On May 3, Google shut down one of the most sophisticated phishing attacks of all time, which infiltrated approximately one million Gmail accounts in just under an hour.
How is this possible, you might ask?
This particular phish impersonated a Google Docs request from a trusted contact, such as a family member, coworker, or spouse. By clicking on the request, users were redirected to a legitimate Google login page, where they were asked to provide their username and password, as well as authorize the use of the infected third-party extension, “Google Apps.”
By giving permission to this extension, it was feared that users had unwittingly given scammers access to their inboxes, passwords, and other personal information. However, Google concluded that, in spite of this lack of “thinking before clicking,” only users’ contact lists were made accessible to this phishing campaign — hence the rapid distribution of these faux Google Docs requests.
Aaron Higbee, chief technology officer at the phishing research company that analyzed data from the scam, commented, “The importance of this phish is not how it spread, but rather how it didn’t use malware or fake websites tricking users to give up their passwords. This phish worked because it tricked the user into granting permissions to a third-party application. This is the future of phishing, and every security technology vendor is ill-equipped to deal with it.”
Google took immediate action in resolving the scam. The company said in a statement that they have “disabled offending accounts. We’ve removed the fake pages, pushed updates through Safe Browsing, and our abuse team is working to prevent this kind of spoofing from happening again.”
In spite of these extensive and preventative security measures, users should remain vigilant and keep their eyes peeled for any copycat attacks — which they should immediately report as phishing within Gmail.
Those who have fallen victim to this scam are advised to log into their accounts, go to their Permissions page and revoke any access to fake Google services, such as “Google Docs” or the aforementioned “Google Apps.” From there, users ought to change their passwords and cleanse their Gmail accounts of any spam or phishing emails.