Internet safety and passwords

27 March 2013
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.