A Closer Look at a Vulnerability in Gmail

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sai krishna

Mar 7, 2010, 7:20:20 AM3/7/10
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Gmail is one of the major webmail service provider across the globe. But as we all know Gmail still carries that 4 letter word BETA. Sometimes we may wonder, why Gmail is still in the testing stage even after years of it’s emergence. Here is one small reason for that. 

Gmail follows a strict rule that doesn’t allow it’s users to have their first or the last name contain the term Gmail or Google. That is, while signing up for a new Gmail account the users cannot choose a first or last name that contains the term Gmail or Google. You can see this from the below snapshot.

Google or Gmail cannot be used as first or last name

This rule is implemented by Gmail for obvious reasons, because if the users are allowed to keep their first or the last name that contains the term Gmail or Google, then it is possible to easily impersonate the identity of Gmail (or Gmail Team) and engage themselves in phising or social engineering attacks on the innocent users. This can be done by simply choosing the first and last name with the following combinations.

First Name        Last Name

Gmail                       Team

Google                     Team

Gmail                       Password Assistance 

From the above snapshot we can see that, Gmail has made a good move in stopping the users from abusing it’s services. However this move isn’t just enough to prevent the malicious users from impersonating the Gmail’s identity. Because Gmail has a small vulnerability that can be exploited so that the users can still have their name contain the terms Gmail or Google. You may wonder how to do this. But it’s very simple.

1. Login to your Gmail account and click on Settings.

2. Select Accounts tab

3. Click on edit info

4. In the Name field, select the second radio button and enter the name of your choice. Click on Save Changes and you’re done!

Now, Gmail accepts any name even if it contains the term Google or Gmail. You can see from the below snapshot


Allowing the users to have their names contain the terms Gmail or Google is a serious vulnerability even though it doesn’t seem to be a major one. This is because a hacker or a malicious attacker can easily exploit this flaw and send phishing emails to other Gmail users asking for sensitive information such as their passwords. Most of the users don’t even hesitate to send their passwords since they believe that they are sending it to Gmail Team (or someone authorized). But in reality they are sending it to an attacker who uses these information to seek personal benefits.

So the bottomline is, if you get any emails that appears to have come from the Gmail Team or similar, don’t trust them! Anyone can send such emails to fool you and take away your personal details. Hope that Gmail will fix this vulnerability as soon as possible to avoid any disasters.

I hope this post helps. Express your opinions through Comments & Suggestions at the Topic which is posted at the Group www.groups.google.com/group/tsksoft
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