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Google gives GMail always-on encryption

New feature closes security loophole

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Google is adding a much-demanded feature to its email service that offers improved security by ensuring users get an encrypted connection each time they access their account via a web connection.

The new option means email sessions are automatically protected from start to finish with the secure sockets layer protocol even if a user accesses the account by typing http://gmail.com, rather than https://gmail.com/ (notice the presence of "https" in the latter).

The move helps protect users against a vulnerability known as sidejacking, which researcher Rob Graham of Errata Security warned against last year. It turns out the vast majority of websites drop the SSL protection as soon as a user has logged in. This allows attackers to snoop on web sessions over unsecured Wi-Fi connections even when a password was typed into a page during an encrypted session.

Google is one of the only services we know of that guards against this threat by offering start-to-finish SSL protection. But up to now, users ran the risk that a connection might inadvertently be unprotected, either because they forgot to type in the correct URL or the connect was reset.

To turn on the feature, open your GMail account, choose settings and scroll to the bottom of the page. In the section labeled "Browser Connection," choose the radio button that says "Always use https." Google warns the protection could slow down connections, so if you don't use insecure networks you may not want to bother. The offering doesn't appear to be available yet for Google Apps.

If only eBay, Yahoo Mail, MySpace, Facebook and the rest of the gang would follow suit.

Google has more about the feature here. (Hat tip to Spyware Sucks blog.) ®

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