For many of us, email has become our primary method of communication in both our business and personal lives. An email address, however, is often used for many more purposes than simply sending electronic messages. Many of us use our email address to log into social networking sites, utility and credit card sites, banking sites, and much more.
Your email account is often the gateway to your personal life, and thus, is a valuable target for hackers. John McAfee said, “Email accounts are the fundamental identifying elements of the internet. The assumption is that if a person has access to an email account then that is the real person. Yet these accounts are the easiest elements of the digital world to hack into.” According to a recent ZDNet study, with a single phishing email, about 45% of all recipients submitted their full login credentials. Another study by Intel found that 97% of all computer users could not identify all 10 out of 10 phishing emails.
Hackers have a variety of tools at their disposal, from sophisticated spear-phishing to malicious documents to social engineering tricks, so are you doing enough to protect your email privacy?
Follow these 8 best practices to help ensure that your email communications are kept private.
Use strong passwords
A strong password that is not easily guessed should contain a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use a password that can be easily guessed, and never use any of the passwords listed on the “most popular and therefore worst” passwords list. MDaemon includes tools that allow administrators to enforce strong password policies. See this blog post for more information.
Spammers know that many people use the same password across multiple sites and services. Therefore, you should be using a different password for each site.
Never click on suspicious links
Spammers have gotten very creative at making spam email messages look legitimate, using HTML and images that, when clicked, lead to fake websites designed to collect your personal information or to deliver malware, including keyloggers designed to capture everything you type, and ransomware, therefore, never click on links in an email message unless you’re absolutely sure you have verified and trust the sender.
Many phishing messages contain images such as logos that look legitimate, but, when clicked, lead to malicious sites. If you hover your mouse over a link, you can often see the destination URL, which often does not match the word or image associated with it.
If you see an “unsubscribe” link, don’t click on it! This would only serve to let the spammer know your address is valid and, more importantly, these links are easily forged and could lead to malware infections.
If you are prompted to click on a link that appears to point to a legitimate site that you know and trust, it is better to manually type the URL into your browser than to click on a link that has not been verified.
Never reply to spam or unsolicited email messages
Spam can be a very annoying nuisance, so as humans, we may let our emotions get the best of us and reply to a spam message with “Please take me off your email list” or “Quit spamming me!” There are two problems with replying to spam. First, many spam messages come from forged addresses, so the spammer is unlikely to receive your message. Second, replying can let the spammer know your address is legitimate, which may lead to even more spam.
Don’t post your email address in blog posts, online comments, or social media
Scammers often scrub social media sites for email address that they can exploit, so if you must post an email address to one of these sites, mask the address by adding spaces or spelling out (at) instead of using the @ symbol.
Email messages, by default, are transmitted in plain-text. This can potentially open them up to interception by a nefarious third-party. While SSL & TLS are used to encrypt the connection between mail clients and mail servers, it is good practice to encrypt the email message itself. Encryption protects sensitive data by converting plain-text to cipher text. This cipher text can only be decrypted using the proper private encryption key.
MDaemon has options for encrypting connections using SSL & TLS, as well as server-side and client-side encryption options using Virtru and OpenPGP. A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about these options. Click here to read about MDaemon’s encryption options.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
Passwords alone are often not enough to protect your data against increasingly sophisticated attacks. With two-factor authentication, users must provide a password and a unique verification code that is obtained via a client that supports Google Authenticator (available in the Google Play store). This blog post contains more information on how to use two-factor authentication with MDaemon and WorldClient.
Know the risks of using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi provides a convenient way to access the internet while on the go, but if you’re not careful, it may come at a great price. Unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are prime targets for hackers, who are often able to position themselves between you and the internet connection, allowing them to intercept every bit of information you transmit. Hackers can also use unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots to distribute malware. If you have file sharing enabled, you are especially vulnerable. To reduce risk, make sure any Wi-Fi hotspot you connect to is secured and from a reputable source that you trust. If you must connect to a public hotspot, it is good practice to use a VPN to ensure that transmitted data is encrypted.
Lock your computer when away from your desk
This may sound like a given, but an unattended computer that has not been locked allows anyone access to your information. You might not consider this a big issue if you work for a small business, but if you work in an industry with privacy regulations, such as health care or financial institutions, or if you store sensitive company information such as revenue or other confidential information, leaving your computer unlocked could have serious consequences, including loss of job, damaged company reputation, or even legal problems.
Whether your primary interest is protecting company information or your own personal data, email privacy is everyone’s responsibility, and often, the weakest point of entry into a treasure trove of sensitive data is a negligent or uninformed user. Don’t let that user be you. Use these tips to stay ahead of the bad guys!