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27 March 2013

Internet safety and passwords

I am using this post today to write about email safety. I know this isn't my usual topic but I've had a lot of emails lately that are obviously from hackers who have hijacked someone's email account.  There are two things here to watch out for. One is not having your email hijacked in the first place, the other is what to do if you receive one of these emails.

Even though this isn't something I usually write about, I'm a bit of an expert on it because, unfortunately, I've had my email account hijacked and, as I said, I've been receiving a lot of emails from hackers, using names I recognise.  When I had my email hijacked, it happened when I had a very simple password on my email account. Hackers now have programs where they can hook up to an email address and the program will run scanning through thousands of words until it hits on your password. If you have a common word or name as your password, generally it can find it. Then the hacker can use your email address to send his/her own emails - usually containing viruses, spam or pornography.

When my email was hacked, the hacker used my address book to send all the rubbish they sent out and it looked like I had sent it. So everyone who received one of those emails, received an email from "Rhonda Hetzel" and many of those people would have opened it. Had there been a trojan or virus of some kind, all those people who received that email would have been infected. Sorry.

When that happened, gmail contacted me and explained what had happened. The most important thing to do immediately was to change my password. As soon as the password was changed, the hacker could no longer use my account.

That all happened a few years ago now and since then, I always use strong passwords and I haven't had any more problems. In the past few weeks, I've received a lot of emails from people here whose names I know and their email was sent with just one link in it. I NEVER open these emails.

So what do we do to stay safe?  
  1. NEVER open links in emails unless you've asked it to be sent to you or you know, without doubt, it is safe. Even your family may have had their email hacked so it could look safe and innocent, but it's not.
  2. Change your email password right now to something that is much more secure. You need a longer word - about 9 or 10 characters, mainly letters with no spaces. Then throw in a few numbers and maybe a hash, question mark or ampersand for good measure. So "rhonda" is not secure but "rho2n83?da" is. Often, when you make up a new password, the program will follow you along and it will show you going from unsafe to safe to strong. And it makes a huge difference just making this small change.
  3. If you're like me and have a million accounts, get yourself a little notebook that sits next to your computer and enter in the usernames and passwords for all your accounts, or add this information to your homemaker's journal. Always update it if you change passwords or create a new account.
And that's it. Strong passwords work and they're easy to change. And if you get an email with a single link, don't open it. Delete it straight away. I don't want to scare you but we all need to take care on the internet so we can enjoy the time we spend here. Stay safe, everyone.


  1. Good Morning Rhonda. A timely reminder, thanks. I have received a few of these emails from family and friends this year so far. The clue for me that all was not well was the time the emails were sent. They were sent at odd times, mainly early hours of the morning when I knew my friends would not likely be on their computers.I always run my eye over the time sent now, and I never open an email that I have any suspicions about.

  2. So true - and they can get your email from pretty much any place you've ever typed it in. I've had it happen from a major website forum. Better to be safe than sorry and don't let hackers spoil you accessing the internet, they are a fact of life but one you can fight the good fight with.

  3. Thanks for this information, Rhonda. My Yahoo email account was hacked a few weeks ago and lots of people in my address book received dodgy spam mail, and it looked like it had been sent by me. I changed my password, though I didn't think the old one was guessable!

    Sussex, UK

  4. Thank you for the tips Rhonda, I have also had my email hacked about a year ago, I've since changed my entire email. I like your tip about keeping a record of usernames and passwords!

  5. We use Mailwasher.
    It allows you to open dodgy looking emails in a separate area so if it is
    a baddie it can't infect you.
    I think it's free.

  6. Great advice Rhonda...I appreciate you sharing your tips! Eagerly awaiting your newsletter...great idea x

  7. I too Rhonda have had my email contact list intercepted on yahoo. I changed my password too a more complicated one, thanks for reminder. Passwords do my head in, email, work three systems (changed every month) centrelink, online banking, I try to keep them different.

  8. Email is such a basic part of life now that we tend to take it for granted. But there are bad people out there who want to take advantage of us trusting people. Your advice about being safe with your email is very wise.

    Blogging also seems to have dangers lurking. I've just started blogging, myself, and have been amazed at the number of hits I get from places such as China, Russia, Ukraine. I don't believe they are reading my blog, but rather looking for weaknesses they can exploit. And that is sad.

  9. I hear you Rhonda, totally! My email was hacked this past week for the first time and I felt gutted. So embarrassed that emails were going out to people I care about containing offensive material. Passwords have since been changed and the other tip I received was to open up a separate window to type passwords into then copy and paste it into the browser log in. Avoids hackers spying on keyboard log in strokes apparently. The whole thing makes me unbelievably cross! x

  10. Whilst it is a good idea to keep your passwords written down if you can't remember them, it shouldn't be left out for anyone to see, especially thief's who would take the book as well as the computer. We were told by the Police to keep the book in a safe place even though it would be a pain in the neck to retrieve it every time you need to use it.

  11. Can I suggest a safer way of keeping track of your passwords. Keep them all in a password protected Word file. In the unlikely event that you get burgled a list of all your passwords by your computer could enable thieves to access all sorts of information.

    1. Debbie, I don't think that's safer. Word passwords are fairly easy for hackers to bypass and by stealing the computer, they have it and all your passwords.

  12. Thank You.
    I needed the reminder.
    I am glad you are feeling better.

  13. Great advice Rhonda! Another bit of adcive I've heard is to avoid using the same password for every service. This is easier than it sounds: devise a good, strong base password (like rho2n83?da), and for each service, add the first letter of the service on to that password. For example, a Facebook password would be rho2n83?daf, Google accounts use rho2n83?dag, Twitter is rho2n83?dat, etc. Also, use a completely different password for online banking - do not make it anything like your other passwords!! I have not had any of my accounts hacked since I started using these two strategies :) And change your passwords often!

    Thanks again for an important post!

  14. Good advice Rhonda thank you :-)

  15. I have changed a couple of mine, they were well overdue. Thanks...

  16. Very sound and helpful advice Rhonda. One can never be too careful!

  17. Another method I heard of recently is to choose the line of a song or poem you love and then use the first letter, for example, of each word, e.g. all you need is love would be aynil. Regardless of what I choose I always add in numbers to break up the word, sometimes using CAPS so that instead of numbers the various symbols are used. We have to change two different passwords every three months in work and there are restrictions on using previous ones, or even ones similar to previous ones. It is a pain in the neck but a necessary evil, I suppose.


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