It can be hard to imagine what could be so valuable in your inbox that someone would go through the trouble of hacking you. And it certainly seems harmless enough to reuse passwords on multiple accounts - an easy way to remember your logins for multiple websites. But, reusing passwords is dangerous because it increases your risk of financial fraud or identity theft, and it all begins by having one social or email account hacked.
Remember, you’ll go through most of your time on the internet without ever being compromised, but it only takes one time to suffer the painful outcomes of being hacked.
So let's talk about why someone would want to hack your account, and how using the same password on multiple accounts can increase your risk of being hacked, financial loss, or identity fraud.
Why would someone want to hack my email?
Fair question. Most of us can't imagine why anyone would want to hack us, especially our low value email account. Well, because, it helps them gain a foothold in to your digital world.
Most internet users will never notice they’ve had their account hacked, had money drained from their accounts or had their identity stolen until it’s too late. After all, many cyber attacks are unobtrusive and designed to escape detection. Most hackers seek to harvest your information as quickly as possible without being noticed.
You’ve been on the internet for many years now. You're accustomed to just about every site requiring some sort of registration process which usually involves creating a username and password. You’ve gotten so accustomed to filling in these details, a mundane task, that you’ve subconsciously eliminated any danger associated with filling in online forms, and by association, by reusing passwords on multiple online forms. A little copy and paste, or reusing your one trusty password - what's the harm? This is where the waters get muddy. Ask yourself:
- Do you remember all the sites you’ve used the same password on?
- How reputable are these sites?
- Do owners of these sites frequently update their security protocols?
- Are any of these sites often targeted by hackers?
- How could a hacker gain more insight into your personal digital world with access to any one of these accounts?
If one site is hacked and some of your personal information is taken, it makes it easier to hack into more of your accounts. Especially if you’ve reused a password.
Hackers know that the more info they can gather on you, the more likely it is they can successfully defraud you. Don’t help them in any way. Use separate passwords for every account.
If you are advised that one account is compromised, immediately change your password on it and any important accounts as well. For example, if your email was hacked, now is a good time to also change your banking password, just to be safe.
Network security professionals are constantly pushing out updates to help fight cyber attacks and keep the internet safe. It’s a relentless battle. Some servers are better protected than others. Some hackers target certain services more than others. Like links in a chain of information, it only takes one poorly secured site or account to be hacked.
And if you’re wondering what the heck these hackers have to gain from your email account, the answer is money. There are many malware viruses they can purchase or create and then distribute through your account to make money for themselves. Some of this spyware attempts to collect your personal information. Some sends more spam and malware links out. Sometimes they bide time to collect more info from your email account in order to attempt to hack into your bank account.
On average, as reported by security experts in 2015, the ROI for cyber criminals is 1425%.
That is a big return, and powerful motivation for these criminals. It's important that you practice good computer security habits to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
What can I do to prevent my email from being hacked?
You can do your small part to help protect your account from hackers. Here are a few simple but helpful password practices you can implement right away.
- Stop reusing passwords. It’s straightforward and the title of this article but I can’t overly stress the importance of this good password habit.
- Use strong passwords. Avoid passwords that relate to your username. Avoid passwords that can be easily guessed and opt for random words or phrases. Avoid passwords that only contain letters of the alphabet. It’s highly recommended to incorporate letters, numbers and symbols in all of your password.
- Consider using a password manager. Password managers are secured master accounts that that store all of your login credentials including usernames and passwords allowing you to use one centralized password for all your logins. Password managers have some shortcomings, which I address in this post.
Sometimes the simplest advice is the most effective, but also the most difficult to execute.
We all know that diet and exercise are the best prevention for obesity and many illnesses. We all know that getting enough sleep aids in cognitive functions and general well being. But we all need the regular reminders because we’re all a little (or a lot) sleep deprived, or eating yet another take out meal, just as we’re all guilty of reusing passwords. So this is your reminder. Don't reuse any passwords.
Small Business Password Guidelines
If you manage an SMB, and don't have your own IT department, it can be difficult to stay on top of network security. Password management is one layer of network and IT security. This post on Small Business Password Policy Guidelines offers up to date research and actionable tips to help you create your password policy at work. A PDF download option is available as well. Read the post and discuss password security with your team.
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