Category Archives: Online Security Blog

The latest news and insights from Google on security and safety on the Internet

New Research: Lessons from Password Checkup in action



Back in February, we announced the Password Checkup extension for Chrome to help keep all your online accounts safe from hijacking. The extension displays a warning whenever you sign in to a site using one of over 4 billion usernames and passwords that Google knows to be unsafe due to a third-party data breach. Since our launch, over 650,000 people have participated in our early experiment. In the first month alone, we scanned 21 million usernames and passwords and flagged over 316,000 as unsafe---1.5% of sign-ins scanned by the extension.
Today, we are sharing our most recent lessons from the launch and announcing an updated set of features for the Password Checkup extension. Our full research study, available here, will be presented this week as part of the USENIX Security Symposium.

Which accounts are most at risk?

Hijackers routinely attempt to sign in to sites across the web with every credential exposed by a third-party breach. If you use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts, this risk disappears. Based on anonymous telemetry reported by the Password Checkup extension, we found that users reused breached, unsafe credentials for some of their most sensitive financial, government, and email accounts. This risk was even more prevalent on shopping sites (where users may save credit card details), news, and entertainment sites.

In fact, outside the most popular web sites, users are 2.5X more likely to reuse vulnerable passwords, putting their account at risk of hijacking.
Anonymous telemetry reported by Password Checkup extension shows that users most often reuse vulnerable passwords on shopping, news, and entertainment sites.


Helping users re-secure their unsafe passwords

Our research shows that users opt to reset 26% of the unsafe passwords flagged by the Password Checkup extension. Even better, 60% of new passwords are secure against guessing attacks—meaning it would take an attacker over a hundred million guesses before identifying the new password.
Improving the Password Checkup extension

Today, we are also releasing two new features for the Password Checkup extension. The first is a direct feedback mechanism where users can inform us about any issues that they are facing via a quick comment box. The second gives users even more control over their data. It allows users to opt-out of the anonymous telemetry that the extension reports, including the number of lookups that surface an unsafe credential, whether an alert leads to a password change, and the domain involved for improving site coverage. By design, the Password Checkup extension ensures that Google never learns your username or password, regardless of whether you enable telemetry, but we still want to provide this option if users would prefer not to share this information.


We're continuing to improve the Password Checkup extension and exploring ways to implement its technology into Google products. For help keeping all your online accounts safe from hijacking, you can install the Password Checkup extension here today.

Making authentication even easier with FIDO2-based local user verification for Google Accounts


Passwords, combined with Google's automated protections, help secure billions of users around the world. But, new security technologies are surpassing passwords in terms of both strength and convenience. With this in mind, we are happy to announce that you can verify your identity by using your fingerprint or screen lock instead of a password when visiting certain Google services. The feature is available today on Pixel devices and coming to all Android 7+ devices over the next few days.



Simpler authentication experience when viewing your saved password for a website on passwords.google.com


These enhancements are built using the FIDO2 standards, W3C WebAuthn and FIDO CTAP, and are designed to provide simpler and more secure authentication experiences. They are a result of years of collaboration between Google and many other organizations in the FIDO Alliance and the W3C.

An important benefit of using FIDO2 versus interacting with the native fingerprint APIs on Android is that these biometric capabilities are now, for the first time, available on the web, allowing the same credentials be used by both native apps and web services. This means that a user only has to register their fingerprint with a service once and then the fingerprint will work for both the native application and the web service.

Note that your fingerprint is never sent to Google’s servers - it is securely stored on your device, and only a cryptographic proof that you’ve correctly scanned it is sent to Google’s servers. This is a fundamental part of the FIDO2 design.

Here is how it works

Google is using the FIDO2 capability on Android to register a platform-bound FIDO credential. We remember the credential for that specific Android device. Now, when the user visits a compatible service, such as passwords.google.com, we issue a WebAuthn “Get” call, passing in the credentialId that we got when creating the credential. The result is a valid FIDO2 signature.


