Security Experts:

Security Glitch Gave Google Users Access To Revoked Accounts

On Tuesday, for unknown reasons at the time, Google suddenly started re-verifying people to previous levels of access. As it turns out, the reason was that Google's Webmaster Tools platform was impacted by a glitch that gave access to users who previously had access to the services, but had since had that access revoked.

Only a small percentage of accounts were said to have seen the random re-verifications.

The issue, if exploited, could have allowed ex-employees or contractors with the ability to alter campaigns, access sensitive information, or harm an organization’s position on the search giant’s index.

"I had 7 messages for current clients saying old agencies now have access again. Also I can see old clients data," Patrick Altoft, who works at a digital marketing agency, Tweeted.

“From initial glance at our WMT’s accounts we now have regained access to every old account we have previously been given access to, whether that is a previous client or maybe a site that came to us for some short term consultancy. What is also quite amusing (if you look on the funny side) is that you can see who won the client or who you won the client from,” wrote SEO expert David Naylor, who blogged about the issue.

“On a more serious note though, now that WMT is so much more powerful than it ever was there is a serious risk that damage could be caused to sites by people who no longer have permission to make changes. Things like disavow link lists, de-index urls or the entire site, redirect URLs, geolocation alterations... a whole world of pain.”

Making matters worse, the issue impacted businesses both large and small, from independent fashion sites to Virgin Media. In an email to SecurityWeek, a Google spokesperson said that they issue has been fixed and they’re still investigating ways to prevent it from happening again.

Despite some claims that the Google Analytics service was impacted by the glitch, a Google spokesperson told SecurityWeek on Wednesday that after investigating the issue, it was determined that Google Analytics was not impacted.

“For several hours yesterday a small set of Webmaster Tools accounts were incorrectly re-verified for people who previously had access. We've reverted these accounts and are investigating ways to prevent this issue from recurring.”

Google has not stated the full nature of the re-verification issue, nor have they reported on the exact number of accounts impacted. However, it’s believed that the scale of the issue is rather small.

Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.