Sunday, January 13, 2008

How to avoid your email account from getting hacked

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A large number of internet users are finding their email and other online accounts hacked or cracked as it should be called. More often than not, it's due to their own lack of knowledge and awareness. Protecting your email account, or for that matter, any account isn't that difficult. All you have to do is remember the following points.

1. The key to your email account is your password. Choosing a strong password is your first line of defense against account cracking. When you choose a password you should remember these points.

• Your password should be long. Anything less than 8 characters is a strict no-no.
• The password should be a combination of alphabets (of both upper and lower case if possible), numbers and special character. The more complex your password is the better. But memorizing such a password could be a tough task. If you can't make your password complex, make it long (see the previous point).
• Never use names of people or words out of the dictionary. Such passwords are easier to crack by a method called the Dictionary Attack.
• One good method of creating passwords is to choose a sentence that you could remember and then take the first character of each word. Let's take a quote from one of my favorite movie The Matrix. Agent Smith says to Neo "Tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you are unable to speak?". Using my method the password out of this sentence will be tmmawgiapciyauts. Nobody can break this one, yet remembering this should be easy.

2. Never use the same password all over the Internet. Have different passwords for your email and other accounts like forums, social networking sites, and various other websites. If any of these sites where you hold an account is compromised, your email account could be at risk. Create a separate email account just for such type of purposes like registering on websites and forums.

3. Never use information that you have revealed in your online profile in your passwords. One of the easiest way to hack somebody's email is to look up the security question of the email account and then find the answers in their Orkut/My Space/Facebook profile. You have no idea how many persons have found their account hacked by this way.

4. Always be wary when you open any emails from persons that you don't know. Never download any attachment from unknown persons and never click on links directly from the mail. If required, copy the URL from the mail and paste it on your browser to visit the link.

5. When you use a public computer like those in a cafe to check mail, do not type your passwords on the keyboard. Use the onscreen keyboard (All Programs>Accessories>Accessibility>On Screen Keyboard). This is to ensure that no keylogger, if installed on the computer, can collect your password. You can also use a special plugin available for Internet Explorer and Firefox that prevents logging of passwords by keylogger.

6. Your email account can get hacked because of a present security hole in your email software or Windows or the email service provider itself. In the latter case, there is nothing you can do except curse. But you can protect yourself by keeping your email software and Windows updated. An updated anti virus solution is also essential to prevent anybody from sending malicious programs or trojans to you in order to grab your password etc. A firewall is also an essential requirement to prevent any unwanted traffic to and from your computer. Often, trojans and keyloggers get your password and upload it the the cracker's email or server. A firewall can prevent such an attempt.

7. Do not fall prey to services that claim to hack somebody's email either at a price or for free. You will be asked to send a mail to a supposedly automated password retrieval service with the email address of the account you want to hack, along with your own email id and password. Later you will find that your own account is hacked. Here is one such email hacking trick that never works. Stay away from it.

Remember, no such service exist. Never reveal you password to anyone, not even to your email service provider. No email service provider will ever ask for your password.

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