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Monday, 13 February 2017 08:46

Why do US journos continue to use insecure Gmail for work?


A number of American journalists have received warnings from Google that state-sponsored hackers are trying to break into their Gmail accounts.

Perhaps the best advice Google could have offered would have been to ask these individuals to stop using Gmail for their professional correspondence.

Read Russia for state-sponsored hackers. That's the big bogey again, though nobody has provided a skerrick of evidence to show that Moscow was the culprit in all those election season hacks.

Most of the journalists cited in a Politico story are well-known: Jonathan Chait of the New York Times, Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic, Ezra Klein of Vox, David Sanger and Paul Krugman both of the NYT, and Garance Franke-Ruta of Yahoo!

Thus one has to ask: Given the level of snooping that Google carries out on its Gmail users, why are these journalists still using its services?

Surely, their big-name institutions can set up a secure Web-based email service that would allow them at least a basic measure of security? There are any number of providers who would, for a small sum, provide a web-based secure account. Surely, these highly-paid journalists can afford to open such accounts?

Google has a notorious record on security. Most of the leaks during the US election campaign last year came from Gmail accounts that had been compromised. But since Google is very good at dissembling and projecting itself as the victim, nobody among the media ever gives it a good tongue-lashing.

This is the same Google that once ensured that every single site in its searches was designated as hosting malware. That kind of incompetence is rare, even in the technology industry.

One unnamed journalist was quoted in the Politico story as saying: ""The fact that all this started right after the election suggests to me that journalists are the next wave to be targeted by state-sponsored hackers in the way that Democrats were during it. I worry that the outcome is going to be the same: Someone, somewhere, is going to get hacked, and then the contents of their Gmail will be weaponised against them – and by extension all media."

All these journalists, no doubt, are men and women with very high IQs. Why they then continue to swallow Google's Kool Aid and keep using Gmail, a highly insecure service, is incomprehensible.

A Google spokesperson was quoted in the story as saying: "Since 2012, we've notified users when we believe their Google accounts are being targeted by government-backed attackers. We send these warnings out of an abundance of caution – they do not indicate that a user's account has already been compromised or that a more widespread attack is occurring when they receive the notice."

A nice noncommittal statement with plausible deniability. That is Google's schtick. Anyone who believes it, to put it politely, is rather stupid.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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