GMail Vulnerability? Watch Your Back.

I’ve been following the story about the domain name hijacking of MakeUseOf.com the last few weeks with interest.  All signs are pointing to the domain thief having cracked the MakeUseOf.com Gmail account in order to retrieve their GoDaddy.com password and transfer the owenership of the domain.

This is not good for any GMail user, let alone domain name owners who have registered their domains through GMail.

Apparently, this one hacker has stolen over 850 domains this way, and holds them for ransom at $2000 a piece.

The latest part of the saga details how the MakeUseOf.com folks think this happened, right down to the hacking of the GMail account.  If there is indeed a security flaw in GMail, which there appears to be, MakeUSeOf.com offers prudent steps to take in order to secure yourself (emphasis added by me):

(1) Well, my very first advice would be to check your email settings and make sure your email is not compromised. Check fowarding options and filters. Also make sure to disable IMAP if you don’t use it. This also applies to Google Apps accounts.

(2) Change contact email in your sensitive web accounts (paypal, domain registrar etc.) from your primary Gmail account to something else. If you own the website then change the contact email for your host and registrar accounts to some other email. Preferably to something that you aren’t logged in to when browsing web.

(3) Make sure to upgrade your domain to private registration so that your contact details don’t show up on WhoIS searches. If you’re on GoDaddy I’d recommend going with Protected Registration.

(4) Don’t open links in your email if you don’t know the person they are coming from. And if you decide to open the link make sure to log out first.

I would add to that list:

(5) Always use secure, encrypted GMail.  There is an option at the bottom of the main Settings page in GMail for “Always use https” under the “Browser Connection” heading.  Select this and leave it selected!  Otherwise, anything you do in GMail is sent unencrypted over the Internet.  Not good!

Keep in mind that this security flaw not only matters to domain name owners, but to anyone who has any sensitive email in their GMail account, whether it be online banking info, love letters, or whatever.

This will be interesting to watch, and I hope Google takes notice of this.

UPDATE:  This fellow here has posted a proof-of-concept on creating malicious filters in someone’s GMail account.

About Will Chatham

Will Chatham is a seasoned Internet marketer, developer and innovator. Since Netscape 2.0, he has worked in a wide array of environments including non-profit, corporate, small business, and government. His varied background has helped him build a wide range of skills that serve people well in the current web-based world.

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