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Guidelines For Securely Checking Your Email And Avoiding Viruses, Spyware, & Hackers

Aug 1, 2014   Web and Internet   Nick Vogt   Comments
Please note that this post is over a year old and may contain outdated information.
The weakest link in a computer's security is the user. Bad habits and mistakes can prevent even the best anti-virus software from being effective, or can leave your email account in the hands of someone else with malicious intent.

Here are some guidelines and tips for checking your email securely and reducing your exposure to viruses, spyware, phishing, and attackers. These tips apply equally to desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone users.


Service Provider


Always use one of the major email service providers for your email account(s). This includes Outlook (same as Hotmail and Live Mail), Gmail, and Yahoo Mail. These providers generally stay more up to date with the latest security practices and features. Outlook and Gmail are my top picks.


HTTPS/SSL


Always access your email through https. If you're using a browser, check the web address bar and make sure it starts with https://. If you're using a mobile email app, you should be fine as long as you're using one of the three main providers listed above and are using the up-to-date default email app in an Android, Apple, Windows, or Blackberry device.


Password


Choose a strong password that can't be guessed based on your personal information and isn't used for anything else. If you use the same password for another website that gets hacked, the attackers might be able to gain access to your email account.


Remembering Passwords


Do not write your password down and tape it to your monitor, or do anything similar to that. A home invader could obtain that password easily, or even a house guest. It is best to memorize your passwords, though this may not always be realistic. If you must write it down, keep it secure, such as in a locked drawer or safe.


Email Links


Be careful when following any link found in an email. If a website requires you to enter any information, be sure to always access that website directly. For example, if you receive an email from PayPal with a link to the transaction details, do not follow it. Instead, type in www.paypal.com directly into a browser's web address field (not search), and log in on the main website.

If you're just following a link to a picture or article, you're generally safe. Just make sure you don't enter any information or log in.


Emails From Friends And Family Members


If you receive an email from a friend or family member, do not assume it is always safe. If it seems suspicious at all, consider that their email account may have been hacked or is being inpersonated by a bot or spammer. It never hurts to text or call your friend or family member to ask them about a suspicious email they sent. This is extra important when there is a link or download in the incoming email.


File Formats


On Windows, you should absolutely turn on file extensions and become familiar with the different file extensions for common types of files. Some file formats can be opened safely nearly always, such as .jpg, .png, .mpg, .txt, and .pdf (for pdf, make sure you have an up-to-date PDF reader). Other file formats should never be opened unless you are 100% sure they're safe and from a reputable source, such as .exe, .msi, and .bat.


Public Computers


If you have to check your email on a public computer, be sure to enter the browser's "safe mode" (private browsing, incognito mode, etc). If the browser does not have this feature because it is an older version, do not use it as it could have other security risks due to being out of date.


Lock Screen


Use a lock screen for your mobile device, and be careful to keep your screen clean. A screen with finger smudges can easily give away the pattern to a lock screen.


Lost Or Stolen Phone/Tablet


If you lose your mobile device or it is stolen, change the passwords associated with all of your accounts as quickly as possible, including accounts not used directly on the phone. Remember that if an attacker has access to your emails in any way, they may also be able to obtain access to bank accounts and other accounts that use that email for login purposes.
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