Google studies assess email account vulnerabilities

Feb 06th, 2014 / Category: Email Encryption

Secure file sharing is essential to any business that handles sensitive or confidential information. Documents need to be transferred for a variety of reasons, including employees collaborating on projects or accessing corporate information remotely from their own devices. A fast and familiar solution for many people is to simply email the information to its destination. However, recent studies reveal that account passwords alone do not provide adequate protection for company materials.

Google reveals extensive account hijacking
According to two surveys recently conducted by Google researchers, the percentage of people who have had their accounts accessed by unauthorized parties could be as high as 30 percent, Information Week reported. The first study, coordinated by Carnegie Mellon University and Google researchers, polled Amazon Mechanical Turk users about their email and social networking accounts. Of 294 respondents, about 30 percent indicated that someone hijacked their account, the report said.

In a separate Google Consumer Survey, 15.6 percent of respondents said their account had been compromised, Information Week said. Google researchers attributed the discrepancy in results to the manner in which survey participants were included - those in the former survey sought to participate, whereas the Google Consumer Survey approached consumers, the news source explained.

Both reports pointed to the potential vulnerability of content exchanged via consumer-based email platforms like Google. Information Week inferred that consumers generally have little interest in implementing additional security measures and may have limited understanding of how to use preventive services effectively.

Personal email accounts commonly used for business
These results are concerning for businesses because employees often use email accounts, such as Gmail, for work purposes. Particularly with the proliferation of bring-your-own-device policies and remote working options, the clear lines between company resources and personal tools are quickly fading. In fact, a recent study completed by GlobalScape revealed that 63 percent of employees have used their personal email accounts to share sensitive company documents.

Information Week explained some of the many ways that email accounts can be compromised. While users typically think a strong password is adequate protection, the accounts can be compromised when hackers use phishing sites to acquire passwords or steal the information from a breach, the source said.

Many employees are not aware of the potential danger and high consequences that attend personal email use for business purposes. One way that companies can mitigate this problem is to implement secure file sharing options, including email services that provide added layers of protection without sacrificing usability. Educating employees on the risks and enforcing clear policies are also important components of a secure data strategy.