An email account is, in many ways, the digital version of your home address. A house is where you receive letters in your postbox and store your most valuable possessions. In a metaphorical sense, our email lets us receive messages on the net and keep some of our precious data.
Sadly, we don’t live on an island in the real and digital world. We must constantly deal with threats of intruders and criminals wanting to access our property. Here, we uncover this concept in more detail and how to react if someone has tampered with your email.
How to know if your email has been hacked?
Let’s go through the common tell-tale warnings:
Restricted access to your emails
One of the earliest signs is that you have been blocked, logged out suddenly, or cannot sign in. This would often be due to a changed password. If you try to sign in with your usual passcode and it fails, it’s a strong indication of trouble.
Strange emails in your inbox and sent folders
You will likely see unexpected messages when a hacker is in your inbox. Sometimes, your contacts may inform you about receiving strange or junk mail from your address.
Unusual IP addresses, devices, and browsers
Another tip in the signs of hacking is to verify the IP address of your login activity. Many services can tell you the different locations of where your mail has been accessed. Of course, it is a red flag if you see IP addresses and devices you don’t know.
What happens if a hacker has your email?
A cybercriminal can send dozens of spam or phishing messages to your contacts on a small scale. They may sell your email address where you end up receiving junk mail.
The large-scale consequences are more severe. Let’s look at them for further context.
A hacker can commit various forms of identity theft if you've kept certain information in your folders. Here are a few examples:
Your credit card information could enable unauthorized purchases
Funds may be transferred out of your accounts
Personal info may be used to create fake passports, licenses, and ID-type documentation for illegal purposes
In many cases, one goal of hacking is for an account takeover. So, many of your other accounts across your banking, social media, and other services may be compromised.
The other purpose is to infect your device with malware from links and attachments. It is quite destructive since the black hat can access your files and frustratingly slow down your computer system.
Malware can bring about things like spyware, keyloggers and ransomware, all designed to steal money, corrupt your content, or sell your data.
Is hacking someone's email account illegal?
Absolutely. It’s against the law in virtually all countries and can land someone in jail. It’s common for perpetrators to have various charges related to obstruction of justice, identity theft, and invasion of privacy.
So, if found guilty, the hacker could spend several years in prison. Alternatively, the punishment may be an expensive fine, house arrest, probation, many hours of community service, or any combination of the four.
What to do about hacked email?
Hacked email checkers are useful but may not always be accurate. Below are the precautions you should take in the case of a breach.
Change passwords and security questions
Changing your passphrase should be the first step if you can still get into your emails. In some cases, it's essential to have a recovery address. Doing this will likely stop the hacker from having future access.
This is useful in such scenarios where your primary account has been violated. For security questions, ensure that the answer is not something someone could guess from your online profiles.
Look for signs of trouble
When you realize the hack, your computer may be infected with malware. So, it's crucial to scan and remove it with antivirus software thoroughly. You should also check whether any settings have been altered in your account that could still compromise your safety.
For instance, an email signature may have a weird link attached, or perhaps your messages have been set to auto-forward to another address.
Alert your contacts
Here, you will advise your contacts that your email has been hacked and that they should not respond to any potential spam.
Check whether other accounts have been affected
As mentioned before, a hack can result in an account takeover. So, you should check if your other accounts have been breached in any way. Of course, you will need to change each password and add extra security measures.
How to protect your email from being hacked?
They say prevention is better than cure, a fitting statement even in email security. Here’s how to better protect yourself.
Do not click on suspicious links
Links and attachments are typically the gateways to malware. Whether browsing different web services, never click on dubious links. Also, never download attachments on unsecured sites or sites you don't trust.
Reduce the amount you share online
Unless you communicate in secure and encrypted channels, you should avoid sharing personal information, including your address and other login credentials. If you need to share a secret, you can share it with a site like Duckist.com. This service issues an encrypted link that expires after the message has been opened to prevent future access.
Do not ignore updates
Cybercriminals are always looking for security vulnerabilities found in outdated software. So, the basic tenet of using computers is to update your operating system regularly.
Use strong passwords
A passphrase that would take a cybercriminal incredibly long to crack is:
At least 8 eight characters
Combines random alphanumerics and special symbols
Is not a typically used passphrase like ‘password,’ ‘123456,’ ‘qwerty,’ etc.
Avoids personal info and common words or patterns
Also, using a different passcode for each account you access is beneficial.
Use 2-step verification with a recovery address
2FA is an effective method of delaying or preventing any potential email hacks. It also helps with informing you if someone has tried accessing your account. Still, it’s better to use an authenticator app for the codes. Also, ensure that you have a recovery address set up.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi and computers
Only use the internet from your mobile device or router where possible. Wi-Fi hotspots from hotels, internet cafes, libraries, and airports are not safe. This is understandable, considering that many people use them, and you never know what has been installed. Also, always use your computer or phone when entering your emails.
Secure your computer and router
As mentioned earlier, malware is one massive threat in email hacking. So, it’s crucial to use the latest antivirus on all your devices and ensure they are regularly updated.
Identify phishing scams
The majority of phishing occurs via email. So, you should be able to identify a scam looking to steal your sensitive data or infiltrate your device with malicious software.
Use identity theft monitoring service
Many services here alert you of vulnerable accounts and inform you if any of your accounts might have been violated in a data breach. So, this can help you pay attention and take necessary action.
Do not share your passwords
Your email password should always remain a secret, and thus avoid sharing it at any cost.
It’s easy to see why hackers want to infiltrate your emails, as they’ve become a broad web communication tool. They are a reliable identifier for the many accounts we use all the time
Without proper security, this can cost you and your contacts a lot of money and result in a devastating invasion of privacy. The only way is to outsmart cybercriminals by knowing about email hacking and nipping it in the bud.