I always find it fairly shocking how many people don’t seem to particularly care about keeping their email accounts safe and secure. Whether or not they’re trying to keep their computer safe in other ways, email seems to be neglected more often than not.
Given how much personal information – passwords, website data, even financial stuff – is often linked to an account, not exercising safe email practices is tantamount to parking your car in a dangerous neighborhood with the doors open and your wallet inside.
Sure, there’s a chance nothing bad will happen. But there’s also a good chance you’ll end up missing your engine, your wallet, and your wheels.
Someone who gains access to your email account could potentially nab your personal information, contact list, or even your financial information. They could potentially use your email as a springboard to gain access to accounts you’ve got on other websites, and could easily sell your personal data to any number of shady advertising agencies.
Basically, these are people whose greasy hands you don’t want all over your account.
Even worse, a compromised email account isn’t just dangerous for you – it can be dangerous to your friends as well. There are a great many worms that spread through ‘infected’ accounts or systems, tossing out pages of spam and garbage messages to friends and family.
What I’m saying is that you’d have to be stupid not to keep an eye on your email.
Here are six things every web surfer should remember to do to keep their email safe.
Run Regular Spyware/Adware Scans
Keyloggers are an insidious tool basically designed for the express purpose of harvesting user passwords. Type your password in once with a keylogger hiding on your system, and you’re hosed. Whoever deployed the malware already has access to your info.
There exists all sorts of malware such as this designed to harvest information from poor, unsuspecting chumps. Do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Ensure you run regular spyware and malware scans, and run them before logging in to any of your accounts.
Change Your Information Often
This may seem like a bit of a pain, but it’s actually a good idea, as a general rule, to update your password every once in a while. It’s not as critical as most of the other items on this list, but just the same, it could help you protect yourself in the event that someone might be trying to hack into your account. As a general rule of thumb, you should change your password at least once every few months or so- and make sure to write it down somewhere in the event that you might forget it.
NOTE: DON’T put your password into a plain-text file on your computer. Or even a spreadsheet. Use a dedicated password manager which encrypts the database. Something like Lastpass.
Addendum: If you even remotely suspect your account’s been compromised, change everything. Change your security information, your password, hell, even your date of birth. Make sure you do everything you can to lock out anyone who might be using your account for nefarious purposes.
An Email From Someone You Know Might Not Be
This is the folly I most often see people fall to when it comes to email. They receive an email from their friend Bill, going “lol check out this funny picture.” Of course, “Bill” never actually sent that picture in the first place. You see, the email just says it’s from Bill. What’s actually happened is that somewhere along the line, Bill’s account was compromised. What that means is that somehow, someone gained access to his email, or his contact list. Probably both. And now? They’re going nuts.
The trouble is, a lot of people don’t realize that email is a lot like snail mail. All it takes is knowing the return address, and you can easily masquerade as someone you’re not. The people who don’t realize this, will simply click the attachment, or access the website, and boom. Malware.
This is actually really easy to avoid. Contact people. No, don’t do it via email. Instead, get ahold of them through alternative channels. Look Bill up on Facebook. Talk to him on an instant messenger. Phone him, for god’s sake. Ask him if he sent this email before you open it.
If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Is: Trust No One
There are a lot of kind, generous, caring souls on the internet….scam artists call them marks.
And that’s their first problem. It’s great to be kind, caring, and genuine in real life, but on the ‘net…just don’t. People don’t send unsolicited emails to people they’ve never met asking for help. Ever. If you receive an email asking for donations, or requesting aid with a bank account, or getting someone out of their country…ignore it, because whoever sent it is full of manure.
No, that guy isn’t really royalty. No, that girl isn’t lonely and looking for love – or female, for that matter. No, that charity doesn’t exist. People need to get it through their heads: those people are all scam artists.
It’s a harsh reality:
People on the internet suck.
Most of you probably already know this. I’d imagine the majority of my reader base is savvy enough to know when someone’s trying to scam them. Thing is, do your friends and relatives? Does grandmother know that the sob story she’s hearing from the 15-year-old victim of war in the Congo is probably being sent by a 40-year-old scumbag trying to make a quick dollar? No?
Tell your friends, relatives, and family- anyone you can think of who uses the internet. They’ll thank you when they don’t get their identity stolen.
If It’s From Someone You Don’t Know, Don’t Open It
I prefer to call this ‘exercising caution’ rather than ‘insane, rambling, paranoia.’ Generally, if you receive an email message from someone you don’t know or a website you can’t recall subscribing to, it’s bad news. Unless you’re a freelance contractor who’s used to people coming to you for work, you generally shouldn’t be receiving unsolicited messages from complete strangers. It’s usually safe to open the body of the message itself (most mail clients block all potentially unsafe content) but don’t even think about clicking any links, or opening any attachments- not unless you fancy giving your system a healthy dose of viral soup, with a side of identity theft.
Watch Out For Phishing Scams
Pay attention to the emails you’re receiving. Pay attention to the terms and conditions of websites you’ve signed up for. If you receive an email asking for your password, or a message notifying you of a password recovery attempt you didn’t initiate…be suspicious. Do not click any of the links in the email message. Phishing scams are sites designed to look like legitimate pages so users will be fooled into entering their personal data. This isn’t even email safety as much as it is general web safety. Be sure that the message from “Blizzard Tech Support” is really coming from Blizzard (Hint: it’s not) before accessing the link in the message.
Funny- all of these steps involve exercising caution. Fancy that. Be cautious in your online dealings, and your email will get through just fine.
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