Google Adds Verification Screens for Plugins Following Phishing Attacks

Google is stepping up its efforts to ward off malicious plug-ins following phishing attacks that targeted Google Drive users with new controls for the use of plug-ins and third-party apps. Traditionally, plug-ins are necessary for many games and quizzes, as well as other add-on functionalities for both social and work-related apps, so it’s difficult to make consumers pause before granting them authorization.

Google Takes Action

In a G Suite blog post outlining the changes, the company made no direct mention of the phishing attacks last May that used phony Google Docs as bait. Instead, the focus was on a screen that will pop up to warn about “unverified apps” that force users to type “continue” and click “next” to grant access. The notification and verification process will also be rolled out to Apps Script, which helps developers test out products.

This is far from Google’s first response to the phishing attacks, which used the phony files as an invitation to collaborate and duped victims into granting access to their Drives. The company has even moved to apply machine learning to its products to bolster antiphishing capabilities.

Phishing Attacks Turn Plug-Ins Into Weapons

Unfortunately, as a story on The Verge pointed out, cybercriminals are getting ever-more sophisticated in how they turn plug-ins into weapons. This includes OurMine, a cybercriminal group that has used this method in the past. OurMine leveraged third-party apps that had been given permission to post to the social media accounts of well-known figures, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, to carry out exploits.

Google has no plans to slow down its crusade against phishing attacks. CNET reported that the company will roll out the same verification and permission screens to its other apps in the months to come.

It’s a fine balance between protecting users from data and making the process of adding a plug-in too onerous to bother. Given the popularity of its apps and the size of its installed base, however, Google may have little choice but to make sure users aren’t having so much fun online that they’re failing to practice due diligence.

Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives...