Google is discreetly warning journalists they are being cyberattacked

25 Nov 2016

Warning sign. Image: Olaf Naami/Shutterstock

Prominent journalists and professors across the globe are finding a worrying message popping up on their screen from Google, warning them that their accounts might be under attack from government entities.

In the space of 24 hours, notable figures like Nobel prize-winning economist and journalist Paul Krugman, and Turkish university professor Akin Unver found something strange appearing on their screen.

Without any prior knowledge, a banner from Google suddenly appeared, warning them that “government-backed attackers may be trying to steal your password”.

This banner would include a link to guide them on how to protect their account, despite the fact that some people who received this warning had already taken steps to protect themselves with two-factor authentication.

According to Ars Technica, dozens of accounts of journalists and professors critical of state regimes have been receiving the warning, sparking fears of a global effort by countries to try to subvert negative political discourse.

This wouldn’t be Google’s first attempt at making its users aware of possible attacks, having previously warned of such attempts as far back as 2012. However, this sudden spate of warnings in the space of 24 hours is unprecedented.

The hazard of The Dukes

A Google spokesperson has commented on the worrying messages, suggesting that they might not be related to an attack directly before the banner’s appearance, but rather a warning from attempted attacks the previous month.

The spokesperson also said that this considerable delay in notifying a user about an attempted access is deliberate, because flagging it with the user immediately will tip off the hackers.

It also helps Google’s security researchers from preventing any reveal of its detection methods – but a successful breach will result in an immediate message.

While there is no clear indication as to what cyberattack Google might be referring to, it has been suggested that it could be linked to a possible attack by Russian hackers, following the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.

This large-scale cyberattack was spotted by the security firm Volexity, who reported that the hacking group The Dukes targeted a number of NGOs after the election results were in.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic