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Summary

  • Google Drive vulnerabilities: Human error and phishing attacks pose significant risks to data security on Google Drive.
  • Security measures: Implement two-factor authentication, adhere to the principle of least privilege, and invest in advanced cloud security solutions.
  • Response strategies: Monitor for unusual user behavior, conduct regular risk assessments, and promote employee awareness and reporting.
  • Alternative platforms: Consider options like Sync.com, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox Business, or Zoho Workspace, but prioritize proactive security measures regardless of platform choice.

Organizations large and small rely on Google Drive and the Google Workspace ecosystem for a range of collaboration and document-based tasks. The cloud-based platform is highly intuitive to use and accessible from any device with the right login credentials, making it an excellent option for hybrid and remote teams. 

However, Google Drive’s usability can also be its downfall. According to recent research, 40% of the information stored in Google Drive is sensitive—data like personally identifiable information (PII), credit card details, intellectual property and so forth.

Ensuring that only the right users access this data—and in the right, compliant manner—is imperative for businesses if they wish to avoid costly data breaches and their associated compliance fines. 

But doing so isn’t easy. Like all software, vulnerabilities can occur in Google Drive, putting sensitive data at risk. On top of that, the cloud’s shared responsibility model means that organizations have several responsibilities in terms of security that fall outside of Google’s remit. 

Here, we’ll take a closer look at Google Drive’ security vulnerabilities, and offer actionable tips to help organizations enhance their security posture. 

Understanding Google Drive security risks 

Google is one of the most prevalent cloud services in the world, making it a top target for malicious actors. While hackers can use sophisticated techniques (more on that below) to compromise Google Workspace, the path of least resistance is often the best way forward. By that, we mean credentials compromise. 

Without multi-factor authentication enabled, it’s all too easy for threat actors to login to employees’ Google Workspace accounts and steal whatever data is available undetected.  

Another risk is the rise of Google Drive phishing scams, where cybercriminals send emails to their victims, masquerading as a Google Drive notification. When the victim clicks the link, they’re taken to a spoofed Google Workspace login page. Once they enter their details, these credentials are then shared with the scammers.

Far from being a hypothetical threat, Google Drive phishing scams are commonplace. In 2022, for example, the prolific hacking group Cozy Bear used this lure, sending victims a supposed Google document with links to an agenda for an upcoming work meeting. 

When recipients clicked the link, they would be taken to Google Drive, where they would then download the agenda to their devices. However, alongside downloading the file, the victims also downloaded backdoors into their systems, enabling Cozy Bear to deploy malware at any moment. 

Known vulnerabilities in Google Drive

Beyond these risks, Google Drive is also vulnerable to security flaws that hackers can exploit to exfiltrate sensitive information. 

This isn’t out of the ordinary. Security flaws are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the quick software development cycle. What’s important is how proactive and swift software providers are in discovering and patching flaws. While Google excels at this for the most part, it has been caught out a few times.

For example, last year, security researchers found a critical security flaw that could potentially enable employees and contractors to exfiltrate sensitive information from Google Drive without being spotted by security tools. 

For the most part, though, Google is excellent at finding and remediating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. In its regular security bulletins, the company releases CVE updates, detailing discovered vulnerabilities and action steps to take. 

A closer look at Google Drive data leaks 

So far, we’ve looked at Google Drive security risks from a hacker’s perspective. But the biggest threat of all that organizations must contend with is the risk of human error. Google’s security framework denotes that, while Google will secure its underlying infrastructure, businesses must secure identities and data. 

This means that, if a user accidentally leaves a Google Drive file exposed to ‘Public’ or your users have more permissions than they should, your company is liable to any data breach or compliance fines, not Google. 

These types of risks are common place, too, with recent research about Google Drive finding that: 

  • 73% of employees can access data that they shouldn’t be able to 
  • 69% can view data they shouldn’t be able to 
  • 59% can see data from other departments they’re not a part of

Best practices for enhancing Google Drive security 

In order to reduce the likelihood of data breaches and compliance fines, organizations must boost their approach to Google Drive security. 

Here’s what to do. 

Enforce two-factor authentication

Verizon’s DBIR report highlights that 61% of data breaches stem from compromised credentials. If hackers acquire your employees’ Google Workspace logins, the potential damage is considerable. They could deploy malware in your cloud system or pilfer sensitive files.

Access controls are ineffective against credential compromise since hackers exploit legitimate logins to infiltrate company data.

However, there’s a straightforward solution to counter this threat: implement multi-factor authentication. Even if an employee’s password is compromised, threat actors won’t gain access to company resources.

Embrace the principle of least privilege

MFA is a good tool for combatting credentials compromise. However, you need a different solution altogether to manage the insider threat. A foundational measure is to use the principle of least privilege, which ensures that users only have access to the data they need to do their jobs, and nothing more. 

Implementing granular access controls reduces the likelihood of accidental data sharing or disgruntled employees downloading files they shouldn’t. However, even with this enabled, there’s still the risk of misconfigurations, like files accidentally being open to the public. 

Look beyond Google’s native controls 

To truly prevent sensitive data exposure, organizations need to invest in a next-generation cloud security tool that combines data loss prevention, user behavior monitoring, employee education and compliance monitoring. 

These new-age tools are the most robust defense against Google Drive data leaks. They ensure that sensitive data is never seen by unauthorized individuals and that authorized personnel only access it in a compliant way. 

Best-in-breed tools combine data protection with nudge-based training, providing employees with in-the-moment education on secure data sharing to reduce repeat offenses of risky behavior.   

