Email is one of the most important mediums of communication used in our face-paced modern lives. Email accounts contain information on our friends, family and ourselves... sometimes, important personal information.
We all know the internet is the stalking ground for some shady characters. Identify thieves, spammers and unscrupulous advertisers all have great reasons to try to get into your mailbox. In fact, criminal justice colleges now train security professionals to focus on electronic and computer security almost as much as physical security. Let’s look at how these individuals attempt to access information within your account, how you can tell you’ve been hacked and how to stop it.
How Hackers Do It
Hackers use different methods to gain access to either your email account or your contact list. Automated programs can enter the user ID from the first part of your email address, and then try to guess the password. These programs know just how often they can try your password without locking down the account and how long to wait between attempts without locking the account.
Others use a less direct method of sending emails that contain malicious attachments. We’ve all seen emails from random strangers announcing something so amazing, we must open the attachment. Such an attachment launches a program that looks at your contact list, composes an email just like the one that came to you and sends it out to everyone you know. It might even mask the "from" address to make it look like the email didn’t come from you.
Tell-Tale Signs You’ve Been Hacked
Most people don’t even realize when they’ve been hacked. Email blasting attachments don’t show up in the sent box. You’re first indication that something is wrong might be getting a call from a friend asking about a suspicious email from “you.” Most hackers are careful not to leave evidence that they were in your account. This helps them come back later and see if there is anything else worth stealing.
Another obvious sign is discovering that your account is locked out or that your password no longer works. A hacker may have accidently locked out your account, or changed your password in an attempt to take control of your email for a longer period. Some email systems ask you to authenticate when you log in from a new computer or change account details.
Receiving a sudden, unsolicited email to confirm account changes is a clear sign that a hacker has been in your account. Same programs, like Gmail for instance, will notify you if someone logs onto your account from another location so you can change your password right away.
How to Recover
If you see any of the telltale signs, change your password immediately. If you use the hacked password on other accounts, you need to change them as well. Remember, if someone has your email address and password and you use the same password everywhere, you’re opening yourself up to even more damage.
Also remember that any password simple enough for you to remember every day is much too easy to hack. Create passwords that mix upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Change that password every three months. The only practical way to follow these guidelines is to use a password manager.
If you discover your account is locked out, you should follow the instructions of your email provides in recovering your account. Usually email providers have a backup email that you can fill in to help verify your identity in a situation like this, but you must set it up in advance. Go to your email security settings now and make sure you have this vital safety measure in place.