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Google just released its most powerful security feature yet.
The search giant announced on its blog Tuesday morning the new Advanced Protection Program, which is intended to protect people who are at a high risk of being hacked. This means high-profile figures like Hillary Clinton, investigative journalists, and even activists.
Most of the products Google creates are made for the masses — the billions of people who use Gmail, Google Drive, and the Chrome web browser. In this case, however, Google created a security feature for only a select number of users who are willing to sacrifice some convenience for substantially increased e-mail protection.
This means an Advanced Protection-enabled Gmail account can only be accessed by using both a password and a physical security key, which can be an actual USB drive that plugs into a laptop, or wireless key enabled by your phone.
This high-level security requirement is primarily designed to protect against malicious phishing. (Phishing is a deceptive attempt to gain access to someone’s e-mail or sensitive data by sending a link often well-disguised as something legitimate, such as a link from a trusted bank.) But even if a hacker is successful at tricking you into clicking a malicious link, the hacker still won’t be able to access your Gmail account, because you alone grasp the literal key to your inbox.
The Advanced Protection Program will attempt to thwart devious hackers in other ways, too. For instance, Google acknowledges hackers sometimes attempt to impersonate someone who has been locked out of their account. With this added protection, Google will subject potential hackers to a far more rigorous account recovery process.
Google says that it enlisted the help of technology experts to develop the program. One of these experts, Andrew Ford Lyons, a Technologist at Internews, made it clear on Google’s blog that while this security feature is important for targeted individuals, it should be viewed as a step — a tactful nod that no system is fully protected against the increasing sophistication of hackers (especially the state-sponsored type).
“Journalists, human rights defenders, environment campaigners and civil society activists working on any number of sensitive issues can quickly find themselves targeted by well-resourced and highly capable adversaries,” said Lyons. “For those whose work may cause their profile to become more visible, setting this up could be seen as an essential preventative step.”
But this still reads like a strong security measure. For those concerned about being targeted, you can enroll in Google’s Advanced Protection Program here.
Some helpful notes:
Google will suggest security keys to buy during the sign-up process
For now, the program must be accessed from a Chrome web browser
Google notes that “For now, Advanced Protection is only available for consumer Google Accounts. To provide comparable protections on G Suite Accounts, G Suite admins can look into Security Key Enforcement and OAuth apps whitelisting.”