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Google tools gaffe let ZOMBIE web admins feast on websites

Dead accounts resurrected to cause merry hell

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google potentially allowed former web admins to drive corporate websites off a cliff by resurrecting deleted accounts for its webmaster tools service.

Google Webmaster Tools accounts can be used by anyone to manage their websites, from checking the indexing of pages to fine-tuning their visibility in the dominant search engine. Google's glitch, which revived old or disabled accounts and granted them permission to make alterations, was first noted by search-engine optimisation blogger Dave Naylor.

Although the tools are free to use, they have become quite powerful over the years, and can help make or break a site in terms of visitor numbers. Unauthorised access to the service could be used for all sorts of mischief, Naylor warned:

Webmaster Tools is so much more powerful than it ever was there is a serious risk that damage could be caused to sites by people who no longer have permission to make changes. Things like disavow link lists, de-index urls or the entire site, redirect urls, geolocation alterations… a whole world of pain.

The blunder also opened up access to Google Analytics, allowing ex-employees or contractors to spy on their former employers, Search Engine Journal added.

Fortunately Google resolved the screw-up, according to a statement issued to Searchengineland.com on Wednesday:

For several hours yesterday a small set of Webmaster Tools accounts were incorrectly re-verified for people who previously had access. We’ve reverted these accounts and are investigating ways to prevent this issue from recurring.

The cause of the breach remains unclear. We've put in a query to Google and will update this story if we hear more. ®

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