High-level architecture of using fingerprint or screen lock on Android devices to verify a user’s identity without a password

Please follow the instructions below if you’d like to try it out.
Prerequisites
  • Phone is running Android 7.0 (Nougat) or later
  • Your personal Google Account is added to your Android device
  • Valid screen lock is set up on your Android device
To try it
  • Open the Chrome app on your Android device
  • Navigate to https://passwords.google.com
  • Choose a site to view or manage a saved password
  • Follow the instructions to confirm that it’s you trying signing in
You can find more detailed instructions here.

For additional security
Remember, Google's automated defenses securely block the overwhelming majority of sign-in attempts even if an attacker has your username or password. Further, you can protect your accounts with two-step verification (2SV), including Titan Security Keys and Android phone’s built-in security key.

Both security keys and local user verification based on biometrics use the FIDO2 standards. However, these two protections address different use cases. Security keys are used for bootstrapping a new device as a second factor as part of 2SV in order to make sure it’s the right owner of the account accessing it. Local user verification based on biometrics comes after bootstrapping a device and can be used for re-authentication during step-up flows to verify the identity of the already signed-in user.

What’s next
This new capability marks another step on our journey to making authentication safer and easier for everyone to use. As we continue to embrace the FIDO2 standard, you will start seeing more places where local alternatives to passwords are accepted as an authentication mechanism for Google and Google Cloud services. Check out this presentation to get an early glimpse of the use cases that we are working to enable next.

Making authentication even easier with FIDO2-based local user verification for Google Accounts


Passwords, combined with Google's automated protections, help secure billions of users around the world. But, new security technologies are surpassing passwords in terms of both strength and convenience. With this in mind, we are happy to announce that you can verify your identity by using your fingerprint or screen lock instead of a password when visiting certain Google services. The feature is available today on Pixel devices and coming to all Android 7+ devices over the next few days.



Simpler authentication experience when viewing your saved password for a website on passwords.google.com


These enhancements are built using the FIDO2 standards, W3C WebAuthn and FIDO CTAP, and are designed to provide simpler and more secure authentication experiences. They are a result of years of collaboration between Google and many other organizations in the FIDO Alliance and the W3C.

An important benefit of using FIDO2 versus interacting with the native fingerprint APIs on Android is that these biometric capabilities are now, for the first time, available on the web, allowing the same credentials be used by both native apps and web services. This means that a user only has to register their fingerprint with a service once and then the fingerprint will work for both the native application and the web service.

Note that your fingerprint is never sent to Google’s servers - it is securely stored on your device, and only a cryptographic proof that you’ve correctly scanned it is sent to Google’s servers. This is a fundamental part of the FIDO2 design.

Here is how it works

Google is using the FIDO2 capability on Android to register a platform-bound FIDO credential. We remember the credential for that specific Android device. Now, when the user visits a compatible service, such as passwords.google.com, we issue a WebAuthn “Get” call, passing in the credentialId that we got when creating the credential. The result is a valid FIDO2 signature.


High-level architecture of using fingerprint or screen lock on Android devices to verify a user’s identity without a password

Please follow the instructions below if you’d like to try it out.
Prerequisites
  • Phone is running Android 7.0 (Nougat) or later
  • Your personal Google Account is added to your Android device
  • Valid screen lock is set up on your Android device
To try it
  • Open the Chrome app on your Android device
  • Navigate to https://passwords.google.com
  • Choose a site to view or manage a saved password
  • Follow the instructions to confirm that it’s you trying signing in
You can find more detailed instructions here.

For additional security
Remember, Google's automated defenses securely block the overwhelming majority of sign-in attempts even if an attacker has your username or password. Further, you can protect your accounts with two-step verification (2SV), including Titan Security Keys and Android phone’s built-in security key.

Both security keys and local user verification based on biometrics use the FIDO2 standards. However, these two protections address different use cases. Security keys are used for bootstrapping a new device as a second factor as part of 2SV in order to make sure it’s the right owner of the account accessing it. Local user verification based on biometrics comes after bootstrapping a device and can be used for re-authentication during step-up flows to verify the identity of the already signed-in user.

