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Application Security

Google to Scrutinize Web Applications Requesting User Data

In the light of a recent phishing attack targeting Gmail users, Google is updating its app identity guidelines and is implementing a more thorough review process for new web applications that request user data.

In the light of a recent phishing attack targeting Gmail users, Google is updating its app identity guidelines and is implementing a more thorough review process for new web applications that request user data.

The attack unfolded a couple of weeks back, when Gmail users started receiving phishing emails pretending to come from a known recipient looking to share content with them on Google Docs. A link in these emails didn’t take users to the expected content but instead opened a login page, where a certain Google Docs app requested permissions to access the recipient’s contacts and emails.

Google managed to stop the attack within hours and said that less than 0.1% of Gmail users were impacted by the incident. To prevent similar situations from happening again, the company decided to tighten OAuth rules, updated its anti-spam systems, and announced augmented monitoring of suspicious third-party apps that request information from users.

The company now says that new web applications that request access to user data will face more scrutiny. Google’s enhanced risk assessment will also result in some web applications requiring a manual review.

“Until the review is complete, users will not be able to approve the data permissions, and we will display an error message instead of the permissions consent page. You can request a review during the testing phase in order to open the app to the public. We will try to process those reviews in 3-7 business days. In the future, we will enable review requests during the registration phase as well,” Google announced.

Web app developers will continue to use their applications for testing purposes before they are approved. For that, they need to log in with an account registered as an owner/editor of that project in the Google API Console, where they will also be able to add more testers and to initiate the review process.

Additionally, the company announced updated app identity guidelines to further enforce the Google API user data policy which states that apps must not mislead users (meaning that they should have unique names and should not copy other apps).

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In line with this policy, the company decided to update the app publishing process, risk assessment systems, and user-facing consent page “to better detect spoofed or misleading application identities.” As a result, web app developers may see an error message when registering new applications or modifying existing app attributes in the Google API Console, Firebase Console, or Apps Script editor.

“These changes may add some friction and require more time before you are able to publish your web application, so we recommend that you plan your work accordingly,” Google says. The company also encourages developers to review previous posts on their responsibilities when requesting access to user data from their applications.

Related: Google Tightens OAuth Rules to Combat Phishing

Related: Google Docs Phishing Scam Doused After Catching Fire

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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