How safe is your email?
Having your email account hacked is horrible. The consequences of an attacker getting into your email and accessing private information could have significant consequences and does not lead to a pretty outcome. Just think of the numerous celebrities who’ve experienced these embarrassing breaches or remember the Sony Pictures and former presidential candidates email hacking scandals.
These are just the famous cases we hear about in the news. With the rise of cloud technologies making your email available anywhere in the world 24×7 the possibility of your email being compromised has dramatically increased.
Considering that most email accounts are protected by only a username/password (and with your username generally being your email address) potential hackers already have 50% of the information they need to access your account.
By using some simple precautions, you can make it harder for the criminals or even defeat them altogether.
So what can you do?
- Create smart, strong passwords and keep them private
The humble password is not as secure as it used to be, but choosing a strong password can help. The longer the better, using a mixture of numbers, lower & uppercase letters & special characters. It almost goes without saying, but keep your password private. Don’t tell anyone & don’t write it on a post-it note stuck to your screen!
- Change your password regularly & make it unique just for your email
Using a single password for multiple accounts is a rookie mistake. What if someone did get hold of your password? They would then also have access to all your other accounts eg facebook, ebay, banking sites etc. That’s almost asking for trouble!
- Watch out for “phishing” scams
Attackers often impersonate high-profile websites (eg eBay, Australia Post, Facebook, Google etc) and say they want to ‘verify your account’ or fix an error; they pretend that all you have to do is send them your username and password to verify your authenticity and fix their alleged problem. Many times they’ll even link you to a fake website that looks exactly like the real thing. Don’t do it!
- Be wary of links in emails
This is particularly true in the case of unsolicited emails. If you get an email from your bank or any other service (eg bill payments), always visit the website manually. Never copy and paste or direct click the link. You’ll thank yourself later.
Stepping it up another level: 2 factor authentication
In addition to standard passwords, another level of security called two-factor authentication is becoming increasingly available and in principle it is a very simple process. You still use your username and password but the extra form of authentication is a unique code generated by an SMS or a smartphone app that has to be put in at the time of login.
It means that to access your email you have something the attacker cannot get to, securing your account with another layer of security.
Banks have been using this technology for a while, and now most email providers (such as Microsoft Office 365 & gMail) are offering two-factor or two-step authentication for free, so it is worth activating on your accounts.
In summary, be smart – don’t get lazy and risk any embarrassment or being the next internet sensation – for all the wrong reasons!