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February 18, 2020

How to Keep Your Email Safe from Hackers

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Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The news constantly informs us that our emails are not safe from hackers. The large scale attacks draw the attention of the media, but the truth is that hackers are at work 24/7, and numerous smaller-scale attacks are a constant threat to all email addresses. Automatic hacker programs are trolling continuously in an attempt to gain access to vulnerable emails. 

There are steps that you can take to help protect your email from hackers, but first, you need to do a personal email search to make sure your email has not previously been hacked.  The following steps will help you determine if your email is currently secure. 

  • Check your email and review the devices that have accessed your email to confirm that you recognize the devices.  For some email accounts, this information is under recent activity. 
  • Check your sent messages and make sure that there are no emails that you did not send. 
  • Visit the website HaveIBeenPwned.com and put in your email address. The site will check your email against all known attacks. 
  • Google your email using quotation marks to see what information is tied to your email account. 

Once you have determined that your email is currently not compromised, you need to take steps to make it as secure as possible. Experts warn that no email account is entirely secure, so it is essential to be careful about sending personal or financial information via email. If you do need to send personal or financial information, delete the emails and empty the cache as soon as the correspondence is over. 

To protect the security of your email:

  • Use a secure password. Using good password protocol and changing your password frequently is one of the most robust measures for keeping your email secure. It is easy to become complacent and use easy to remember passwords across multiple accounts. Unfortunately, that means that if your email is hacked, the hacker can then gain access to other accounts using the same password.

    A strong password would consist of a minimum of eight characters, upper and lower case characters with numbers and symbols in random order. Using this type of password makes it extremely difficult for a hacker to crack your password, even when using specialized software programs designed to decipher passwords.

  • Use up to date virus protection on your computer and run frequent scans. Some viruses can capture keystrokes on your computer, meaning that no password is safe, and everything you do on your computer is at risk. 
  • Never use public WiFi to access your email. Public WiFi puts you at risk for anyone else using the WiFi to hack your information.
  • Consider using a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt data, adding another layer of protection for sensitive information. VPNs do slow down your internet speeds, so it is generally safe to disable them for streaming videos and general browsing activities. 
  • Avoid phishing scams. Phishing scams, which start with an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, have been around forever because they still work. You click on an email that appears to come from a friend or an institution, and they ask that you click the link in the email. 

The link could be a virus that will download malicious software to your device, or it could take you to a site that appears legitimate, such as your bank or credit card company, but is not. You will then be asked to enter your account information and password. Remember, no legitimate institution will ask you to click on a link or download an attachment to make changes to your account. 

It is better to be overly suspicious than to give away critical personal data. If the email is from a friend and appears suspicious, contact the friend. It is possible that their account was hacked and they have no idea. Contact your financial institution if you suspect an email from them is a phishing scam.


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