You might wonder why hackers are interested in stealing email addresses and passwords. There are lots of reasons and none of them are philanthropic. An email address can open the door to all sorts of fraud from using the contacts in your address book to spam people to accessing your financial details. You can deter these hacks by protecting your email accounts with a few simple steps.
An email address is often a gateway to someone’s online life. Stealing emails details is one of the most common forms of identity theft. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice charged a ring of hackers operating from Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Canada, with carrying out ‘the largest data breach of names and email addresses in the history of the Internet.’
That’s quite a claim and it’s alleged over a billion email addresses from email service providers that were stolen with the hackers allegedly making millions of dollars. The stolen information was used send “spam” to tens of millions of email recipients. The emails contained hyperlinks to a company called Marketbay.com which marketed a large range of products. Marketbay.com was owned by one of the hackers.
Why hackers are interested in your email address
You can see how valuable email addresses are to hackers. The above example is specific but generally there are three main reasons why hackers prize email accounts:
- Email account takeover: A hacker can email your contacts and others as if they were you. It’s a common trick to send spam from your address or gain even more personal information about you. At the same time a hacker can change your password so you can’t access your own account, and can delete your email messages and contacts.
- Accessing financial information: If a thief gets your email password and your email account is connected to credit card or bank accounts you could be in trouble. The hacker can determine the name of your card issuer or other service and posing as you cause all sorts of problems such as changing your address on the account and having a new card sent to that address. They can also contact you posing as a company you are dealing with. One woman recently lost over £40,000 due to this type of scam.
- Targeted phishing: If a hacker can see the businesses that you communicate with, they can call or email you posing as one of those businesses and try to steal even more information from you. Essentially they pose as you.
How to protect your email
These are the reasons why hackers love to get your email information and here are some steps you can take to stop them from doing so:
- Use a secure email account
When signing up for a web-based e-mail account or any other account on the internet there will be a verification process. These are often additional layers of information knownnonly to you such as answering specific security questions. Also do your research on finding a secure email account. Some are more secure than others but you’ll find reviews online which will give you a good sense of reputations.
Each email service provider you're using will have its own security measures so all you need to is to simply follow the instructions aimed at securing your account. If you’re looking at an email account that lacks security features, don’t even think about it. Keep in mind that no email service is 100 percent safe so do everything possible to make it difficult to hack.
- Different emails for different purposes
It’s a good idea to consider using different email accounts for different purposes. For instance, you can have one for work-related communications, one for personal use and one for business, and one for online shopping. This spreads the risk and also helps you establish what precisely may have been compromised if one of them is hacked.
- Make it difficult to guess your email address
When you sign up for an email account you’ll be asked to create a name. It’s tempting to use JohnSmith@... or John.Smith@... However, if you include a number, symbol or unusual name it makes it much harder for someone to simply guess your email address.
- Protect your email password
Guard your email password like a piece of pure gold. Do not give it to anybody else, don’t store it in your email drafts folder or anywhere it can be accessed.Your password is valuable, so treat it as such and keep it confidential.
If you’ve got an existing web-based email account you can tighten up security by adding an extra phone number and alternative email address for a password recovery. If your account is hacked and the password has been changed it will help you get control of it again.
- Take note of messages from your email provider
React promptly to messages about possible attacks to your email account. If you receive a message from your email provider that they are concerned about the email being compromised, follow it up. Read it carefully and be aware that the email might be a scam too – it happens. However, there are generally give-away signs behind such emails such as bad grammar and links to change passwords. Don’t click on these links, the email provider won’t send such emails. You can always change the password from within the account.
If you are suspicious that an email from your email provider is a scam you should contact the provider directly. Some companies have email abuse or inquiry departments; check their website for more information.
Having an email account of any description inevitably means that you’re going to receive junk mail, offer emails and even phishing emails. The golden rule is to treat emails that are too good to be true such as those promising prizes, money exchanges, unexpected wins, great holidays, eternal love, licentious libidos and anything similar give them a wide berth, that is, delete immediately and don’t look back.
Of course, all of this additional security can be defeated if hackers gain control over your computer through malicious software. Good internet security software will makes sure this doesn’t happen and also flag up websites with malicious links. Phishing emails will try and direct you to these sites.
However, you can also take extra protection with a tool like BullGuard Premium Protection. This alerts you should your email passwords appear anywhere on the internet than they should be. It’s a great way of heading off potential damage from hacked email accounts and beating hackers at their own game.