The Most Important Gmail Update You’ll Hopefully Never See

In 2013 as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad fired scud missiles into civilian populations, destroying entire towns, then-26-year-old Dlshad Othman created a simple early warning system. Dlshad’s system used citizen reporting of missile launches to calculate their likely destination and warn people in harm’s way via SMS, tweets, and email. Within the first 24 hours of launching his new service, 16,000 people viewed his website. And almost immediately, Dlshad became the target of government-backed attacks on his email.

When you think of someone attacking your accounts or online devices, what comes to mind? Perhaps the stereotype of a kid in a basement, or a commercial spammer. There is another type of attacker, though: professional attackers backed by governments.

Since 2012, Google has warned our users when we suspect government-backed attackers may be targeting their accounts or devices. It looked like this:

You’ve probably never seen that warning. Fewer than 0.1% of Google users receive it, but it can be very important for those who do — journalists, activists, policy makers — people like Dlshad, people who are taking bold stands around the globe.

Today we’ve launched a new warning for the targets of government-backed attacks.

The new warning is important because in addition to informing users that a government-backed attacker might be targeting them, it makes concrete suggestions about how a user can make his or her account more secure. The warning now includes simple suggestions to improve their online security, such as how to install two-factor authentication and set up a Security Key. Learn more here.

Better warnings won’t stop attackers, but better security advice will make their work much harder.

Do you have a story like Dlshad’s? We’d love to hear from you to learn more about what we can do to help vulnerable users.

- Shane Huntley, Google Security Team, and Jonathan Pevarnek, Jigsaw Engineer

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