With the pandemic raging across the world, many business networks and organizations have switched over to working from home to let themselves be operational and safe simultaneously. This paradigm shift requires over-reliance on cloud-based services like Google’s GSuite. Though it has its advantages, it also has its drawbacks in the form of increased phishing attacks.

Phishing is not something new to Google-based services. The threat has existed for years, but the pandemic has encouraged malicious actors to increase their attacks more than ever. Hence, Google Docs, Firebase, Google Forms, and other Google services increasingly become vulnerable targets.

How Do Google Applications Become Vulnerable Targets?

Google is one of the most trusted online brands across the world. Malicious actors take advantage of the trust users have in Google applications to target them in the following ways.

If The URL Originates From Google, It Is Perceived To Be Legitimate

Organizations conduct employee awareness training and ensure anti-phishing solutions are in place. This training focuses the most on URL recognition. Google has a reputation for being a trusted domain. Hence, the general perception is that if the URL originates from Google, it is a legitimate website.

However, Google Firebase and Google Sites allow organizations to host their web pages and develop web and mobile applications. Such websites having content developed using Sites and Firebase feature a Google URL. Users see the Google domain and jump to the conclusion that it is legitimate.

Malicious actors take advantage of the situation and set up phishing sites on these domains. Generally, organizations allow Google URLs easy access and bypass email scanning. Therefore, it encourages these perpetrators to push in their phishing emails to the user’s inbox comparatively quickly. It exposes the organization to potentially damaging cybersecurity incidents.

Google Forms And Google Docs Operate Differently But Are Equally Vulnerable.

Google Docs is a prominent document-sharing application used globally. Similarly, Google Forms enables business entities like e-commerce websites to run surveys and collect critical data. In short, both these Google applications allow convenient movement of data. Hence, malicious actors love to use them to their advantage.

Universal Trust

People globally trust Google Forms and Docs as reliable means of sharing information. Malicious actors use this goodwill to collect confidential personal information.

Malicious Links

Generally, email service providers offer email phishing protection. However, some of the email scanning solutions do not inspect linked documents for malicious phishing links. It gives the threat actors convenient opportunities to deliver malicious content.

Open Sharing

Many organizations use Google Docs online and share documents publicly. Such granular sharing on Docs and Google Drive makes it possible for malicious actors to push phishing documents into legitimate Google Drive accounts of corporates and individuals.

Google Forms

Almost everyone would have participated in at least one legitimate marketing survey through Google Forms. It implies a higher possibility of people responding to surveys and questionnaires when it originates from Google Forms. Malicious actors utilize the situation by including spurious phishing forms to request confidential information.

Google Drive Collaboration

Google Drive offers a collaboration feature that involves push notifications about shared documents. Malicious actors use the facility to send malicious documents. As such communication generally originates from Google no-reply addresses, people tend to trust them and respond accordingly.

Cyber attackers use phishing emails and SMS to distribute links through spurious Google Forms. As people update these forms, they unwittingly share critical personal information. Similarly, the best email filters tend to treat Google-based applications differently as compared to other web pages. Fraudsters thus get a chance to use Google Forms to bypass such email filters and introduce malicious attachments and links.

The above discussion showed how fraudsters use Google applications for their nefarious activities. Simultaneously, one should be aware of the protection measures to prevent falling prey to such malicious tricks.


How To Prevent Malicious Actors From Taking Advantage Through Google Applications?

Phishing attacks through Google applications are similar to any other phishing attack. However, the trust people have in Google applications makes such attacks more fatal.

Business entities and organizations have the best email phishing protection measures in place. Such safeguards, including anti-phishing and anti-ransomware solutions, must be equally applied to Google-based phishing activities, as well.   

Email Scanning Solutions

Google-based scams occur mainly because the email scanning solutions look at the Google URL and do not take any action against it, believing it to be a genuine email. The best phishing protection solutions should also have mechanisms to detect the malicious content hidden behind the Google URL.

Employee Awareness

Almost any cyberattack can be nipped in the bud if the employees working in the organization are alert and aware of the cyber risks that could affect the business. All organizations should endeavor to enhance employee awareness training and focus on detecting emails and documents that look suspicious instead of relying on the Google URL. A zero-trust policy involving not trusting attachments and links irrespective of their source and looking out for suspicious emails can help reduce these Google applications-based cyberattacks.

Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is an effective countermeasure as it makes it more challenging for the malicious actor to infiltrate any digital system.


Final Words

With more people and organizations working online, especially from remote locations due to the pandemic, it has become more convenient for fraudsters to deploy their nefarious tricks and steal critical data using phishing attacks. Google applications like Docs and Forms provide the ideal platform for these malicious actors because of the trust people have in the brand name of Google. Though organizations worldwide adopt the best anti-phishing solutions, they often overlook Google applications’ use by malicious actors to target the prey. The ideal solution is to create awareness amongst employees about such crimes and increase their alertness levels to thwart phishing attempts by malicious actors.