Google is rolling out a fancy new security feature today that's designed to protect users who face significant risk of having their accounts hacked — election and campaign officials, victims of intimate partner violence, and others seeking additional security.
It's called the Advanced Protection Program, and it's designed to ensure that no one but you can access your Google tools like Gmail, Google Drive, and YouTube. Of course, locking down an account so carefully means sacrificing convenience — but Google says its worth it for some users.
"Advanced Protection provides Google's strongest security, designed for those who are at an elevated risk of attack and are willing to trade off a bit of convenience for more protection of their personal Google Accounts," the company said in a blog post. "Once you enroll in Advanced Protection, we'll continually update the security of your account to meet emerging threats — meaning Advanced Protection will always use the strongest defences that Google has to offer."
Given the scrutiny Google and other major tech companies are facing over election interference, it makes sense to roll out a feature like this now (although Google says it's in honour of Cybersecurity Awareness Month). John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, was hit with a phishing attempt that allowed attackers to access his Gmail account, leading to the leak of his emails. Making sure this kind of high-profile hack doesn't happen during another election is paramount for Google.
Advanced Protection secures a user's account with a security key. USB security keys are considered a stronger tool for two-step verification than a texted or app-generated code, and provide reliable protection against phishing. Google's program adds a bluetooth key, so that Advanced Protection can work when logging in on a phone as well as a laptop.
For now at least, Advanced Protection blocks all non-Google apps from accessing your account, although the company said external apps may be allowed in the future. (Unverified apps have been used in account takeovers in the past.) The program also forces a slower account recovery process if a user loses their security keys. "Another common way hackers try to access your account is by impersonating you and pretending they have been locked out. For Advanced Protection users, extra steps will be put in place to prevent this during the account recovery process — including additional reviews and requests for more details about why you've lost access to your account," Google explained.
Anyone with a personal Gmail account can sign up today for Advanced Protection. Remember, this service will make it much harder to get into your account if you lose your security key, so make sure the tradeoff is right for you.