- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Google tells about 4,000 customers each month that their accounts are likely being targeted in state-sponsored cyberattacks, its senior vice president said Monday.

The internet giant began issuing alerts in 2012 to individuals whose Gmail accounts show activity indicative of being compromised by government-hired hackers, prompting companies including Facebook and Twitter to adopt similar policies in the years since.

Diane Greene, Google senior vice president and board member of parent company Alphabet, told attendees Monday at a tech event in Aspen that those warnings are issued on average of 4,000 times each month, or roughly 133 times per day, Reuters reported, .

The number of affected account holders amounts to fewer than one in 1,000 Google users but adds up to nearly 50,000 users each year, The Atlantic reported.

Google previously said that it had had notified “tens of thousands” of Gmail users within months of introducing the warning system four years ago, but Ms. Greene’s admission this week marks the first time the company has publicly provided rough figures pertaining to the number of monthly alerts.

Initially, the alerts read: “Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.” Google changed the warning and the way it was displayed several months ago in order to make them more apparent to potential victims.

“Government-backed hackers may be trying to steal your password,” reads a portion of the full-screen warnings potential victims now receive. “If they succeed, they can spy on you, access your data or do other activities.”

To prevent unauthorized access, Google recommends that users implement two-factor authentication, a feature which forces individuals to verify their identity through a secondary service, such as a telephone number associated with their account, in order to sign on.

Facebook and Twitter began similarly notifying users of suspected state-sponsored intrusions last October and December, respectively.

“While we have always taken steps to secure accounts that we believe to have been compromised, we decided to show this additional warning if we have a strong suspicion that an attack could be government-sponsored,” Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said in a blog post when the feature was rolled out last year. “We do this because these types of attacks tend to be more advanced and dangerous than others, and we strongly encourage affected people to take the actions necessary to secure all of their online accounts.”

Within weeks of the start of the alerts, the State Department said the warnings revealed that its staffers were actively being targeted by nation-state hackers.

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