the system. And that's all it would do. Manage the TCP/IP stack, display, keyboard, USB port, HDD files, RAM, and sound. Virus? It will have to infect an app, which now will no longer have a proper signature when its files are verified by the OS's file hasher. Bad app? Delete it. Phoning home app? It HAS to go through the OS to get to the TCP/IP stack, and the OS will rat it out.

        Running arbitrary code? Go ahead with Java. In RAM. In the data space. Interpreted. It can't really do anything the OS won't let it do... and its completely helpless to overwrite the OS so it can get its way, as it cannot install the necessary jumper plug that enables the write current.

        We take something so simple, and make a helluva mess out of it, just so some special interests can manipulate it at everyone else's expense. Tragedy of the Commons.

    • by rueger ( 210566 )
      This is almost like how pharmaceutical scientists keep having to modify and discover new antibiotics. The current batch of drugs eventually becomes less and less effective and the bacteria become resistant, prompting us to constantly evolve the offerings.

      Damn - I missed your troll.......
    • No it's not. There was no security issues introduced here by Chrome, rather a simple third party extension.

      If you run vanilla Chrome then you're placing your trust in only one company. It's much harder to buyout a large rich company than a single user.

      Though given RSA's recent activities I don't think any software on any computer is technically safe.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @08:56PM (#46001979) Homepage
    Googles bottom line is to make advertising through its networks and its platforms as seamless and easy as possible. The only reason this model would be shunned is if its not generating appropriate revenue for google. Given the unorthodox nature of the advertisements, and the fact they circumvent per-click revenue entirely, they will probably see a crackdown.

    but dont take this to imply Google cares how and when you get to see advertising. If you need proof, just try to find AdBlock Plus on the play store. google unceremoniously axed it in 2010 because the platform isnt designed to do what you want in spite of the models lucrative approach to its users as a saleable product. the ad-only vendors in Chrome will be warned to include some marketable widget or product. A cud if you will for the consumer that is their cow to chew.
    • by lemur3 ( 997863 )

      im using adblock plus on chrome right now. ...and its been installed over 10,000,000 times according to the google play store.

      apparently youve been hating on chrome for the past 3 or 4 years and not noticed that youve been wrong the whole time

  • The author was about to try wiping the OS and reinstalling. But when he installed Chrome, it would have auto-installed the extension on the clean new OS. Just lovely.

    • Not a problem. When you set up Chrome, as you're connecting your account you just configure sync to not sync extensions and apps. That'll prevent the auto-download of them. If you need to clean up sync'd data, it's a dance: get Chrome sync'd up, turn off sync so the local copy is disconnected from the sync'd data, go to your dashboard and clear your sync'd data, then configure what you want sync'd and reenable sync.

      • You're assuming he knew it was a Chrome extension. If he wiped the OS, he would have done that because he didn't know.

  • by Richard_J_N ( 631241 ) on Saturday January 18, 2014 @09:52PM (#46002293)

    Specifically, can we assume that any extension loaded into Firefox via the official extensions repository, is open-source, and that someone from Mozilla is checking the extension before an update is released?

  • I have noticed that quite a few of the free and freemium utilities out there that have been mysteriously "corrupted." For instance reputable utilities for removing or repairing PUA infestations that suddenly start including trojan payloads of their own. Others have been gutted to the point of near or complete uselessness and only act as nagware to purchase a former and quite often shady competitor's payware version instead.

  • Underlying code of IE extensions too can be updated silently. Ignore browser use stats. Overall Chrome extensions have more users than IE extensions. There are more Chrome extensions that IE extensions. It's a bigger market. If you are shopping for extensions to convert which do you buy? The ones with the most users.
    • Considering that any ActiveX control is effectively an "IE extension", and further considering that IE installs ActiveX to a non-user-writable directory by default *and* prompts the user when they update, I think you're full of shit. But sure, work an anti-MS angle into this somehow. I'm sure that'll get you modded up...

  • One new thing is Mozilla pushing updates at me while I am using their product. As It is Saturday night, and I work in IT, i found my self working. Ok. Happens. While I am working feverishly on browser-access-to-console stuff, my browser locks up. Oh.. I was suppposed to know it was time for an update? Another is Java. Was take a remote/virtual training when the Java powered screen scraper (which worked great!! thanks NX for the Fedora compatible version!) decided that the JVM was not current (1.7_45 vs 1.
  • by TheRecklessWanderer ( 929556 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @12:44AM (#46003099) Journal
    Whenever I see adds on a webpage, I inspect the elements, see what is serving the adds and add it to my router's block list. Bam no more adds.
  • Do these developers who sell the extensions even get paid? Or do they get scammed too?

  • by satuon ( 1822492 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @05:21AM (#46003975)

    Chrome **does** warn about new permissions, in fact it's more than that - it just disables them, and leaves you a message - "Such and such extensions requires new permissions, so it has been disabled.", and it's up to you to go and re-enable it.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker