Was Google Docs Hacked?

February 6, 2023 • Shannon Flynn


In 2023, it’s a matter of research to uncover if any online venue is safe for users. So, was Google Docs hacked, and should businesses and individuals trust their files to remain safe in Google Drive? 

Google is no stranger to breaches and hacker threats, but as the remote work trend continues to rise, more and more sensitive files linger within Google’s cloud. Companies are also moving to clouds to prevent overreliance on physical data centers, so the motivations are wide-ranging and plentiful. Google Drive hacks can be highly destructive for businesses and individuals alike. These factors make online Google products tantalizing to malicious actors, and they’ve fashioned creative exploits. 

Is Google Drive a security risk, as many fear?

Google Docs Hacked Through Comments in 2022

Administering permissions and granting access throughout an organization, or even to friends and family as an individual, is a few clicks away in Google Docs. Managing documents and performing edits is simple to communicate through comments and viewable changes. However, hackers found it easy to trick everyone using the comments feature in 2022 by inserting malicious links to weave their way into more internal digital infrastructure.

Upon tagging an individual, Google sends an automated notification email with the commenter’s name and comment — regardless if it includes a link or not — it’s not verified before the email sends. It expedites phishing and malware attempts when users get catalyzed to click harmful links quickly.

Users have respect and trust for Google, as the tech giant should have robust internal measures to prevent issues like this from happening. The complacency users have conditions them not to second-guess incoming communications — even if the email comes from Google, every email user must enter every email with caution. 

Users assume scans and cybersecurity infrastructure will protect them. However, if threat actors use internal services to communicate, it has a trustworthy facade with hostile intent.

Google Sent Patches to Prevent Potential Hacks in 2021

Google’s Vulnerability Reward Program is a way to crowdsource tech support. Experts can submit noticeable gaps in security or other issues to Google to receive compensation for their efforts. In 2021, Google responded to a submission that patched a security gap that could’ve invited hackers to abuse Google Docs.

Google has a feedback feature, and each service, whether the search engine or Docs, has the same feature and goes through the same channels. Therefore, Google Docs submissions, which include screenshots, run through Google’s domain before the feedback domain. Hackers could take advantage of the data when passing through the feedback domain, stealing screenshots before they had a chance for Google’s servers to upload them fully.

Though the patch fixed this issue, it makes others wonder how many other unknown gaps exist in the corners of Google Docs.

Google Docs Worm Appeared in 2017

Even six years after the initial scare, the infamous Google Docs worm worries cybersecurity analysts about the cloud service’s defenses. Instead of tricking users through comments, the hackers obtained access to Google Docs through other means and attempted to send permissions requests to users — with fake links to receive login credentials. Then, that individual’s contact list also received dangerous emails, spreading the worm to over a million accounts.

It’s expected for hackers to impersonate credible sources instead of sending cold emails from unknown senders — AI spam filters and blocklisting initiatives curbed these attacks to a point.

The attack reminded analysts how hackers manipulate existing services to their advantage instead of always resorting to 100% novel methods. Though Google responded to this threat by tightening its hold on what third-party apps could integrate with Google’s suite, it won’t stop cybercriminals from finding new ways to bend internal functionality to deceive less cautious users.

Will Hackers Infiltrate Google Docs Again in 2023?

At this time, Google Docs remains as safe as possible. Repeated incidents should raise concerns, especially in workplaces, and incite more aggressive cybersecurity training and prevention protocols. Companies should constantly monitor employee usage to find security gaps and instruct accordingly. 

Additionally, these innovative hacking methods from Google Docs breaches highlight the importance of diversifying defense strategies, like employing white hat hackers. As with any enterprise, every digital environment could be susceptible to another attack — it’s just a matter of preparation for when it happens.