What’s next
This new capability marks another step on our journey to making authentication safer and easier for everyone to use. As we continue to embrace the FIDO2 standard, you will start seeing more places where local alternatives to passwords are accepted as an authentication mechanism for Google and Google Cloud services. Check out this presentation to get an early glimpse of the use cases that we are working to enable next.

Awarding Google Cloud Vulnerability Research



Today, we’re excited to announce a yearly Google Cloud Platform (GCP) VRP Prize to promote security research of GCP. A prize of $100,000.00 will be paid to the reporter of the best vulnerability affecting GCP reported through our Vulnerability Reward Program (g.co/vulnz) and having a public write-up (nominations will be received here).

We’ve received vulnerability reports for various application security flaws in GCP over the years, but we felt research of our Cloud platform has been under-represented in our Vulnerability Reward Program. So, with the GCP VRP Prize, we hope to encourage even more researchers to focus on GCP products and help us identify even more security vulnerabilities.

Note that we will continue to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to our top bug hunters through our Vulnerability Research Grants Program even when no bugs are found, and to reward up to tens of thousands of dollars per bug to the most impactful findings. This prize is meant to create an additional incentive for more people to focus on public, open security research on GCP who would otherwise not participate in the reward program.

This competition draws on our previous contests, such as Pwnium and the Project Zero Prize, and rather than focusing bug hunters on collecting vulnerabilities for complex bug chains, we are attempting a slightly different twist and selecting a single winner out of all vulnerabilities we receive. That said, this approach comes with its own challenges, such as: defining the right incentives for bug hunters (both in terms of research as well as their communications with our team when reporting vulnerabilities); or ensuring there are no conflicting incentives, either when our own team is looking for similar vulnerabilities (since we aren't eligible for collecting the prize).

For the rest of the year, we will be seeking feedback from our top bug hunters and the security community to help define what vulnerabilities are the most significant, and we hope we can work together to find the best way to incentivize, recognize, and reward open security research. To further incentivize research in 2019, we will be issuing GCP VRP grants summing up to $100,000 to our top 2018 researchers.

Head over here for the full details on the contest. Note that if you have budget constraints for access to testing environments, you can use the free tier of GCP.

We look forward to our Vulnerability Rewards Programs resulting in even more GCP customer protection in the following years thanks to the hard work of the security research community. Follow us on @GoogleVRP.

Understanding why phishing attacks are so effective and how to mitigate them

Elie Bursztein, Security & Anti-abuse Research Lead, Daniela Oliveira, Professor at the University of Florida




Phishing attacks continue to be one of the common forms of account compromise threats. Every day, Gmail blocks more than 100 million phishing emails and Google Safe Browsing helps protect more than 4 billion devices against dangerous sites. 


As part of our ongoing efforts to further protect users from phishing, we’re partnering with  Daniela Oliveira from the University of Florida during a talk at Black Hat 2019 to explore the reasons why social engineering attacks remain effective phishing tactics, even though they have been around for decades.



Overall, the research finds there are a few key factors that make phishing an effective attack vector:
  • Phishing is constantly evolving: 68% of the phishing emails blocked by Gmail today are new variations that were never seen before. This fast pace adversarial evolution requires humans and machines to adapt very quickly to prevent them.
  • Phishing is targeted:  Many of the campaigns targeting Gmail end-users and enterprise consumers only target a few dozen individuals. Enterprise users being 4.8x more targeted than end-users.
  • Phishers are persuasion experts: As highlighted by Daniela’s research with Natalie Ebner et al. at the University of Florida, phishers have mastered the use of persuasion techniques, emotional salience and  gain or loss framing to trick users into reacting to phishing emails.
  • 45% of users don’t understand what phishing is: After surveying Internet users, we found that 45% of them do not  understand what phishing is or the risk associated with it. This lack of awareness increases the risk of being phished and potentially hinders the adoption of 2-step verification. 


