Imagine if a hacker were to gain access to your email account. What could they find out about you? What accounts would they find passwords for? What financial information would they have? What attachments are you storing that contain sensitive work or employment information? How much of your personal info would the attacker see? How much of your friends’ personal info would they see?
Sensitive information could come from the least likely places. For instance, emails from your dear old grandma. Think about how many times you’ve used your mother’s maiden name (which is also granny’s surname) as the answer to a security question on an account you’ve opened. You should be wary of any email that contains personal information. Ask yourself if it’s worth deleting, just in case the worst happens.
I recently went on a purge of my old email account and found emails dating back to 1999. Why, I asked myself, must I keep things until they’re old and hairy and growing roots in my inbox? I found account login information, stuff from old friends, and even the original emails I had received regarding the attack on 9/11. How much of this is necessary? And a better question: how much of this is dangerous to keep?
An experiment was performed recently by Lucas Lundgren at IOActive Labs Research to see how easy it would be to steal someone’s online presence. It’s a great illustration of how it’s possible for a bad guy to gain access to your email and use it in dastardly ways. It didn’t take any technical knowledge. Just a basic understanding of how email and social media work, and a little creative social engineering.
Email was created as a means of communication, not a filing cabinet. If there’s something important you absolutely need in an email, you should save it on your computer and delete it from your email account. You don’t want this stuff hanging out there in case your email account gets compromised.
To save an email on your computer, try one of these things:
- Copy the entire contents of the email into a Word document and save it
- Save the email to your computer as a PDF file. Use my guide if you’re unfamiliar with creating PDFs: How To Make PDF Files with CutePDF Writer
- If you need to save it as an image, just press the Print Screen key and paste the image in the Paint program, then save it as a jpeg file.
- Or, if all else fails, be old-fashioned and print that sucker onto actual paper.
From now on, ask yourself if that email contains something you wouldn’t want a bad guy to have if he hacked into your account. If so, then it shouldn’t be sitting there waiting for him.