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Google silences Gmail security blogorumors

Domain hijack vuln doesn't exist

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Google security pros have taken exception to recent reports of a Gmail vulnerability that led to a rash of domain hijackings. They were the result of a plain-vanilla phishing campaign, they say.

The erroneous reports appear to have originated here, when the MakeUseOf blog reported its domain name was commandeered after someone gained unauthorized access to the owner's Gmail account and from there accessed the author's account with domain registrar GoDaddy. The author went on to argue that a Gmail vulnerability was the weak link that caused the chain to break.

Other blogs quickly followed suit, with Geek Condition creating a detailed proof of concept for setting up a Gmail filter that automatically forwards all email sent from GoDaddy support to an address controlled by the attacker. ReadWriteWeb also got in on the action, here posting a timeline for a vulnerability that, like Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, many people were sure existed but didn't quite have proof.

But in a blog post published Tuesday, Google security researcher Chris Evans effectively said Big Foot doesn't exist. Or at least the evidence some claimed proved Big Foot's existed wasn't accurate.

"With help from affected users, we determined that the cause was a phishing scheme, a common method used by malicious actors to trick people into sharing their sensitive information," Evans wrote. "Attackers sent customized emails encouraging web domain owners to visit fraudulent websites such as "google-hosts.com" that they set up purely to harvest usernames and passwords."

Once the phishers gained access to the Gmail account, they created filters that "forwarded messages from web domain providers."

Evans went on to refute a claim made last year that a separate domain theft was also the result of a different vulnerability in Gmail. Google did discover a cross-site request forgery in its email service in September, but fixed it within 24 hours. Last year, blogger David Airey reported his domain name was stolen in November and he blamed a vulnerability in Gmail for the theft.

"Neither this bug nor any other Gmail bug was involved in the December 2007 domain theft," Evans wrote. (We're pretty sure he meant to say November.)

Evans reminded the public of the value in turning on Gmail's HTTPS-only feature, which ensures that connections are always encrypted. Over the past few months, Google has finally extended the feature to its Google Apps users. If only eBay, PayPal Yahoo and the rest of online world offered similar services. ®

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