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New Google Security Controls Tighten Third-Party Data Access

Google adds OAuth app whitelisting to G Suite so admins can vet third-party applications before users can grant them authorized data access.

Google is updating its G Suite with OAuth apps whitelisting, a new security measure created to help administrators buckle down on data access control and see how third-party applications are using information.

The new controls are designed to give admins more detailed visibility into which third-party apps are accessing G Suite data, limit access to vetted OAuth apps, and protect G Suite app data by preventing unauthorized app installation, decreasing the risks associated with shadow IT.

Administrators will be able to use OAuth app whitelisting to select which third-party applications are allowed access to users' G Suite data, and see the data they can access. They can also disable OAuth access at a granular level, for the whole organization or specific groups.

Once an app is on the whitelist, users will be able to grant it authorized access to their G Suite apps data. This will protect employees from unauthorized, and potentially malicious, applications based on the settings that admins select.

"Unauthorized data access by external apps can be a major concern for organizations," says Rishi Dhand, product manager at G Suite. "The risks vary based on the kind of data that an unauthorized app may have accessed."

Admins have a powerful and important role in ensuring the security of third-party apps that can access employees' data. Dhand advises asking the following questions when vetting applications:

  • Is my organization's data access policy in sync with the access being requested by the third-party app?
  • Is the third-party app functionality correlated to the access the app is requesting? For example, he says, a calendar app requesting access to Drive data could be a red flag.
  • What is the app developer's approach to security? Have the developers published information that highlights the steps they take to protect user data?

This update addresses the risk of malicious apps tricking users into accidentally sharing sensitive data with threat actors. A new type of credential phishing technique, or "OAuth phishing," abuses the OAuth standard to trick users into granting persistent account access.

In OAuth phishing attacks, hackers send potential victims an OAuth permission request for an approved application. Once the target grants access, the hacker can maintain access to the account after multiple password resets. These attacks exploit users' trust in online service providers, and the trust between service providers and third-party applications.

We recently saw this technique play out in the May 3 Google Docs phishing scam. More than one million users were tricked into clicking a link, which led to a page requesting access to the user's Gmail account. If granted permission, the attacker could access victims' Google Drive through OAuth authentication connections used among third-party applications.

OAuth phishing attacks are dangerous because they bypass many of the red flags that typically alert users to email phishing. The Google attack was tough to detect as malicious because the icons and messaging were familiar to users.

By giving admins greater control over which apps can access user data, this G Suite update lessens the risk of employees granting access to malicious applications that could steal their information and cause further damage.

The G Suite updates will roll out in phases, the company reports. It will be made available within the admin console over the next few days.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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