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Google to warn users of state-sponsored attacks

Warwick Ashford

Google has announced that it will alert users if they are being targeted by suspected state-sponsored attacks.

The US-based internet firm says it will bring up a banner highlighting the danger when users are logged into their Google Accounts.

The alerts come in addition to existing warnings to Gmail users when their accounts may have been accessed by attackers.

According to Google, the company is always looking for state-sponsored attacks on its networks and will now pass on the benefit of that monitoring to its users.

"If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked. It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account," Google's Eric Grosse, VP of security engineering, said in a blog post.

These steps include creating a unique password that has a good mix of capital and lowercase letters, as well as punctuation marks and numbers; enabling 2-step verification as additional security; and updating users' browser, operating system, plugins, and document editors.

"Attackers often send links to fake sign-in pages to try to steal your password, so be careful about where you sign in to Google and look for https://accounts.google.com/ in your browser bar," wrote Grosse.

"These warnings are not being shown because Google’s internal systems have been compromised or because of a particular attack," he said.

The ability for Google to show this kind of warning to users obviously means that the company has the capability to identify attacks that it believes are coming from foreign governments or their hired guns, according to security firm Kaspersky Lab.

The details of Google's detection methods are not known. "We can’t go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors, but our detailed analysis—as well as victim reports—strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored," wrote Grosse.

A recent report by Reporters Without Borders flagged up several instances of what it said were state-backed attacks over the previous year, according to the BBC.

The report said one case involved users in Belarus who had tried to log into a local social network, but were redirected by their internet service provider to sites containing malware.

It added that attempts to "phish" for social network usernames and passwords had been reported in Syria and Iran.


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