Protecting users against phishing requires a layered defense approach that includes:
  • Educating users about phishing so they understand what it is, how to detect it and how to protect themselves.
  • Leveraging the recent advances in AI to build robust phishing detections that can keep pace with fast  evolving phishing campaigns.
  • Displaying actionable phishing warnings that are easy to understand by users so they know how to react when they see them.
  • Using strong two factor authentication makes it more difficult  for phishers to compromise accounts. Two-factor technologies, as visible in the graph above, can be effective against the various forms of phishing, which highlights the importance of driving awareness and adoption among users.  
While technologies to help mitigate phishing exist, such as FIDO standard security keys, there is still work to be done to help users increase awareness understand how to protect themselves against phishing.

Adopting the Arm Memory Tagging Extension in Android

As part of our continuous commitment to improve the security of the Android ecosystem, we are partnering with Arm to design the memory tagging extension (MTE). Memory safety bugs, common in C and C++, remain one of the largest vulnerabilities in the Android platform and although there have been previous hardening efforts, memory safety bugs comprised more than half of the high priority security bugs in Android 9. Additionally, memory safety bugs manifest as hard to diagnose reliability problems, including sporadic crashes or silent data corruption. This reduces user satisfaction and increases the cost of software development. Software testing tools, such as ASAN and HWASAN help, but their applicability on current hardware is limited due to noticeable overheads.

MTE, a hardware feature, aims to further mitigate these memory safety bugs by enabling us to detect them with low overhead. It has two execution modes:

  • Precise mode: Provides more detailed information about the memory violation
  • Imprecise mode: Has lower CPU overhead and is more suitable to be always-on.

Arm recently published a whitepaper on MTE and has added documentation to the Arm v8.5 Architecture Reference Manual.

We envision several different usage modes for MTE.

  • MTE provides a version of ASAN/HWASAN that is easier to use for testing and fuzzing in laboratory environments. It will find more bugs in a fraction of the time and at a lower cost, reducing the complexity of the development process. In many cases, MTE will allow testing memory safety using the same binary as shipped to production. The bug reports produced by MTE will be as detailed and actionable as those from ASAN and HWASAN.
  • MTE will be used as a mechanism for testing complex software scenarios in production. App Developers and OEMs will be able to selectively turn on MTE for parts of the software stack. Where users have provided consent, bug reports will be available to developers via familiar mechanisms like Google Play Console.
  • MTE can be used as a strong security mitigation in the Android System and applications for many classes of memory safety bugs. For most instances of such vulnerabilities, a probabilistic mitigation based on MTE could prevent exploitation with a higher than 90% chance of detecting each invalid memory access. By implementing these protections and ensuring that attackers can't make repeated attempts to exploit security-critical components, we can significantly reduce the risk to users posed by memory safety issues.

We believe that memory tagging will detect the most common classes of memory safety bugs in the wild, helping vendors identify and fix them, discouraging malicious actors from exploiting them. During the past year, our team has been working to ensure readiness of the Android platform and application software for MTE. We have deployed HWASAN, a software implementation of the memory tagging concept, to test our entire platform and a few select apps. This deployment has uncovered close to 100 memory safety bugs. The majority of these bugs were detected on HWASAN enabled phones in everyday use. MTE will greatly improve upon this in terms of overhead, ease of deployment, and scale. In parallel, we have been working on supporting MTE in the LLVM compiler toolchain and in the Linux kernel. The Android platform support for MTE will be complete by the time of silicon availability.

Google is committed to supporting MTE throughout the Android software stack. We are working with select Arm System On Chip (SoC) partners to test MTE support and look forward to wider deployment of MTE in the Android software and hardware ecosystem. Based on the current data points, MTE provides tremendous benefits at acceptable performance costs. We are considering MTE as a possible foundational requirement for certain tiers of Android devices.

Thank you to Mitch Phillips, Evgenii Stepanov, Vlad Tsyrklevich, Mark Brand, and Serban Constantinescu for their contributions to this post.

Titan Security Keys are now available in Canada, France, Japan, and the UK

Posted by Christiaan Brand, Product Manager, Google Cloud


Credential compromise as a result of phishing is one of the most common causes of security breaches. Security keys provide the strongest protection against these types of attacks, and that’s one of the main reasons why Google requires them as a second factor of authentication for our employees.

