You may not realize it, but your organization is probably using one or more free email accounts from platforms like Google and Microsoft. Smaller companies may still be using them as their primary email accounts (let’s talk – you need to stop doing that!), but most have moved up to what we call “enterprise-grade” versions from the same providers. Despite upgrading their email to the more secure, paid services, many companies opt to continue using free-mail accounts for various applications like email copier scanning, Quickbooks invoicing, and automation systems that send out email alerts. In the case of the latter two, not having this functionality could result in some pain or even safety concerns.
What did you do, Google?
I looked back at my long-standing free Gmail account to see if Google sent any notifications out about this change. I don’t see anything in an email, but it’s likely they posted on-screen notices in their webmail interface, which I rarely see as I use Outlook or my phone to view email for this particular account, so I’m going to say this was a stealth change. What changed? They removed the “less secure apps” feature on May 30th of this year. Unless you are a Gmail aficionado or in IT, you probably aren’t going to know what this does, or how it impacts you now that it’s gone. In a nutshell, it allowed you to use your Gmail account with applications that Google considers “less secure” – including Outlook (a little rivalry shade or legit concern?) and more importantly, any device or service that uses SMTP delivery to send emails via their servers, such as your multi-function copier when you scan to email, or your building automation alarms that send emails to engineers or security that there is a leak or a door propped open. If you suddenly find that something that was previously Gmail-powered has stopped sending emails, it’s probably because you were using the less secure apps feature to do so.
How do you fix this?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as turning that feature back on – Google has removed it completely. Now you will have to set up an “app password” for your service or function to use. As the name would imply, app passwords are passwords that are set up for a specific application and only that application. You can have multiple app passwords for your email account, and they aren’t recoverable or resettable if you happen to lose them. That’s OK because they can be re-created easily and without additional cost (except for your time) as long as you can log into your Gmail account using your main password. However, in order to enable the app password feature, you have to set up 2-Factor Authentication for your account, and before you think of jumping ship to Microsoft’s Outlook.com free-mail service, they are doing the same thing – requiring 2-factor authentication before you can set up app-specific passwords. You can thank the hackers and spammers for this – they have been abusing free-mail accounts for years and finally the big boys are doing something about it by locking down exploited features of free-mail accounts, but rest unassured – this will only slow them down, and create minor headaches for everyone else. Get used to it – two factor isn’t going away anytime soon.