Google Fights Hackers

Got encryption? Google does, and the company is promising lots more of it.

Google is protecting Gmail users against hackers by using more encryption.

The tech giant has launched new tools to alert users when email is not encrypted, when a link could be dangerous or when a user may be the target of state-sponsored attacks.

Google has extended its Safe Browsing service for Gmail accounts to help identify malicious activities that are being sent or received through email messages. The service already has been used to spot potentially dangerous links in messages, but now Gmail users will see pop-up warnings if they click the links: “Warning – visiting this web site may harm your computer!’’

“The security of our users and their data is paramount. We’ll continue to build new protections … that keep users safe,” Google said in a blog post.

The improved safety plan also includes stronger protections against rare but egregious state-sponsored attacks, which Google says happen to less than 0.1 percent of all Gmail users.

“Government-backed attackers may be trying to steal your password,’’ states the warning. “If they succeed, they can spy on you, access your data, or do other activities.’’

The warning provides instructions to enable two-factor authentication and set up a security key. The warning can be dismissed or postponed or shown instead of, or in addition to, Google’s existing warnings already in place for suspected government-sponsored attacks.


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Google’s latest safety features build upon those the company introduced in February to alert users if a message received wasn’t delivered using encryption or if they were writing a message to someone whose mail service doesn’t support transport layer security (TLS) encryption. Forty-four days after adding the warning, the amount of incoming email delivered through an encrypted connection increased an impressive 25 percent, Google said.

The focus on expanded protection against government-sponsored attacks came while Apple and the FBI were embroiled in a legal fight over the unlocking of an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino attack that killed 14 people.

The FBI wanted access to data stored on Syed Farook’s phone but Apple refused, accusing the federal government of overstepping personal privacy protections. Apple’s position was strongly shared by Google, Facebook and other tech behemoths.

The FBI eventually withdrew its request because it said an independent third-party stepped forward to help them unlock the phone. Although the legal fight was averted, the FBI has several other cases pending in which it wants to access a smartphone to obtain information.

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