Last year, we launched Titan Security Keys in the United States and were excited to see strong demand from users and businesses choosing to protect their personal and work Google Accounts. Starting today, Titan Security Keys are also available on the Google Store in Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom (UK).



Titan Security Keys


Titan Security Keys are built with a hardware chip that includes firmware engineered by Google to verify the keys’ integrity. Each key leverages FIDO standards to cryptographically verify your identity and URL of the login page, preventing an attacker from accessing your account even if you are tricked into providing your username and password. Security keys are appropriate for any security-conscious user or enterprise, and we recommend that all users, especially those at higher risk such as IT administrators, executives, politicians, and activists consider signing in via security keys.

Bundles of two Titan Security Keys (one USB/NFC and one Bluetooth) are available on the Google Store in Canada, France, Japan, and the UK in addition to the US. To set up your security keys with your personal or work Google Account, sign in and navigate to the 2-Step Verification page. In addition, you can enroll in the Advanced Protection Program, which provides Google’s strongest security for anyone at risk of targeted attacks. Titan Security Keys can also be used anywhere FIDO security keys are supported, including Coinbase, Dropbox, Facebook, GitHub, Salesforce, Stripe, Twitter, and more

Enterprise administrators can require security keys for their users in G Suite and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Bulk orders of unbundled Titan Security Keys are available in Canada, Japan, and the US.

Chrome Fuzzer Program Update And How-To

TL;DR We increased the Chrome Fuzzer Program bonus from $500 to $1,000 as part of our recent update of reward amounts.

Chrome Fuzzer Program is a part of the Google Chrome Vulnerability Reward Program that lets security researchers run their fuzzers at scale on the ClusterFuzz infrastructure. It makes bug reporting fully automated, and the fuzzer authors get the same rewards as if they reported the bugs manually, plus an extra bonus ($1,000 as of now) on top of it for every new vulnerability.

We run fuzzers indefinitely, and some of the fuzzers contributed years ago are still finding security issues in ever changing Chrome code. This is a win-win for both sides, as security researchers do not have to spend time analyzing the crashes, and Chrome developers receive high quality bug reports automatically.

To learn more about the Chrome Fuzzer Program, let’s talk to Ned Williamson, who’s been a participant since 2017 and now works on the Google Security team.

Q: Hey Ned! It looks like you’ve received over $50,000 by participating in the Google Chrome Vulnerability Reward Program with your quic_stream_factory_fuzzer.

A: Yes, it’s true. I wrote a fuzzer for QUIC which helped me find and report two critical vulnerabilities, each worth $10,000. Because I knew my fuzzer worked well, I submitted it to the Chrome Fuzzer Program. Then, in the next few months, I received that reward three more times (plus a bonus), as the fuzzer caught several security regressions on ClusterFuzz soon after they happened.

Q: Have you intentionally focused on the areas that yield higher severity issues and bigger rewards?

A: Yes. While vulnerabilities in code that is more critical to user security yield larger reward amounts, I actually started by looking at lower severity bugs and incrementally began looking for more severe bugs until I could find critical ones. You can see this progression by looking at the bugs I reported manually as an external researcher.

Q: Would you suggest starting by looking for non-critical bugs?

A: I would say so. Security-critical code is generally better designed and more thoroughly audited, so it might be discouraging to start from there. Finding less critical security bugs and winning bounties is a good way to build confidence and stay motivated.

Q: Can you share an algorithm on how to find security bugs in Chrome?

A: Looking at previous and existing bug reports, even for non-security crashes, is a great way to tell which code is security-critical and potentially buggy. From there, if some code looks like it’s exposed to user inputs, I’d set up a fuzzing campaign against that component. After you gain experience you will not need to rely on existing reports to find new attack surface, which in turn helps you find places that have not been considered by previous researchers. This was the case for my QUIC fuzzer.

Q: How did you learn to write fuzzers?

A: I didn’t have any special knowledge about fuzzing before I started looking for vulnerabilities in Chrome. I followed the documentation in the repository and I still follow the same process today.