Additional security features in Google Workspace 

As you enhance your approach to Google Workspace security, it’s a wise idea to ensure you’re ticking-off the basics. Google has a range of native security features that organizations should use, alongside investing in more robust third-party tools.

These are as follows: 

  • Single sign-in: Google Workspace streamlines access to its apps with its Single sign-on (SSO) feature, enabling users to seamlessly navigate between Google Drive, GMail and so forth through a unified login page and authentication credentials. Built upon the secure framework of SAML 2.0, this XML standard facilitates the exchange of user authentication and authorization data across web domains, ensuring robust security.
  • Data restoration: With this feature, administrators can unlock the power to restore a user’s Google Drive data within a 25-day window post-deletion from the recycle bin, contingent upon the retention policy in place. 
  • Endpoint management: The enrollment of devices into the endpoint management system n empowers organizations to enforce stringent policies that safeguard devices and data. We advise implementing measures such as device encryption, screen lock enforcement, and password policies.
  • Trusted domains: Through the implementation of trusted domains, administrators can exercise control over user sharing within the organization’s Google Drive ecosystem. This allows them to dictate whether users can share files with external parties to prevent data leakage. 

As well as implementing these tools, remember the importance of training your employees on good security hygiene. People are the first line of defense when it comes to SaaS security. Train them well, and they can be a great asset in preventing data exposure. Read more on how to roll out an excellent security program here

How to respond to Google Drive vulnerabilities 

By following the above steps, you’ll dramatically reduce the likelihood of human error or credentials compromise threatening Google Drive security in your organization. However, there’s also the matter of zero-day vulnerabilities. How can you prevent an attacker from exploiting Google’s software before a CVE is released? 

Here are the steps to take, which should be part of your wider vulnerability management program: 

  • Look out for anomalous user behavior in the Google Workspace ecosystem. Ideally, your DLP solution will flag suspicious user movements or data interactions and block them on your behalf, giving you time to investigate whilst keeping data safe. 
  • Conduct a risk scan to gain an idea of where sensitive data might be at risk within Google Drive. Polymer offers a free one here. 
  • Invest in a yearly SaaS penetration test to validate your security controls and remediate any issues. 
  • Create policies and processes that empower employees to report suspicious activities, emails or requests that they receive related to Google Drive or other SaaS platforms your company uses. 

Secure alternatives to Google Drive 

While Google Drive is a highly usable platform, the potential for misconfigurations means you may want to look for another file storage platform for your organization. Here are the options to consider. Remember, too, that Google Drive’s risks can be mitigated with a robust SaaS security solution like Polymer DLP. 

  • Sync.com is a zero-knowledge encryption platform that gives you full control of the encryption key. While the platform is highly affordable, it doesn’t have the range of apps that Google Workspace has. This means it’s great for storage, but not much else–and is still vulnerable to misconfigurations and zero-days. 
  • Microsoft OneDrive is an excellent option for organizations that use the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Like Google Drive, you’ll need to invest in a robust SaaS security solution to best protect user identities and sensitive information. 
  • Dropbox Business: Dropbox’s advanced security options make it a more secure choice than Google Drive. Saying this, the platform also runs on the cloud’s shared responsibility model, meaning organizations are responsible for securely configuring the platform to prevent data leakage and credentials compromise. 
  • Zoho Workspace: Another powerful collaboration platform, Zoho Workspace works best if you use the entire suite of Zoho tools. 

If you’re wondering which platform is best, the truth is that any platform can be secure or insecure depending on how you use it. It’s also important to remember the rise in shadow IT. Even if your organization doesn’t ‘officially’ use one of these applications, your employees may do so. Because of that, taking a proactive, holistic approach to SaaS security is vital.

Final thoughts and recommendations

Ultimately, Google Drive’s security vulnerabilities tend to occur due to human error and misconfigurations, rather than sophisticated attacks by threat actors. While malicious actors have attempted to corrupt Google Drive accounts through phishing attacks and stolen passwords, these threats are avoidable through basic security measures like multi-factor authentication and data loss prevention.

In summary, the best way to protect against Google Drive data leaks is to gain better visibility and control over your data and users. To do that, lean on next-generation security tools like Polymer DLP. 

Ready to get started? Try a free risk scan to discover what sensitive data is hiding unprotected in your organization’s Google Drive ecosystem. 

FAQs 

  • Is Google Drive safe for confidential information? Google Drive is only safe for confidential information if you deploy the right security tools to discover, classify and protect your sensitive data, such as cloud data loss prevention. 
  • Can Google Drive be hacked, and how to respond? Like all software, Google Drive is vulnerable to hacking. If you don’t have multi-factor authentication enabled across your account, a threat actor could use a compromised password to break into an account and then view and steal the information they find. 
  • Does Google Drive use end-to-end encryption? Yes, Google Drive offers end-to-end encryption. 
  • Can you add extra security to Google Drive? Google Drive offers a wealth of third-party integrations with leading security providers to enhance enterprise security. Polymer DLP, for example, can be integrated directly with Google Drive and Google Workspace to prevent data exposure and theft. 
  • Is Google Drive more secure than OneDrive? Both Google and OneDrive are relatively secure platforms that rely on the cloud’s shared responsibility model. This means that customers have a pivotal role to play in ensuring security by correctly configuring user identities and applying data protection techniques to sensitive information.

Polymer is a human-centric data loss prevention (DLP) platform that holistically reduces the risk of data exposure in your SaaS apps and AI tools. In addition to automatically detecting and remediating violations, Polymer coaches your employees to become better data stewards. Try Polymer for free.

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