Keeping your email account safe and secure is absolutely essential, and these top tips will keep your correspondence under wraps
An email account is the gateway to your personal life, which means that it's also a valuable target for cybercriminals. From banking credentials to social media passwords, your email inbox is a treasure chest of sensitive data. In light of this, it's no surprise that hackers have become extremely efficient in exploiting email accounts. From malware-ridden macros to complex social engineering, they've never been better equipped.
So what can you do to bulk up your email security and keep your account secure?
Create strong credentials
It's important to create a solid security foundation or you'll be left vulnerable from step one. For starters, pick a unique email address that variates from just your name then back that up with a long, original, passphrase. There are plenty of ways to create strong passwords, such as mixing letters, numbers and symbols to make sure it's difficult to crack. Furthermore, make sure your password stays secure. If you reuse the same details for every account or leave them saved in a text file on your desktop there's a much greater chance your account will be compromised.
Pick a good email client
There are a lot of options these days when it comes to email clients, from the big-name players of Outlook and Gmail to smaller programs such as Thunderbird and OS X Mail. While each has its advantages and disadvantages, for general users it's probably best to stick to the most well-supported clients. Not only are they free of charge, but they have security measures built in as standard. Furthermore, regular updates and upgrades will roll out fairly consistently. Unless you're sharing government secrets (we're fairly sure Julian Assange doesn't use Gmail), a standard email client will work just fine.
Know what threats are out there
In this digital age, cybercriminals have sophisticated ways to get into your email inbox, yet people continue to fall for simple tactics, such as phishing or malicious links. While you may feel you'll never be caught out by these common tricks, cybercriminals are getting better at disguising their activity. Social engineering, for example, has grown as people share more and more personal information online. From just a public Facebook account, a hacker will be able to tell a lot about you, from where you live, to where you eat, to your closest friends and family. Typically, this information will be exploited to craft malicious emails that appear to be legitimate, such as an invoice from your boss or your partner sharing photos of a recent holiday. Stay aware. While many email clients will catch these attacks before they reach your inbox, some may slip through.
Use strong antivirus and anti-malware software
Of course, even the best security standards will mean nothing if you don't use a reliable antivirus or anti-malware product such as BullGuard Internet Security, which boasts protection against malware, spyware, phishing attacks and spam. If you suspect that your computer may have a problem, it's advisable to do a full-system scan to curb any potential threats that may be lurking.
Two-factor authentication (2FA)
Once you have a solid foundation of security in place, the next step is to add extra protection by turning on two-factor authentication (2FA). This works by allowing you to add an extra verification method to your email account such as a secondary email address or a text message and is now frequently offered by major websites that handle sensitive user data.
Monitor logged-on locations
Increasingly popular with major services such as Google's Gmail and social giant Facebook is location logging, which shows you where your account is being accessed from and from what device. Even better, you can keep an eye on unfamiliar IP addresses and even block connections remotely.
If you need to, use encryption
If you do need a stronger level of protection for sending or receiving emails, for example while dealing with bank details, you can always use an extra layer of encryption such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) to keep your secrets secure. That said, for most cases modern email uses decent levels of cryptography and will only send emails over secure connections. Google, for example, recently installed warnings that alert you if your contacts are not on an encrypted connection – a welcome move.
Beware of public Wi-Fi
It goes without saying, but public Wi-Fi is not a safe place to access sensitive information such as bank accounts or email inboxes. If you want to keep your data properly safe from hackers, be aware that it's becoming increasingly easy for criminals to compromise your accounts using 'man-in-the-middle' style attacks to intercept data as it passes along open networks used in coffee shops, airports and train stations. If you're on the move and have to use public Wi-Fi, at the very least use a good virtual private network (VPN).
As hackers become increasingly sophisticated, it's more important than ever to make sure you have basic cyber hygiene in place. While no one can claim to be 100% safe from attack, using these tips will leave you better protected than most. This is why it's doubly important to use strong protection software such as BullGuard Antivirus, as it detects malware hidden in emails and phishing attempts that masquerade as legitimate messages.