In the wake of the hack of technology journalist Mat Honan, many users of cloud-based services are running scared.
Forget Twitter-hacking attackers named "Phobia" who managed to compromise a well-known technology journalist's Google credentials and Twitter account. What about competitive intelligence experts who might want to hack rivals' Gmail accounts to siphon away corporate secrets? Or hacktivists seeking a reprise of the Anonymous attack against HBGary, which copied and then deleted the firm's Gmail accounts?
To help stop "life hack," competitive intelligence, or hacktivist attacks that come gunning for corporate data, all Google Apps for Business users--and especially corporate administrators--should pursue the following nine security strategies:
1. Create a Google security plan: Anyone who uses Google for business should begin by detailing all related security processes and procedures, with an eye toward spotting potential weak points--especially single points of failure--and having a data breach response plan. As an example of what can happen without this type of plan, take the February, 2011 hack of HBGary's email by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Briefly, HBGary had threatened to reveal the identities of many group members. In retaliation, members of Anonymous used a stolen password to hack into HBGary's company-wide Gmail account, from which it copied and then deleted every email it found. According to HBGary CEO Greg Hoglund, he saw the attack unfolding, but wasn't able to convince the Google help desk of his own identity, in time to prevent all of the company's emails from being copied.
2. Use two-factor authentication: Anyone who possesses just a Google account username and password can access that account and everything it sees, including documents and spreadsheets, unless Google's two-factor authentication system is enabled. Accordingly, enabling it is a no-brainer for every business user.
In the case of the Honan hack, for example, "much of the story is about Amazon or Apple's security practices, but I would still advise everyone to turn on Google's two-factor authentication to make your Gmail account safer and less likely to get hacked," said Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Web spam team, in a personal blog post.
Likewise, Gartner analyst John Pescatore said HBGary was at least partially to blame for the unauthorized access to--and deletion of--its Gmail accounts, because the security technology company wasn't using Google's two-factor authentication system.
3. Configure two-factor for external email accounts: Google's Cutts also noted that while Google's two-factor authentication system is designed for browsers, POP and IMAP email clients can be given unique passwords for checking Gmail. Using such passwords makes it more difficult for an attacker who's compromised an employee's Gmail credentials to surreptitiously and remotely listen in to all email communications.
4. Extend Google authenticator, where applicable: Likewise, Google's two-factor authentication will work with additional sites, including LastPass, WordPress, Amazon Web Services, Drupal, and DreamHost, said Cutts. In the case of WordPress, for example, an administrator can set the blogging software to require two-factor authentication for specific user accounts.
5. Delete users after they depart: As part of your company's Google Apps for Business security plan, ensure that processes are in place to immediately change the passwords of departing users--or better yet, to remove their accounts entirely. That helps prevent former employees from taking sensitive information or customer lists with them.