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Google Docs May Still be Vulnerable to Phishing Attacks

Google Docs May Still be Vulnerable to Phishing Attacks

On Tuesday, users of Google Docs were targeted with an email phishing attack. The email content was a ruse to trick folks into granting access to their contact data. Google quickly put measures into place to stop the attack. Please visit this Google page to learn how to protect yourself >>

Even though Google put measures into place to prevent the attack, I did find a way to reproduce the phishing scheme this past Wednesday. I used Google's own developer platform to create a third-party app, and also called it “Google Docs.” The only difference is that I used a Cyrillic character, used in Russia, for the letter “o” in the app’s name.

My discovery was published in an article on PC World "Google Docs phishing attack underscores OAuth security risks." Read my findings and the full article here >>


Google Docs Phishing Attack Underscores OAuth Security Risks

By Michael Kan

One security researcher easily managed to replicate Wednesday's phishing attack.

Google has stopped Wednesday’s clever email phishing scheme, but the attack may very well make a comeback.

One security researcher has already managed to replicate it, even as Google is trying to protect users from such attacks.

“It looks exactly like the original spoof,” said Matt Austin, director of security research at Contrast Security.

The phishing scheme—which may have circulated to 1 million Gmail users—is particularly effective because it fooled users with a dummy app that looked like Google Docs.

Recipients who received the email were invited to click a blue box that said “Open in Docs.” Those who did were brought to an actual Google account page that asks them to handover Gmail access to the dummy app.

While fooling users with spoofed emails is nothing new, Wednesday’s attack involved an actual third-party app made with real Google processes. The company’s developer platform can enable anyone to create web-based apps.

In this case, the culprit chose to name the app “Google Docs” in an effort to trick users.

The search company has shut down the attack by removing the app. It’s also barred other developers from using “Google” in naming their third-party apps.

However, Austin found he could still reproduce Wednesday’s phishing scheme. He did so, by using the search company’s developer platform to create his own third-party app, and also called it “Google Docs.”

The only difference is that Austin used a Cyrillic character, used in Russia, for the letter “o” in his app’s name.

“The Cyrillic letter o looks exactly like the other letter o,” Austin said. He then replicated the rest of the Wednesday’s attack, creating a fake email that uses the same design interface.  

Austin has submitted the security issue to Google, and now its developer platform no longer accepts apps under that name. However, he and other security experts predict that bad actors are also working on replicating Wednesday’s attack.






Matt Austin, Director of Security Research

Matt Austin, Director of Security Research

Matt is an accomplished application security expert with over 11 years of experience focused on security research, development, and engineering.