January 28, 2022

Phishing Attacks Force Oxford University To Temporarily Block Access to Google Docs and Shares Comments About Company’s Lack of Response

Over the years we’ve noticed that many times the only way to get action/reaction from Google on an issue is to take it public and in a big way. That’s what precisely what Oxford has done. Smart move.

From the OxCERT (Oxford U. Computer Emergency Response Team) Blog:

Why would we do such a thing, you might well ask. Surely Google Docs is a perfectly legitimate site, widely used by staff and students as part of their work and personal lives?

We know that. Unfortunately, it is also frequently used for illegal activities; importantly, illegal activities which threaten the security of the University’s systems and data.


So how can you stop your users reaching the phishing forms? Assuming that the phishing emails get past all your anti-spam and anti-malware defences, you essentially need to ask Google nicely if they could take the form down. That’s simple enough – Google’s own security team have advised us that the best way is to use the “Report abuse” link that’s at the bottom of each page. Easy enough.

Unfortunately, you then need to wait for them to take action. Of late that seems typically to take a day or two; in the past it’s been much longer, sometimes on a scale of weeks. Most users are likely to visit the phishing form when they first see the email. After all it generally requires “urgent” action to avoid their account being shut down. So the responses will be within a few hours of the mails being sent, or perhaps the next working day. If the form is still up, they lose. As do you – within the next few days, you’re likely to find another spam run being dispatched from your email system.

Near the conclusion of the post Oxford U. comes down very hard on Google.

We will also be pressuring Google that they need to be far more responsive, if not proactive, regarding abuse of their services for criminal activities. Google’s persistent failures to put a halt to criminal abuse of their systems in a timely manner is having severe consequences for us, and for many other institutions. If OxCERT are alerted to criminal abuse of a University website, we would certainly aim to have it taken down within two working hours, if not substantially quicker. Even out of official hours there is a good chance of action being taken. We have to ask why Google, with the far greater resources available to them, cannot respond better. Indeed much, if not all, of the process could be entirely automated – and part of their corporate culture is that their programmers and sysadmins should be automating common tasks such that they can devote efforts to more interesting matters. Google may not themselves be being evil, but their inaction is making it easier for others to conduct evil activities using Google-provided services.

Read the Complete Blog Post

UPDATE (2/19/2013, 12:35 pm): Although not directly on point, Google has just posted this item about their work to prevent account hijacking and reduce spam.


About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.