Google has warned Hungarian investigative journalists that they were potential targets of a government-backed cyberattack, trying to access their accounts. Gmail did not specify which government the attack might come from. However, investigative site Átlátszó mentions that they were also involved in the Pegasus investigation before.
On Thursday morning, Tamás Bodoky, editor-in-chief of Átlátszó, saw something unusual in his Gmail account: a “government-backed attack alert” about someone trying to steal his password. He was not the only one who received the notification. András Lőke, editor-in-chief of ittlakunk.hu and HVG journalist, Bihari Ádám, also saw the warning in their accounts.
Google explains the notification as follows:
FactWhat is a government-backed attack alert?
We send the alert to let you know that we believe government-backed attackers are trying to access the account of one of your users. An attack happens to less than 0.1% of all Google Account users.
There’s a chance the alert is a false alarm. However, we believe we detected activities that government-backed attackers use to try to steal a password or other personal information. Such activity includes the user receiving an email containing a harmful attachment, links to malicious software downloads, or links to fake websites that are designed to access passwords.
We can’t reveal what tipped us off because the attackers will take note and change their tactics. If they’re successful, they could access data or take other actions using the user’s account. You should take steps to secure the user’s account from the attack.
HVG asked the director of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, Shane Huntley, about the incident. He replied:
These alerts, first of all, indicate that the user has been targeted, not that their account has been hacked. If a warning is sent, there is a very high chance that we have blocked the activity.”
He further explained, “the alert warns the user that they are a potential target for a follow-up attack, so it’s time to take security measures.”
Gmail does not specify which government the attack might come from.
Átlátszó mentions that they were also involved in the Pegasus investigation before. During the course of the investigation, among other things, Hungarian investigative journalists were monitored using an Israeli spy system capable of hacking smartphones.
More information about the warnings can be read on Google’s Security Blog, here.
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