Thousands of Gmail users at risk from Russian government hackers, Google warns

Google has issued thousands of warnings to Gmail users about a sophisticated new threat from a secretive Russian hacking group.

Around 14,000 users have received warning notifications that they are being targeted by a phishing campaign backed by Vladimir Putin's government.

First identified in late September, the campaign sent phishing emails to user inboxes in an attempt to steal data and extort money.

In the warning message, Google said that they managed to stop the attack in its tracks, but revealing how they did it would put people at greater risk.

"There's a chance this is a false alarm, but we believe we detected government-backed attackers trying to steal your password. This happens to less than 0.1% of all Gmail users."

"We can't reveal what tipped us off because the attackers will take note and change their tactics, but if they are successful at some point they could access your data or take other actions using your account."

The hacking group, named Fancy Bear, has previously engaged in massive hacks of the Norwegian and French Parliaments, the Olympics, and the Ukrainian artillery.

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They are backed by the Russian government and said to be linked to Russian MI6-style spy agency GRU.

Shane Huntley of Google's anti-hacker Threat Analysis Group explained that the warnings mean people are being targeted, not that they've been hacked.

"Firstly these warnings indicate targeting NOT compromise. If we are warning you there's a very high chance we blocked. The increased numbers this month come from a small number of widely targeted campaigns which were blocked."

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He added: "So why do we do these government warnings then? The warning really mostly tells people you are a potential target for the next attack so, now may be a good time to take some security actions."

If you want to protect yourself from hackers, Google recommends you sign up to its Advanced Protection Programme, which aims to safeguard users with sensitive information. You can find out more about how to sign up here.

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