Q: Your fuzzer isn’t very simple compared to many other fuzzers. How did you get to that implementation?

A: The key insight in the QUIC fuzzer was realizing that the parts of the code that handled plaintext messages after decryption were prone to memory corruption. Typically, fuzzing does not perform well with encrypted inputs (it’s pretty hard to “randomly” generate a packet that can be successfully decrypted), so I extended the QUIC testing code to allow for testing with encryption disabled.

Q: Are there any other good examples of fuzz targets employing a similar logic?

A: Another example is pdf_formcalc_context_fuzzer that wraps the fuzzing input around with a valid hardcoded PDF file, therefore focusing fuzzing only on the XFA script part of it. As a researcher, you just need to choose what exactly you want to fuzz, and then understand how to execute that code properly. Looking at the unit tests is usually the easiest way to get such an understanding.

Useful links:

Happy fuzzing and bug hunting!

Bigger Rewards for Security Bugs

Chrome has always been built with security at its core, by a passionate worldwide community as part of the Chromium open source project. We're proud that community includes world class security researchers who help defend Chrome, and other Chromium based browsers.

Back in 2010 we created the Chrome Vulnerability Rewards Program which provides cash rewards to researchers for finding and reporting security bugs that help keep our users safe. Since its inception the program has received over 8,500 reports and paid out over five million dollars! A big thank you to every one of the researchers - it's an honor working with you.

Over the years we've expanded the program, including rewarding full chain exploits on Chrome OS, and the Chrome Fuzzer Program, where we run researchers' fuzzers on thousands of Google cores and automatically submit bugs they find for reward.

Today, we're delighted to announce an across the board increase in our reward amounts! Full details can be found on our program rules page but highlights include tripling the maximum baseline reward amount from $5,000 to $15,000 and doubling the maximum reward amount for high quality reports from $15,000 to $30,000. The additional bonus given to bugs found by fuzzers running under Chrome Fuzzer Program is also doubling to $1,000.

We've also clarified what we consider a high quality report, to help reporters get the highest possible reward, and we've updated the bug categories to better reflect the types of bugs that are reported and that we are most interested in.

But that's not all! On Chrome OS we're increasing our standing reward to $150,000 for exploit chains that can compromise a Chromebook or Chromebox with persistence in guest mode. Security bug in firmware and lock screen bypasses also get their own reward categories.

These new reward amounts will apply to bugs submitted after today on the Chromium bug tracker using the Security template. As always, see the Chrome Vulnerability Reward Program Rules for full details about the program.

In other news, our friends over at the Google Play Security Reward Program have increased their rewards for remote code execution bugs from $5,000 to $20,000, theft of insecure private data from $1,000 to $3,000, and access to protected app components from $1,000 to $3,000. The Google Play Security Reward Program also pays bonus rewards for responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities to participating app developers. Check out the program to learn more and see which apps are in scope.

Happy bug hunting!

How Google adopted BeyondCorp


It's been almost five years since we released the first of multiple BeyondCorp papers, describing the motivation and design principles that eliminated network-based trust from our internal networks. With that anniversary looming and many organizations actively working to adopt models like BeyondCorp (which has also become known as Zero Trust in the industry), we thought it would be a good time to revisit topics we have previously explored in those papers, share the lessons that we have learned over the years, and describe where BeyondCorp is going as businesses move to the cloud.

This is the first post in a series that will focus on Google’s internal implementation of BeyondCorp, providing necessary context for how Google adopted BeyondCorp.

Why did we adopt BeyondCorp?

With a traditional enterprise perimeter security model, access to services and resources is provided by a device being connected to a privileged network. If an employee is in a corporate office, on the right network, services are directly accessible. If they're outside the office, at home or in a coffee shop, they frequently use a VPN to get access to services behind the enterprise firewall. This is the way most organizations protect themselves.

