Few things can ruin your day quite like having your email account hacked. Indeed, it’s hard to have a digital life without an e-mail address, and that has resulted in most people putting all of their eggs in a single, tempting basket.
I mean, it should go without saying that there’s so much to go for. Shopping. Social media. Online storage. Web hosting. With that in mind, here’s a run-down of the damage that can happen when your email account gets hacked. Don’t have nightmares.
They Go After Your Friends
“Are you alright? What happened man?”
After three frantic tries, my friend finally picked up his phone. I was concerned about his safety. And then he picked up the phone, casual as always. “Hey Matt, what’s up?”.
A few hours beforehand, I’d received an email from him. He was in Madrid on business, and he’d been in an incident. His wallet had been stolen, along with all of his credit and debit cards. He needed me to wire him £500 to pay for his hotel, as well as expenses for the remaining few days of his trip.
Whilst his cards were missing, he would be able to pick up the funds with his passport. All I needed to do was send it with Western Union: a popular money transfer services used extensively by people sending remittances that circumvents the slow and expensive banking system, as well as scammers and crooks. Just think of it as the original PayPal, offering affordable international money transfer services to the masses.
Except, none of that was true. He wasn’t in Madrid. He hadn’t been mugged. His wallet wasn’t stolen, and he didn’t need me to send him cash. His e-mail had been hacked, and the attacker was using his e-mail to take advantage of the kindness of his friends.
Your Gmail account is your Rolodex. If someone gets hold of it, they can take advantage of every single contact and relationship you have.
They wipe your computer
“In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”
Two years ago, Mat Honan had a really, really bad day.
After pulling off a number of cunning social engineering attacks, Mat Honan saw his entire world eviscerated. Could it happen to you? Well, yes. Like most people, the devices I own have tight-integration with cloud services, including my MacBook Pro and my Blackberry Q10. And, of course, these are devices which can be remotely wiped.
Should an attacker gain control of your e-mail, it’s entirely possible for them to access services such as iCloud, Google Play My Devices, and Blackberry Protect. And that can’t be good.
They Ruin Your Reputation
Hunter Moore will likely be occupying a jail cell in the foreseeable future. It’s doubtful many people will be sad to see him go. For too long, the so-called king of revenge porn had built a following (and a fortune) on the back of publishing salacious photos of young women without their consent.
The photos themselves never were intended to make their way to IsAnyoneUp.com. This (since deleted) website hosted the majority of these photos, which were mostly sourced from hacked PhotoBucket and e-mail accounts, in addition to the countless photos uploaded by jilted lovers and ex-partners.
Let’s face it. It’s becoming more and more commonplace for people to send naked photos of themselves to other people. There’s even a verb for it. Sexting. If you send potentially damaging photos on your e-mail account, they could be exploited should anyone get into it. Just use SnapChat.
Buy Goods And Services
This should be pretty self-explanatory. Lots of websites which accept payment often retain credit card information in order to offer a more streamlined user experience. And whilst some – like Amazon – require that you re-type your credit card number when you send to a new address, others do not.
And obviously, your accounts on these sites are linked to your email address, right? All it takes is to reset a few passwords, and someone can go to town on your bank account. Not fun.
Delete Your Accounts
Imagine logging into Facebook or Twitter, only to find that your account is… Well? Gone. I’ve written about what happens when your social presence is eviscerated overnight. It’s horrible. Horrible.
Let’s be honest, an email account is a gateway to other accounts. And if someone was so inclined. they could easily go to town deleting each aspect of your digital life, from Facebook to Dropbox. Scared? Thankfully, it’s possible to protect yourself.
Cover Your Back
There are some great ways to protect your e-mail account. The best, and simplest, is to set up two-factor authentication, along with a strong, complex password. You might also want to consider using a different e-mail address for your social accounts, shopping, and personal communications.
Photo Credits: mouse trap Via Shutterstock, Western Union (Seth Anderson) , Shopping ( Milkey Jones), Facebook Account Permanently Deleted (Stephen Edgar), OS X Mavericks (Seth Anderson) , Snapchat (Ryan Nagelmann)