It really feels like just a few years ago that I started hearing about the internet, and specifically email. I remember having a conversation with a friend over lunch and he was telling me that I should get a Hotmail account. By this point, I had already heard about the popularity of email, but I was just not very interested in having to figure out how to use it. Still, he began explaining to me all the benefits of having one. He told me that if I didn’t hurry up and get one, I Hotmail might run out of addresses and I would be stuck with an AOL account. It seems comical to think about it today but now I actually manage about a dozen personal email addresses. Some for business some for personal use and some just for junk email.
Much has changed since those early days of rushing to get an email address that you liked, or was easy to remember and perhaps had a semblance of personal expression, similar to a digital online fingerprint. Today there is no shortage of email providers like the behemoth Gmail, provided by Google, or Yahoo-Mail one of the older providers who was giving Hotmail competition back in the mid 90’s. Of course, when Microsoft acquired Hotmail in the last part of 1997, it turned Hotmail into a sophisticated email platform giving them the competitive respect to earn a formidable online presence.
But having an email address from any provider, comes with a certain level of responsibility, forethought and respect. One of the most important developments since the advent of email is the ability to understand how to secure your mail from malicious attacks. Just as the government protects delivery of your mail to your home, many online security & antivirus companies are hard at work trying to stay one step ahead to protect your email and its safe delivery. While some anti-virus security companies claim to be better than others, they basically all do the same thing. Whether you have a very expensive antivirus program or something you downloaded for free, it is essential for the user to understand how an attacker might infiltrate your privacy. The one thing even the most expensive software cannot protect users from is the thing most people do inadvertently, they click on the questionable email without thinking about it and typically a few seconds after opening the email they realize that something is wrong.
It is difficult to protect your personal and/or business email from attackers, but the first line of defense is actually YOU! Experts agree that spending a few dollars to buy great antivirus software is paramount for securing your network’s infrastructure; still, be advised to take your time when navigating through your inbox or the internet.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when at your computer:
Make sure to read the senders email address as thoroughly as you can.
First problem is; opening an email from someone that is masking their email address with a strange domain name. Here are two examples of masked email addresses:
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
both addressed have a misspelled domain name and upon closer observation, you’ll see that while you might know the person john or jane doe, more than likely they did not send you something using a bogus email account. One very common practice hackers like to use is send you an email address that looks like it came from your bank but in fact it did not
the email address might have a letter missing from the name of the bank, here is an example:
email@example.com but the hacker will change it to read firstname.lastname@example.org
with the example above, there might not be an attachment but a message informing you that you need to take certain action by entering your bank account number or perhaps some part of your social security number, an address or even the name of a family member. The instant you click on the body of the email, you’ll be redirected to an unknown malicious site whose sole purpose if to steal information that they can find useful in order to get into your bank account.
More and more these days criminals want to get personal data that will help them get you’re your bank account or credit card accounts. These types of emails are known as Phishing or spoofing.
And the last and most common practice hackers are working hard to implement are ransomware. When it comes to ransomware, criminals are typically attaching files to an email from someone you might be working with. The email will look fine but your college never sent it and the attached file is infected.
When you click on the attached file, it’ll open a small program that instantly runs through your computer locking your personal files, everything from Microsoft documents (excel, word, PowerPoint et. all) to pictures and music that are just sitting on your computer. In many cases, if you happen to be in a business/corporate environment, that use network storage locations, the bad file will also infect files and folders on that shared drive and lock those as well. User your best judgement when receiving files as attachments, you might even go as far as calling the sender on the phone to confirm that they sent the file.
Although this might seem exaggerated or dramatic, it is the hacker’s job to infiltrate your mail by whatever means necessary, so it stands to reason that it is your job to protect your mail at any cost.