Google Docs Commenting Feature Used For Spear Phishing Attacks

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A new spear phishing attack vector emerged in December 2021, which saw hackers abusing the commenting feature of Google Docs to send emails that appear trustworthy.

Google Docs is widely used by employees collaborating or remotely working, so recipients of said emails are familiar with these notifications.

Googles’ own security systems are being tricked into sending emails, it is very unlikely for email security to flag the incoming Google emails.

It is believed the spear phishing attacks have been on-going since at least October of last year. Google has taken steps to mitigate the issue, but are not fully covered yet.

The spear phishing campaign has become more popular in recent weeks amongst hackers, and is being monitored by threat analysts at Avanan, who have shared their report with other researchers.

According to Avanan, hackers use their Google account to create a Google Document and then comment it to mention the target with an @.

Google then sends a notification email to the target’s inbox, informing them that another user has commented on a document and mentioned them.

The comment on the email can carry malicious links that lead to malware dropping web pages or phishing sites, so there are clearly no checking/filtering mechanisms in place.

Secondly, the threat actor’s email isn’t shown in the notification, and the recipient only sees a name. This makes impersonation very easy, and simultaneously raises the chances of success for the actors.

Spear Phishing

The same technique works on Google Slide comments too, and Avanan reports having seen actors leveraging it on various elements of the Google Workspace service.

To make things worse, attackers don’t have to share the document with their targets since mentioning them is enough to send malicious notifications.

According to Avanan, the threat actors behind these attacks appear to favor Outlook users, but the target demographic is not limited to them.

This ongoing spear-phishing campaign uses over 100 Google accounts and has already hit 500 inboxes across 30 organizations.

The only way to mitigate the risk of this and similar campaigns is to:

  • Confirm that the sender email matches your colleague’s (or claimed person)
  • Avoid clicking on links that arrive via email and are embedded on comments
  • Deploy additional security measures that apply stricter file-sharing rules on Google Workspace
  • Use an internet security solution from a trustworthy vendor that features phishing URL protection

Protection Against Spear Phishing

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