Email is such a prominent form of communication nowadays and it’s even fair to say that it has become a key component of our online identities. We manage much of our personal and business communications through our email and we also use our email addresses to sign up for the many online services available to us, from banking to memberships. It’s therefore safe to say that email is a big deal. If your email account gets hacked, you could potentially lose money (through your online banking) and even ruin your personal and professional reputations (through excessive spam of the untoward variety and even unauthorised posts on your social media accounts). Many of us believe that this will never happen to us, but the reality is that it is becoming increasingly common and even the most savvy of internet users can be affected. So what do you do if your email account is hacked?
How to recover
Assess the damage
Log into your email account. If you’re lucky, the hacker just broke in to send some spam. If you’re not so lucky, they may have changed your password. If you can’t get in, try changing the password via the ‘forgot my password’ link and contact the provider to try and reclaim your account.
Do a virus scan
Run a full virus scan on your machine to determine whether any malicious software has infected your operating system or applications.
Register a new email address
The best option is sometimes to forgo the old email address and register a brand new one, just to be safe. Go and update your accounts with the new email address accordingly.
Change your passwords
Whether or not you are changing your email address, you must change all of your passwords for your online services and accounts. Only do this when you have run a scan and confirmed that your computer is not infected with any malicious scripts.
Notify friends and contacts
Unfortunately, it is likely that there will be some embarrassment to face when telling all of your friends and contacts that you’ve been hacked. They will most likely know if they’ve received spam from you and they may have in fact been the ones to initially notify you. If you have another email address, use this one to send out the notifications. It will take time to get through everything and sort out the mess but it’s important that you cover all bases. After that, you should look into taking appropriate precautions in order to prevent this happening to you again.
Preventing another hack
Set up two-factor authentication
Many email services offer two-factor authentication, which requires an extra level of security when logging in. For example, you may enter your email and password and then be sent a text message with a code to confirm before you are granted entry. This makes it harder for would-be hackers to get into your account.
Use different passwords for different online services
It may be easier to remember just one, but if someone gets a hold of it, this could result in disaster on all fronts. Ensure your passwords are not generic and are as strong as possible. Furthermore, make it a point to update them all every few months if possible.
Keep an inventory
Record or note down all of the various services you use so if it does happen in future, you know exactly where to go to update your email and passwords.
Install the latest virus definitions
Keeping your anti virus software and virus definitions up to date is crucial to good online security. This will ensure you’re best protected against new versions of malware.
When downloading files and opening emails, check to see if it is from a reputable source. Spam accounts are usually easily identified by cryptic email addresses. Know that your bank won’t send you links to click on requiring your credentials. Exercising awareness and common sense is the first step in protecting yourself. It is possible to recover from a situation where your email account has been hacked, but prevention is always better than cure, so ensure you are vigilant. Many people are too complacent nowadays as online activity has become the norm, but a false sense of security is the first sign of danger.