So, why are senior U.S. officials using Gmail?

Google says U.S. government officials were target of phishing attack

When Google announced that hackers had gone after Gmail users, the company noted that they specifically targeted U.S. government officials and military personnel.

In fact, Google said the hackers, who the company alleges were based in China, were aiming for "senior" U.S. government officials. And that raises the question of what government leaders are doing using Gmail in the first place.

U.S. government officials, after all, have access to official government email systems that have layer after layer of security. So how does Gmail, Google's cloud-based email service, come into play?

There's a two-layered answer.

First, Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, pointed out that Google, which is fighting Microsoft for enterprise customers, has been pushing hard to get government agencies - all the way from small and local to big, federal organizations - to move to Google Apps. And that effort seems to be working.

Late last year, for instance, the U.S. General Services Administration, which supports and manages federal agencies, announced that it was moving all of its approximately 17,000 workers to the cloud, and to Gmail in particular. The U.S. State Department, NASA and the Army also have moved some of their email services to Gmail.

Add to that list of users the cities of Seattle and Los Angeles and the D.C. government.

"Look at the Google Apps customer list and you'd be surprised at how many top government agencies utilize Gmail and other Google Apps.... It's pretty staggering," said Shimmin. "They don't tell us how many per industry, but you'll see there are quite a few government agencies using Google Apps and Gmail is a key function of Google Apps -- so you'll see it used a lot."

OK, so some key government agencies officially use Gmail. Now comes the second layer of this issue.

Most people have a work email, but they also have a secondary, generally free, email service for their personal use. Actually, Shimmin noted that 90% of Internet users have more than one email address.

That means some government officials might discuss critical, security sensitive topics on their highly secure government email accounts and then get their kid's soccer schedule or make dinner plans on their personal Gmail account. And they also might forward work emails to their personal account simply so they can read them at home.

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