Sometimes when you are looking for an answer to one thing, you end up finding something else rather surprising. Case in point, Google’s statement that Mozilla Thunderbird is less secure, but why do they say that? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a confused reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Nemo wants to know why Google considers Thunderbird to be less secure:

I have never had problems using Gmail with Thunderbird, but while trying to use a free software client for Google Talk/Chat/Hangout I discovered the following unexpected statement. According to Google’s document on Less Secure Apps:

  • Some examples of apps that do not support the latest security standards include […] Desktop mail clients like Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird.

Google then offers an all-or-nothing secure vs. non secure account switch (“Allow less secure apps”).

Why does Google say Thunderbird does not support the latest security standards? Is Google trying to say that standard protocols like IMAP, SMTP and POP3 are less secure ways to access a mailbox? Are they trying to say that the activities users engage in with the software puts their accounts at risk or what?

Secunia’s Vulnerability Report on Mozilla Thunderbird 24.x says:

  • Unpatched 11 percent (1 of 9 Secunia advisories) […] The most severe unpatched Secunia advisory affecting Mozilla Thunderbird 24.x, with all vendor patches applied, is rated highly critical (apparently SA59803).

Why does Google say Mozilla Thunderbird is less secure?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Techie007 has the answer for us:

It is because those clients (currently) do not support OAuth 2.0. According to Google:

  • Beginning in the second half of 2014, we will start gradually increasing the security checks performed when users log into Google. These additional checks will ensure that only the intended user has access to their account, whether through a browser, device, or application. These changes will affect any application that sends a user name and/or password to Google.
  • To better protect your users, we recommend you upgrade all of your applications to OAuth 2.0. If you choose not to do so, your users will be required to take extra steps in order to keep accessing your applications.
  • In summary, if your application currently uses plain passwords to authenticate to Google, we strongly encourage you to minimize user disruption by switching to OAuth 2.0.

Source: New Security Measures Will Affect Older (non-OAuth 2.0) Applications (Google Online Security Blog)

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
Read Full Bio »