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Politics

Google warns US senators of foreign hackers targeting their Gmail accounts

The warnings could bring more scrutiny of Google in Washington.

Google's campus next to headquarters in Mountain View, California

Google issued warnings to US senators about the security of their Gmail accounts.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google has warned some US senators and their aides that foreign government hackers have targeted their personal Gmail accounts, the search giant confirmed Thursday.

But a Google spokesman declined to offer additional details on how many people were notified, where the state-sponsored attacks are coming from, and when the warnings went out. The Associated Press earlier reported the news.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate leadership mentioning the email targeting, but only referred to Google as a "major technology company." Google on Thursday confirmed it's the company.

The news comes as tech giants are still under fire after Russian trolls abused their platforms to sow discord and spread false news among US voters in the 2016 elections. Google, Facebook and Twitter have also said they've already detected new campaigns from foreign actors attempting to influence public opinion ahead of the US midterm elections.

Last month, Google said it was removing 58 accounts tied to Iran from YouTube and other Google services that were part of an "influence operation." The disclosure followed similar ones from Facebook and Twitter. 

In July, Facebook said it discovered a new campaign of "inauthentic behavior" that's used dozens of Facebook pages and accounts, and $11,000 worth of ads, to promote political causes. Then last month the company said it was removing more than 600 "inauthentic" pages, groups and accounts with ties to Russia and Iran. Twitter followed with a seemingly related disclosure, saying it'd suspended 284 accounts with ties to Iran for "coordinated manipulation."

Google says it's issued warnings to individual Gmail users of phishing attempts -- which seek to steal people's passwords and other credentials -- from state-sponsored actors since 2012. It sends the alerts "out of an abundance of caution," the company said. It added that getting a notice "does not necessarily mean that the account has been compromised or that there is a widespread attack."

Still, the alerts have the potential to attract more attention to Google from Washington. Earlier this month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate over election security, disinformation and the perceived biases of the companies' algorithms. Larry Page, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google itself, were invited, but both declined, spurring widespread anger from lawmakers.

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