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Email isn’t a secure medium—it comes with risks, both to your privacy and to your computer. Okay. Now that’s out of the way, we can get onto eight tips that anyone—no matter how tech savvy—can use for increasing their email security. Send them to your family, friends, colleagues, or anyone else who needs to increase their email security!
Choose a Good Password
This should be obvious, but there are a lot of people out there who still have their kids’ names or their birthdates as their passwords. If your password is this simple, it’s not going to be hard to guess or crack using some basic software. We’ve given you advice on how to select a good password, and told you about a number of apps that can help you manage all of your passwords, so you don’t choose easy-to-remember ones.
You really have no excuse now.
Don’t Open Suspicious Emails
Again, it seems like it should go without saying, but so many of us get on autopilot when we’re going through our inboxes and open up just about everything. If an email doesn’t have a “From” name, if it comes from a weird-looking address, or if there are any other signs of it being a malicious attempt at getting you to do something (the image above is a pretty obvious example), just delete it. You never know if there will be a link or an image in it that could infect your computer.
Don’t Open Suspicious Attachments
This is related to the previous item, but bears being brought up specifically. Even if someone sends you a totally legitimate email, it’s possible that they’ve accidentally or unknowingly included a malicious attachment. If they didn’t say anything about attaching a document or a photo, or the filename doesn’t look right, don’t open it.
Opening a bad file is one of the fastest ways to infect your computer and potentially the computers of the people you’re in contact with. This handy guide on how to spot a dangerous email attachment is a great resource for staying safe.
Disable Automatic Image Loading
One of the ways that a hacker can get run malicious code on your computer is by embedding it in an image file. If your email app loads the image, it could potentially infect your computer. That’s why so many email programs allow you to disable the automatic loading of images and give you the option of loading images on individual emails. It’s rarely a hassle, and it will make your account more secure. (In Gmail, go to Settings > General > Images and select Ask before displaying external content.)
Think Before You Send
If you’re sending something that you don’t want to be released on the web, think twice about sending it. Even if you’re confident about your email security, who knows what will happen on the other end? It could be backed up, lost, forwarded, intercepted, or otherwise diverted in front of prying eyes.
And always be sure to double-check your recipient list; in the days of auto-complete, we tend to assume that the Karen we’re sending to is the right Karen. But that’s not always the case.
Don’t Send Sensitive Information
Because it can be relatively easy to impersonate someone else using email, you shouldn’t send confidential information. Ever. Don’t send the code to your garage door to your neighbor, don’t send your social security number to your parents, don’t send your bank account information to anyone.
Even the bank.
Most reputable companies won’t ask you for sensitive information via email, so if someone’s asking for your username and password, you might be the target of a phishing attack. In almost every case, it’s safer to transmit shareable information – to a confirmed contact – via a phone call or in person.
Think Twice about Logging In
Assuming you’ve secured your home network, logging in to your email accounts should be pretty safe. However, logging into your email account—or even just accessing the Internet—on public wi-fi or from a public computer can be a risk. We’re all guilty of it, but it pays to be cognizant of your surroundings—if you’re in an especially dodgy Internet cafe or on totally unsecured wi-fi, don’t sign in unless you need to.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Up to this point, we’ve stuck with the most basic security tips that can be accomplished with a minimal amount of effort. This final tip requires a bit more work, but can make a huge difference in the security level of your email account. And while you’re at it, add two-factor authentication to as many other services as you can.
If you’re not sure about whether or not you want to go through the extra effort, check out these four ways to make two-factor authentication easier.
Only You Can Prevent Email Security Breaches
There are plenty of complicated and technologically advanced steps that you can take to secure your email (like encrypting with PGP), but not everyone is willing to invest the time to be that safe. The eight tips above, however, are simple and easy to put in place, so share them with your colleagues, friends, and family to help them stay safe online!
What have we missed here? What are other good ways to stay safe when it comes to email security?