Google Apps flaw leaves college inboxes open to others for three days

September 18, 2009

Google Apps flaw leaves college inboxes open to others for three daysCloud computing is all the rage, but those who worry about storing data up in a space in the ether may be justified after an error at Google allowed students at multiple colleges read each others’ email for three days.

Over the days of Sept. 11 to Sept. 15, Brown University was attempting to move 200 of their student email accounts from the current Microsoft Exchange setup the university used, to new accounts on the Google Apps system.  For those unfamiliar with Google Apps, it is an Enterprise version of Google Mail, more commonly known as GMail, that can be used by schools and institutions.  During this move, 22 students found themselves with the ability to view some emails of other students, and in a couple of cases they were able to view entire inboxes.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the problem was discovered on Friday, and after an internal review that determined the problem was not based at Brown, Google was contacted on Saturday morning about the incident.  The affected accounts were disabled on Monday while the problem was corrected, and by Tuesday the situation was corrected.

It has now come to light via ReadWriteWeb that the problem was not isolated to Brown, and by some estimates up to ten schools were impacted by the mysterious glitch.  Google is not commenting on the situation except for a brief comment from Google’s Rajan Sheth to say, “It was a small hiccup along the way and it’s an issue we’ve taken extremely seriously.”

While many people have had concerns over the move to cloud computing situations, incidents of security failures have been fairly small.  This particular incident only impacted 10 percent of this change over, and Brown was quick to point out that they have conducted over 2,000 successful account transfers, but when it is something as potentially damaging as email, is even one failure acceptable?

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