Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

2/5/2019
04:35 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Cybercriminals Exploit Gmail Feature to Scale Up Attacks

Criminals are taking advantage of Gmail's 'dots don't matter' feature to set up multiple fraudulent accounts on websites, using variations of the same email address, Agari says.

Some cybercriminals are taking advantage of a long-standing feature in Google Gmail designed to enhance account security, to create multiple fraudulent accounts on various websites quickly and at scale, security vendor Agari said this week.

The feature, which some have warned about previously, basically ensures that all dotted variations of a Gmail address belong to the same account. For example, Google treats johnsmith (at) gmail.com the same as john.smith (at) gmail.com and jo.hn.smith (at) gmail.com. An individual with johnsmith (at) gmail.com as their email address would therefore receive emails sent to all dotted variations of the same address.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the Agari research, but pointed to Google's official description of the dots feature, where Google says that the "dots don't matter" approach in Gmail ensures no one can take another person's username. "Your Gmail address is unique. If anyone tries to create a Gmail account with a dotted version of your username, they'll get an error saying the username is already taken," Google said in its post on the feature.

But the feature can be problematic to organizations that support the creation of new user accounts on their websites—such as credit card companies and social media sites— Agari says. Most such sites, and indeed a vast majority of the Internet, treat each dotted variant as a separate email account. For instance, most websites that support account creation would treat johnsmith (at) gmail.com as a separate email address from john.smith (at) gmail.com. So a criminal can easily create multiple accounts on a website using dot variants of the same email address, Agari said in its new research.

Agari researchers recently have observed business email compromise (BEC) scammers taking advantage of the feature to set up dozens of accounts on single websites and have all communications associated with those accounts directed to single Gmail accounts.

Over the past year, the criminals have used the approach to submit 48 credit card applications at four US-based companies and to conduct at least $65,000 in fraudulent credit, Agari said. The attackers have also used the Gmail account feature to file 11 fraudulent tax returns via an online filing service, submit 12 change-of-address requests with the postal service; apply for unemployment benefits; and submit applications with FEMA disaster assistance using identities belonging to other people.

To be clear, the Gmail feature itself did not enable the actual scams: it just made it easier for the BEC attackers to monitor and receive communications across the multiple accounts using a single Gmail address.

"By exploiting this feature in Gmail accounts, scammers are able to scale their operations more efficiently," Agari said. They then don't need to create and monitor a new email account for every new account on a website, so their onlie  online scams are faster and more efficient.

"Any enterprise that includes account creation in its business model, such as financial services or social media, should be aware that attackers can use the Google 'dot' exploit to create a large number of fraudulent accounts," says Crane Hassold, senior director of threat intelligence at Agari.

"Organizations can either treat dots the way that Google treats dots, which is to ignore them ... or they can monitor for rapid-account creation from email addresses that include multiple dots to flag potentially suspicious behavior," he says.

Related Content:

 

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
applicology
50%
50%
applicology,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/6/2019 | 1:32:00 PM
GMAIL is not the Bad Guy
So criminals are taking advantage of a feature in Gmail.  So am I (but not for criminal purposes). Using a word like "exploiting" makes it look like the criminals are doing something super clever, but they aren't.  And, it's not until near the end of the artlicle that the author acknowledges that this is not a Gmail problem.  Frankly, every system should collapse all dotted email addresses to the undotted version . . . for the very reason that Gmail does.
Where Businesses Waste Endpoint Security Budgets
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/15/2019
How Attackers Infiltrate the Supply Chain & What to Do About It
Shay Nahari, Head of Red-Team Services at CyberArk,  7/16/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-13971
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-19
OTCMS 3.81 allows XSS via the mode parameter in an apiRun.php?mudi=autoRun request.
CVE-2019-13972
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-19
LayerBB 1.1.3 allows XSS via the application/commands/new.php pm_title variable, a related issue to CVE-2019-17997.
CVE-2019-13973
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-19
LayerBB 1.1.3 allows admin/general.php arbitrary file upload because the custom_logo filename suffix is not restricted, and .php may be used.
CVE-2019-13974
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-19
LayerBB 1.1.3 allows conversations.php/cmd/new CSRF.
CVE-2019-13977
PUBLISHED: 2019-07-19
index.php in Ovidentia 8.4.3 has XSS via tg=groups, tg=maildoms&idx=create&userid=0&bgrp=y, tg=delegat, tg=site&idx=create, tg=site&item=4, tg=admdir&idx=mdb&id=1, tg=notes&idx=Create, tg=admfaqs&idx=Add, or tg=admoc&idx=addoc&item=.