When most of us scan our inbox, we rarely think about whether a message came over an unencrypted connection, but Google may change all that with a security feature it’s building into Gmail.
In a post on the company’s Online Security Blog, Google published the results of research it conducted with the University of Michigan and University of Illinois. Among other things, the study showed active attempts to tamper with SSL connections that would leave email unencrypted. In response, the company said it will begin issuing alerts whenever this happens to Gmail users, which could potentially help limit the exposure of data to third parties. Google didn’t give a precise timeline but said the warnings will start over the next few months.
TechCrunch pointed out that while email security has improved over time, there are still plenty of email servers that don’t support encryption despite the fact that unencrypted email is a natural place for cybercriminals to find ways to steal information. This is not an issue in messages that are sent from one Gmail user to another, but the reality is that there is still a lot of competition in the corporate email space, so additional layers of protection will no doubt be welcome.
Even when things like text messages and video chat are on the rise, Google’s efforts show that locking down email remains a big priority. Fortune noted how the company introduced an anti-phishing tool earlier this year called Password Alert, which warns users if their credentials are being used on inappropriate sites. The Gmail alerts to flag unencrypted connections may wind up operating in a similar way, possibly like Google’s use of alerts against possible state-sponsored attacks a few years ago.
Of course, unencrypted email isn’t the only potential red flag Google and the researchers discovered. PC Magazine reported the study also showed a rise in attempts by cybercriminals to change email messages before they arrive by rerouting the email servers via malicious use of a domain name server (DNS). In other words, the warnings about encryption are a great first step but it’s hardly the final battle in the war against attackers.