Much of the world’s business today is conducted online, and it’s likely that most of your daily life involves interacting on the internet in several ways. We’ve all been warned about the dangers of online hackers and identity theft. We’re told that our credit cards and financial information is at risk of cyber attack, but what about your email address? When you notice unusual behavior in your email account, is there really that much to worry about?
Why would a hacker want access to your email address?
You use your email address for communication and correspondence at the very least, and likely as a method of verification and identification for conducting business online. Consider the following communications and items that may be found in your email address, and what personal information could be contained therein:
- Rental application (likely with your social security number, addresses, full name, etc.)
- New password and password reminder requests
- Personal, family photos and messages (children are prime targets for identity theft)
- Work documents
- E-invites for social events
- Online purchase confirmations (usually with partial card info)
- Flight and travel information with location details and card info
Starting to feel a little anxious?
You should. Hackers often breach large institutions to steal mass amounts of email addresses to scour them for information to sell. Once they have it, it’s not hard to piece together vital data, act on your behalf to change info in order to get credit cards send to them (in your name), hold your info ransom, or take over all of your other accounts.
When you think about it, how often do you give your email addresses to retailers or other stores to receive promos or coupons? How secure are these stores with your email address?
While not having an email address isn’t an option, there are definitely steps you can take to make your email accounts more secure. Here are five top strategies for email protection.
1. Create a secret email address
One way to prevent disaster is to use multiple email addresses, and one specifically for confidential information. Use this email address for your online banking, your credit card online account, etc. but NEVER for online purchases or to use in stores. Don’t use it for work, or for personal use at all. In fact, you may never even need to use this email address for communication other than to receive emails from your specific financial institutions.
2. Never share personal info via email
Don’t even trust emails to your mother to be safe. If it’s in a widely-used email account, it can be stolen and misused. Use snail-mail for applications, or apply in person if possible. On the phone works, too, but assume that once it’s been sent over the internet, it’s vulnerable.
3. Enable two-step authentication
Most email hosts allow for two-step authentication for extra security. This entails anybody who tried to log into your email account to enter a unique security code that is sent to your phone via text (or another method you choose) to ensure that it’s actually you logging in.
4. Use a password generator
Most of us would probably fail in the “password strength” department. But it can’t be said enough – do not use passwords that can be guessed and do not reuse passwords. Don’t use a variation of a previous or existing password. A good idea for a password is to look around you and make up a nonsensical sentence, such as “my dog by the fridge is 24 years young.” Translate this to a password, such as “MdbtFRis24yy.” Who’s ever going to guess that in a million years?
5. Create a secret password file
Obviously, having unique, impossible-to-guess passwords like this will be hard to remember, so consider creating a word file on your computer (that you NEVER send over the internet) to store them. Label this document something inconspicuous, like “Grandma’s Chocolate Cake Recipe,” so that should someone ever hack your hard drive this file will likely go unnoticed. You can then access it whenever you need to look up a password.
Learn to identify signs of identity theft so that you can take immediate action if you’ve been compromised. Identity theft is common and hard to combat, but by taking preventative measures and being proactive you can minimize the chances of it happening to you and the damages if it does.