If you have ever experienced an intrusion into your email account, you may feel vulnerable, but you're not alone. In fact, it happens to millions of individuals. Whether infiltrating personal-use emailers, entire organizations of email users, or even the Secretary of State and top government officials, the instances of email hacks have run rife, especially with evolving conveniences in technology. If you have not experienced such a breach, then you are in a fortunate place: you can learn an important tech-security lesson without having to first suffer the consequences of being vulnerable.
The lesson, simple sounding enough, is to ensure that your emails have appropriate safeguards and securities. The more daunting aspect of this lesson is in trying to know exactly what you are protecting your email from.
Unfortunately, there is no single weakness in a computer or network that allows hackers to gain access to your email. Some gain access by obtaining your email and personal information, and simply using that information to guess or reset your email password. More automated versions of password hacking include brute force attacks or dictionary attacks
Other times, access into your account can be gained by sharing a connection over public wifi, or finding a way into your business network. One of the more vicious, and most common attacks is due to a virus or malware. Malware can enable various programs, including programs with the ability to remotely control your computer, record every keystroke you make, or open your computer to receive unwanted media and advertisements.
As technology evolves and hackers grow hungrier, attack strategies will also evolve. A productive strategy of protecting your digital information is to prevent opportunities for intrusion. Here are some basic protections that everyone should adopt to prevent email vulnerability.
Strong Passwords - The First Line Of Defense
Passwords are the most basic method of protecting your email account, and yet they are often chosen for their ability to be easily remembered rather than difficult to guess. When people choose familiar patterns, such as “123456” (which continues to be a commonly used password), or familiar words and phrases, such as “password,” they are leaving an open door into their accounts and digital information. Rotating formulas made up of personal information, such as a pet or favorite book, plus a number or year, is also common, and similarly very easy to guess.
These types of passwords have their appeal in their ability to be shared, if multiple users need to access the same email or network, as well as in their being memorable, which is ever more attractive when the number of accounts, devices, and profiles for each person grows.
However, in a time when personal information, likes, dislikes and interests are easily accessible through social media, blogs and internet searches, the need for strong passwords is more critical than ever. In addition to creating a password void of personal information or common word and number sequences, here are some good tips offered by Google:
- Do not use the same password for important accounts. Using different passwords for your email, bank, and social media accounts, for example, will help maintain the security of your banking and social media information if your email account gets compromised.
- Make your password hard to guess for humans and machines. Using a mix of numbers, upper case and lower case letters, and symbols will significantly increase the matrix of possible combinations needed to guess your password. For this same reason, longer passwords are stronger than short passwords.
- Make sure your recovery information is up to date and correct in case you need to reset your password. This includes your email, phone number, and security questions being accurate, and that your preferences for security code (i.e. do you want to receive a security code via email or text message) are up to date.
Enable a Second Line of Defense
In addition to having a strong password, enabling your email’s 2-Step Verification strengthens the access security to your account by requiring a unique code to log in. This code is unique each time you log into your account, and sent to your phone. Enabling this 2-step verification, then, would require an unwanted user to have both knowledge of your password as well as physically be in possession of your phone in order to log into your account.
Encrypt Your Information
Strengthening your password and increasing the security of your email account will aid in keeping unwanted users out of your account, but, as mentioned earlier, breaking into accounts is only one way that hackers are able to retrieve emails. Each email itself is vulnerable while it is in transit. One way to protect the information that you are sending, particularly if you are not using a personal or secure network, is to employ encryption. While many email servers and several businesses may use encryption, these encrypted networks are only protecting your inbox and emails when they exist in those servers. For full protection, users should utilize software or security measures that allow end to end encryption. That way an email that is intercepted as it is moving from server to server, and the contents will be unreadable without a special key.
Be Vigilant and Avoid Phishing Emails
One of the simplest ways of keeping your computer and email secure is to check for unusual activity and be vigilant of phishing emails. Avoid clicking on links in emails that you did not sign up for which are requesting your information, or offering you products and services. If you wish to pursue the offer or request, leave your email and proceed to the business’s website. Do not open links or pursue emails that have been sent by an unknown user. Be aware of unusual looking emails, such as those containing misspelled words, incorrect information, or threats.
While the all of the above steps are important for maintaining the privacy and efficiency of your email, protecting your computer and network as a whole are invaluable measures that will have positive affects on the safety of your communications and business information. Some measures that will aid your overall security include utilizing at least one anti-virus software, and running it regularly.
Additionally, making sure that you are staying on top of all software updates will limit the number of breaches you are exposed to. Similarly, update your operating system and internet browsers whenever updates are available. Finally, be aware of vulnerabilities and attacks that are occurring. Whether that requires you to read multiple software reviews before purchasing, staying up to date with tech news, or employing knowledgeable and reliable IT vendor that will maintain your security, the safety of your email, sensitive business data.