Google is less evil than China

2 07 2010

Google has begun a practice of flagging Google accounts that are being accessed from unusually parts of the world. Typically, you access your Google account from a relatively small geographic area. Home, work, and areas around your city are areas where you are most likely to log in. In response to an attack on Google’s Gmail servers in January, presumably by the Chinese government, the search company has started flagging users’ accounts if they are being accessed from abnormal parts of the world for that user.

This practice is nothing new. If your credit card information has been stolen and big-ticket items are being purchased rapidly, the credit card company will put a hold on that card and contact you. This is no different.

This is a generally positive development and should help to discourage at least a few attacks on Google’s mail servers. However, according to the Ars Technica article linked to earlier in this post, there is still a backdoor into Google’s systems via ActiveSync. Citing a blog post from Gabriel Landau at Independent Security Evaluators, it is possible to circumvent the Gmail access logs, which is how Gmail knows where it is being accessed from. One only needs proper credentials for the account in question to read and send emails with that account and no one can stop it because ActiveSync cannot be disabled like IMAP or POP can.

Assuming Google patches that gaping hole in its fence soon, I think that it is doing better to protect the security of its users from unauthorized access than it was before the Chinese attack. Call me a Google fanboy, but I was happy to see Google take action after the attack and work to make its users safer.

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