By 2011, it became clear to Google that this model was problematic, and we needed to rethink how enterprise services are accessed and protected for the following reasons:

Improving productivity
  • A growing number of employees were not in the office at all times. They were working from home, a coffee shop, a hotel or even on a bus or airplane. When they were outside the office, they needed to connect via a VPN, creating friction and extending the network perimeter.
  • The user experience of a VPN client may be acceptable, even if suboptimal, from a laptop. Use of VPN is less acceptable, from both employees and admins perspectives, when considering growing use of devices such as smartphones and tablets to perform work.
  • A number of users were contractors or other partners who only needed selective access to some of our internal resources, even though they were working in the office.
Keeping Google secure
  • The expanded use of public clouds and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps meant that some of our corporate services were no longer deployed on-premises, further blurring the traditional perimeter and trust domain. This introduced new attack vectors that needed to be protected against.
  • There was ongoing concern about relying solely on perimeter defense, especially when the perimeter was growing consistently. With the proliferation of laptops and mobile devices, vulnerable and compromised devices were regularly brought within the perimeter.
  • Finally, if a vulnerability was observed or an attack did happen, we wanted the ability to respond as quickly and automatically as possible.

How did we do it?

In order to address these challenges, we implemented a new approach that we called BeyondCorp. Our mission was to have every Google employee work successfully from untrusted networks on a variety of devices without using a client-side VPN. BeyondCorp has three core principles:
  • Connecting from a particular network does not determine which service you can access.
  • Access to services is granted based on what the infrastructure knows about you and your device.
  • All access to services must be authenticated, authorized and encrypted for every request (not just the initial access).


High level architecture for BeyondCorp

BeyondCorp gave us the security that we were looking for along with the user experience that made our employees more productive inside and outside the office.

What lessons did we learn?

Given this was uncharted territory at the time, we had to learn quickly and adapt when we encountered surprises. Here are some key lessons we learned.

Obtain executive support early on and keep it

Moving to BeyondCorp is not a quick, painless exercise. It took us several years just to get most of the basics in place, and to this day we are still continuing to improve and refine our implementation. Before embarking on this journey to implement BeyondCorp, we got buy in from leadership very early in the project. With a mandate, you can ask for support from lots of different groups along the way.

We make a point to re-validate this buy-in on an ongoing basis, ensuring that the business still understands and values this important shift.

Recognize data quality challenges from the very beginning

Access decisions depend on the quality of your input data. More specifically, it depends on trust analysis, which requires a combination of employee and device data.

If this data is unreliable, the result will be incorrect access decisions, suboptimal user experiences and, in the worst case, an increase in system vulnerability, so the stakes are definitely high.
We put in a lot of work to make sure our data is clean and reliable before making any impactful changes, and we have both workflows and technical measures in place to ensure data quality remains high going forward.

Enable painless migration and usage

The migration should be a zero-touch or invisible experience for your employees, making it easy for them to continue working without interruptions or added steps. If you make it difficult for your employees to migrate or maintain productivity, they might feel frustrated by the process. Complex environments are difficult to fully migrate with initial solutions, so be prepared to review, grant and manage exceptions at least in the early stages. With this in mind, start small, migrate a small number of resources, apps, users and devices, and only increase coverage after confirming the solution is reliable.

Assign employee and helpdesk advocates

We also had employee and helpdesk advocates on the team who represented the user experience from those perspectives. This helped us architect our implementation in a way that avoided putting excess burden on employees or technical support staff.

Clear employee communications

Communicating clearly with employees so that they know what is happening is very important. We sent our employees, partners, and company leaders regular communications whenever we made important changes, ensuring motivations were well understood and there was a window for feedback and iteration prior to enforcement changes.

Run highly reliable systems

Since every request goes through the core BeyondCorp infrastructure, we needed a global, highly reliable and resilient set of services. If these services are degraded, employee productivity suffers.

We used Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) principles to run our BeyondCorp services.

Next time

In the next post in this series, we will go deeper into when you should trust a device, what data you should use to determine whether or not a device should be trusted, and what we have learned by going through that process.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more, you can check out the BeyondCorp research papers. In addition, getting started with BeyondCorp is now easier using zero trust solutions from Google Cloud (context-aware access) and other enterprise providers.