Nov 2011

Gmail Account Hacked?

So, I logged in to Gmail the other day, the first time I’ve been in using the web UI for quite some time. I normally just check Gmail from my iPad or phone.

A very nice feature of their web UI is the ability to see a record of account logon details showing the IP addresses from where your email account was accessed. If Google has detected use of your account from an IP address that it hasn’t seen before it shows a nice big red warning message at the top of the screen and recommends you immediately change your password. Unfortunately it was precisely this kind of message that was presented to me when I logged in.

This is a snippet of my login details showing the offending entry.

Screen Shot 2011-11-21 at 10.52.47 AM

Now, I usually access Gmail from home or the near vicinity, which is in Virginia, U.S, so seeing an entry claiming to geo-locate to Oklahoma was a little disturbing. I confirmed that this IP address was a DSL connection originating in that state. Of course I immediately changed my password from its already secure and complex version to an even longer impossibly complex one and checked all of my email rules to ensure they hadn’t been tampered with.

I have a number of questions and observations though.

  • I am a security professional and know how to secure my computers and devices. *
  • I don’t use computers or devices other than my own to access Gmail and my systems are to the best of my knowledge secure.
  • I always use SSL when connecting to Gmail.
  • My password was already very strong, long and complex.
  • What does Google mean by “accessed”?

It is this last question I wonder about. Was it just an attempt at accessing my account (e.g. trying to guess my password, but failing) or was somebody actually able to fully access my account using a successful login?

I hope it’s the former.

I don’t store any sensitive information in Gmail. It’s mainly used as a back-stop account, a secondary spam filter from my primary (non-Gmail) account so I wouldn’t really have lost any sensitive data. Still, it makes you a little paranoid when things like this happen.

[ * OK, I know I’m not immune but I would hope I stand a better chance than the average user at securing my stuff. ]

Dead MacBook Pro

My MacBook Pro died the day before yesterday. Well, more specifically, the video died.

All of a sudden the machine locked up and the display started flickering and showing odd colors. I tried rebooting several times but more often than not it didn’t seem to progress much beyond the spinning icon directly after startup.

That was when I realized I could remote-desktop (VNC) into the machine where I could see the login screen/desktop and everything appeared to be working just fine. So that told me it was the video card that was the issue.

I had heard about problems with higher than average failure rates for NVIDIA 8600M GT based older MacBook Pros (mine is an early 2008 model). See here.

Apparently my machine fell within the date range and type of malfunctioning models and supposedly Apple had now extended free repairs to affected systems to 4 years since purchase. Could I be in luck? I made an appointment at the local Apple Store Genius Bar for the next morning.

At the Apple Store they confirmed it was indeed the notorious NVIDIA failure and that it would be a free repair! 3 to 5 days until I would get it back.

This morning I received an email saying my machine was fixed and ready to pickup. A one day turnaround, for free. Now that’s pretty good service!

One slightly odd thing is that it appears that Apple zapped my password. The password in place when I booted it up was now blank. That’s a little sneaky and I wish they could have told me about it rather than me wonder why on earth it didn’t seem to want a password when logging in. I guess they just do it routinely when they encounter a password-protected system (but then I did have a Guest account logon enabled, so why not use that?). Anyway, the password is now reinstated and so far so good.

Photos and books

I have added a new main page, Other, where you will find 2 new sections; one for photos and one for books. Both are fairly limited right now but I’ll eventually add to them.