You would’ve thought that Google would have their cyber-security under wraps, but it seems that following Yahoo’s cyber-attack back in 2014, no company is safe.
In this case, a phishing email was sent out to nearly 1 million Gmail users, and the email itself claimed to come from trustworthy contacts using Google Docs – a document sharing and editing service. The email notified users that a document had been shared with them and invited them to open it, and upon clicking on the “Open in Docs” button that was displayed, users were asked to give “Google Docs” permission to access their emails and manage their contacts.
Google Docs is a legitimate service provided by tech giant Google, but this particular hacker masked themselves as Google Docs to gain access to users private information.
According to BBC News, people globally reported getting multiple copies of the email while some have received the message from trusted organisations. On the 3rd May, a spokesperson told NBC News that the vulnerability was exposed for about an hour and that it affected “fewer than 0.1% of Gmail users”. As Google has approximately a billion users, the affected users are suspected to amount to nearly 1 million.
Francisco Ribeiro, security engineer at Mimecast, attempts to give explanations for the sophisticated attack. Francisco notes that it’s “hard to protect against” since the hacker appeared to create a customer Google app using the name “Google Docs” to trick people.
Who was responsible for the cyber-attack?
A Twitter user, Eugene Pupov, took responsibility for the hack saying that it was created as a test for his project at Coventry University in the U.K. However, the bizarre tweet and account were both deleted and the university confirmed that there was never a student called Eugene Pupov enrolled at the university.
What information was accessed?
Google’s spokesperson stated that:
“…while contact information was accessed and used by the campaign, our investigations show that no other data was exposed.”
This doesn’t confirm exactly what was revealed or stolen by hackers. It could well be Google’s tactic to play-down the effects and impact of the cyber-attack.
Google released a statement on Twitter stating:
We are investigating a phishing email that appears as Google Docs. We encourage you to not click through & report as phishing within Gmail.
— Google Docs (@googledocs) 3 May 2017
There’s yet to be any conclusive findings of who was responsible for the attack, but the investigation continues.
Phishing emails can be catastrophic. They’re usually created and sent with the hope of stealing money from the victim. Cyber-attackers can do this by installing malicious software on your computer or steal personal information from your computer. Microsoft notes that cyber-attackers do this through ‘social engineering’. They convince an individual to install malicious software or hand over personal information under false pretences. As with many users, I’ve been subjected to multiple phishing emails. You might ask – what does a phishing email look like? They can sometimes contain the following:
- Spelling/grammatical errors – professional companies will usually have better content.
- Links in the email – to probe you to click on them. This is where most individuals will fall foul. Once you’ve clicked the link, cyber-attackers can install and spread malicious software on your computer.
- Threats i.e. if you don’t do what they’re requesting then your account will be blocked.
- From a well-known company – so you wouldn’t give it a second thought that the email is in fact, spam.
If you do receive a suspicious email from what seems like a reputable company, always check the sender. Most scammers will use a similar email to the supposed company that they are emailing from, however as that domain is already taken, it will usually be slightly different – for example, entertainment provider Sky use the email email@example.com to send out mass emails, and a hacker may use the email sky.@email.contact.sky – can you spot the difference? Sometimes it isn’t easy.
If you are still in doubt, contact the company yourself and simply ask them if they have sent that email. Most companies will be happy to know if phishing emails are being sent out on what looks like their behalf.
IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.
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