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Google Docs suffers serious security lapse

Cloudbusting bug shares documents

Application security programs and practises

Google confessed to a serious bug in its Docs sharing system over the weekend, but downplayed the security cockup by claiming only a tiny number of users had been affected.

The internet search kingpin said that less than 0.05 per cent of Google Docs accounts were hit by a privacy breach after documents were shared “inadvertently” with other users.

Mountain View said in a blog post, penned by Docs product manager Jennifer Mazzon, that the security lapse was “limited to people with whom the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document.”

She claimed that very “few users” would have been affected by the bug “because it only could have occurred for a very small percentage of documents, and for those documents only when a specific sequence of user actions took place.”

Google said the error was limited to its Docs system within Google Apps and did not affect its spreadsheet system, though some presentations were also hit by the error.

The company fixed the bug by using what it described as an “automated process to remove collaborators and viewers from the documents” that had been exposed to the security glitch.

In other words it stripped all sharing privileges from the documents affected by the bug and then informed affected users that they would have to manually re-share their documents.

“We're sorry for the trouble this has caused. We understand our users' concerns (in fact, we were affected by this bug ourselves) and we're treating this very seriously,” said Mazzon.

Google has recently been attempting to woo businesses away from desktop-based Office suites in favour of adopting the company's cloud-based Apps system.

In January Google confirmed it had inked deals with IT resellers to sell its online applications to biz customers. From the end of this month authorised resellers will be able to flog, customise and support premium versions of Google Apps.

However, this latest bug could lead some businesses to conclude that pushing their personal information up into the clouds simply poses too big a security risk. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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