You can’t be too vigilant when it comes to computer security.
It’s way too often that we hear of a new virus or another type of malware making the rounds. Email is often used to implant malware into a computer or direct the user to a malicious website. Once the computer has been compromised or you visit a malicious website, you’re at risk not only for computer problems but also vulnerable to getting your personal, financial and other information stolen. This can lead to identity theft, data loss and a host of other problems.
How To Keep Your Email Safe From Hackers
Here are some basic but crucial steps you can take to secure your email.
Choose a Strong Password
Choose a secure, random password and change it regularly. Choose a password that is at least eight characters long. The password should be a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Use a different password for each site you visit.
As an Information Technology expert, I can’t stress the importance of having a different password for each website. Imagine that someone gains access to your email account. One look through your email messages and they can get an idea of the other sites you visit: your bank, your 401(k) provider, your doctor’s office, Social Security, sites you use to pay bills online; for most of us, the list goes on. If you use the same password for all those sites, it will be very easy for someone to hack into those accounts.
Never share your password with anyone else nor should you write it down and leave it where others can see it. Working in IT, I cannot count the number of times I have seen a user write a password down and stick it to a computer monitor or leave it out in plain sight.
Be Careful With Security Questions
Choose your security questions wisely. Many websites require you to choose security questions when you register for an account. The security questions can be used if you forget your password and need to gain access to your account. When providing answers to the security questions, do not use real answers; instead, use nonsense answers.
Common security questions are: “What is your mother’s maiden name?” “What school did you go to?” “What street did you grow up on?” These are all easy-to-guess questions and answers. If the person trying to gain access to your account knows you, they can easily answer those questions. Or just by visiting someone’s social media page, you can often get that information.
I personally use my password manager to generate another password: a set of random numbers, letters and characters. I then enter those questions and answers in my password manager for each site so that I have the answers available if I ever need them.
Beware of Email Attachments and Hyperlinks
Do not open an email attachment unless you are expecting it, even if the email is from someone you know. If that person’s email account has been compromised, they may not have sent the attachment. If you are unsure if the attachment is legitimate, call the person who sent the attachment and ask them. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know. Delete the email immediately.
Do not click a hyperlink in an email message that you are unsure of. Often these hyperlinks take you to fake websites. Once there, you may be tricked into providing sensitive information. For example, the email may look like it is coming from your bank or someone else you do business with, and the website may ask you to provide personal information.
Hyperlinks can also take you to a website that contains a virus or other malware such as a keylogger or ransomware. As with an email attachment, click a hyperlink only if you’re expecting it and even then, be careful. If you are not sure, call the person who sent the message and ask.
Don’t Send Private Data via Email
Never send sensitive data in an email message. Once you send an email, it is out of your control. The email could be compromised on the way to the intended recipient, or the recipient may intentionally or unintentionally share that information with others or use the data for malicious purposes.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
While it may be convenient to connect to a public Wi-Fi network to check your email or do other work online, it is dangerous. Public networks are notoriously easy to break into. Wait until you are on a secure network to check your email.
Use Antivirus Software
Be sure to install a good antivirus program on your computer and keep it up to date.
Be Careful About Sharing Your Email Address With the Public
Do not share your email address on websites or forums. Spammers often scan these sites for email addresses. Once your email address has been collected, you will receive spam and possibly other dangerous emails. Do not click the “Unsubscribe” link in an email message. Doing so lets the spammers know your email address is legitimate, and that could lead to your receiving more bogus emails.
Open a Second Email Account
Open a second email account for websites you register for online such as message boards, Facebook and Twitter. Keep your personal email account private. Having a second email account will help to keep your personal account safe.
Learn To Spot Phishing Emails
Learn how to recognize phishing emails. Scammers find new ways daily to trick users into opening attachments or visiting dangerous websites. Often, they send threatening messages that make the user feel a sense of urgency to do as instructed. Your bank, the IRS, other government or financial institutions — or any other legitimate business — will not ask you for personal information in an email message.
If you receive a message and you are unsure whether it’s legitimate, call the business directly. Never click a link or call the phone number provided in the email message. Instead, use a web address or phone number that you know to be real. Never reply to spam email messages, as this only tells the spammer that the email account is active. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on its website on how to recognize these types of messages.
Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security when accessing your email account. It ensures that the person logging into the account is who they say they are. When you use two-factor authentication, you log into your account with your username and password as you would normally, but then you’ll be required to provide additional information to gain access to the account. The “second factor” could come from something you know such as a PIN number or secret question or as a single-use code sent to your smartphone.
Avoid Chain Letters
Never forward or respond to chain letters in an email message, even if it’s from someone you know. Chain letters are always scams and may contain viruses or other malware. They’re also an easy way for spammers to gain access to hundreds of valid email addresses at once. Each time one of these email messages is forwarded, everyone receiving the message gains access to everyone else’s email address. Delete any chain letter email messages you receive.
Learn the Difference Between ‘BCC’ and ‘CC‘
When you need to send an email to multiple people, it’s almost always best to use BCC (blind carbon copy). This prevents all of the email message recipients from seeing everyone else’s email address. When you use CC (carbon copy), everyone you send the message to can view all of the other email addresses. Ask your friends and family not to include you in forwarded messages unless they use BCC.
Don’t Forget To Log Out
Always log out of your email when you are finished using it. This helps prevent someone else from gaining access to your email. This is especially true when using a public computer or shared computer.