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Google says 1 million Gmail accounts might have been targeted by government hackers

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:15PM EST
Gmail Warning Government Hackers
Image: Shutterstock

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Intelligence agencies all over the world look to collect information pertinent to their various operations, and that involves hacking emails accounts. Google for a while now has been able to identify such government-backed hackers, and notify potentially affected customers so they can take immediate action.

In an update on the ways Gmail is getting even more secure (which is good news in the wake of the Apple vs. FBI scandal), Google revealed that as many as 1 million Gmail accounts may have been targeted by government-backed attackers so far.

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Google did not divulge the exact number and did not explain how it knows when these hacks take place. But the company did say that it knows who the targets are – the list “often” includes “activists, journalists, and policy-makers taking bold stands around the world.”

When a hack is detected, a pink Warning tab appears on top of Gmail urging affected users to better protect themselves.

In addition to that bar, users will now get a full-page warning with instructions about how to stay safe, the company said in an announcement on Thursday. This is what you’ll see if a government is trying to hack into your Gmail account:

Google did say that these warnings are rare, with “fewer than 0.1% of users ever” receiving one. However, Gmail is not a nimble startup looking to take off. It’s a service that has more than 1 billion users as of February 2016. That means that “fewer than 0.1% of users” translates to as many as about 1 million users who may have received warnings about their email being hacked by a government.

In its security update, Google also said that it’s improving its Safe Browsing warnings that appear in Gmail every time a user clicks on what’s deemed to be a shady link that could lead to malware or phishing attacks. This is what it looks like, so don’t be surprised if you see it in Gmail in the future:

Google said that since introducing a visual element to mark unencrypted emails in Gmail 44 days ago, the amount of inbound mail sent over an encrypted connection increased by 25%.

Google wants to further improve email encryption, and the company partnered up with Comcast, Microsoft and Yahoo to submit a draft IETF specification for “SMTP Strict Transport Security.” Essentially, Google and its partners want to make sure that encrypted email stays encrypted along its entire path from sender to recipient.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.