Google patches Gmail security hole

Google has fixed a bug in its Web-based e-mail service, Gmail, that allowed users to read the contents of other people's messages.

HBX Networks, a Unix community group, discovered the bug while testing a Perl script intended to automate sending batches of newsletters. Messages sent to the group's own e-mail address contained HTML code in the "Reply To" field, and this code turned out to be the message body of other users' e-mail messages.

The problem appears to be caused by a missing ">" character in the formatting of the "From" fields generated by the group's Perl script. "This, apparently, was enough to get GMail to provide us with some portion of someone else's messages," HBX members wrote in their analysis on Wednesday.

They speculated that the missing character caused Google's application to read other data into this buffer -- a message that had been sent recently, for example. In at least one case, the intercepted e-mail contained username and password information, the group said.

"Regardless of the specific failure, the result is a compromise of the privacy of communications over Gmail," the group wrote. "Message content and address information are easily -- if somewhat randomly -- available to unintended recipients."

Google said the problem was fixed on Wednesday, shortly after the HBX Networks report appeared. "At 10:15am PST mails with the problematic formatting as described in your previous story stopped being accepted into Gmail. Previous e-mails that had this problem will also no longer will be accessible. We appreciate your patience and we're sorry about the bug," said Chris DiBona, Google's open source program manager, in an e-mail to the tech discussion site Slashdot. He urged users to report security bugs to

HBX expressed concern that other such bugs might exist. "The appearance of this issue, at the user level, probably indicates a failure in GMail's code review and/or quality assurance standards, which may result in other, similar errors," the group wrote.

While it is technically still in beta-testing, Gmail has become one of the most popular Web-based e-mail services since its launch in April, and has begun to come under the same scrutiny as other Google services. Last month, for example, Google fixed a flaw with its desktop search that could have allowed hackers to search the contents of a PC.

Security problems are nothing new to Web e-mail. Last March, shortly before Gmail's launch, IT security firm GreyMagic Software demonstrated that scripts could be run in Hotmail and Yahoo Inc.'s Web e-mail, bypassing scripting restrictions. Scripts embedded in e-mail messages could have been used to steal passwords or spread worms, researchers said. The problem has now been fixed.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matthew Broersma
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?