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Google Launches Gmail Security Enhancements For Business Users

Google's data loss prevention system for Gmail can now recognize text in images to block sensitive information from passing through corporate communication channels.

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Gmail has learned a new trick for the benefit of IT administrators. Its data loss prevention (DLP) system for Google at Work users can now read the text in images.

DLP provides a way to prevent sensitive information from passing through corporate communication channels. It allows companies to ensure, for example, that employees do not accidentally or deliberately include personally identifiable information (PII) or confidential data in an outgoing email message.

Google integrated DLP into Gmail back in December, for its Google for Work customers.

On Monday, in conjunction with the opening of the RSA Security conference, Google announced that Gmail DLP has been enhanced with optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which can identity alphanumeric characters in image files.

(Image: Google)

(Image: Google)

In a blog post, Gerhard Eschelbeck, VP of security and privacy engineering, observes that "sensitive information can reside not just in text documents, but also in scanned copies and images."

DLP backed by OCR will allow Google for Work administrators to analyze common image file types that accompany Gmail messages and extract any text pictured within for compliance with content rules. Non-compliant content can be blocked, before any damage is done, or reviewed.

The vast amount of data available to Google has prompted privacy concerns, but that data is also what enables powerful machine intelligence capabilities like OCR, statistical machine translation, and natural language processing.

Google began offering OCR for Google Drive documents in 2013. Last year, it extended Drive's OCR support to over 200 languages in more than 25 writing systems. Now it's Gmail's turn.

[Read Google, Apple Aim To Kill Passwords.]

Gmail's DLP system has received some additional enhancements. Google added additional predefined content detectors for more precise application of policy controls. These detectors are designed to catch specific sets of PII data that are relevant for HIPAA compliance and in other countries.

Google has also added two new detection parameters intended to provide administrators with greater control. There's a Count parameter, which enables different DLP policies to be applied based on the amount of PII data in a message. And there's a Confidence parameter, which lets administrators tighten or loosen detection criteria.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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