The era of the internet has brought information to our fingertips in a way that never seemed possible in the past. With the advent of smartphones, access to the online world follows us everywhere we go. Unfortunately, there is a price for that convenience.
For years, data and security breaches have impacted millions of people around the world. Hacked e-mails, stolen passwords, and captured credit card details have become a hot commodity on the internet black market known as the Dark Web. To date, there has been little reason to believe the threat of hacking is on a downturn.
In fact, the largest online security breach in history was discovered in January 2019 (1). Labeled as “Collection #1,” this enormous data dump was released on a popular hacking website containing more than 1.16 billion e-mail addresses with corresponding passwords. Unlike previous data breaches, Collection #1 appears to come from a combination of sources as opposed to a large breach from a single website or retailer.
The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent hacking, and in some cases, recover lost accounts. First, you need to find out if your e-mail address has been affected.
Find Out if Your E-mail has Been Hacked
Thanks to CheckThem’s Free “Hacked” Service, you can quickly and reliably search the Dark Web for your e-mail address to determine if it was included in any data breaches.
1. Go to CheckThem’s Free Hacked Service and enter your e-mail address.
2. Click the search button and simply wait for your results.
Once the search is complete, the site will inform you if your e-mail address has been hacked. You will also receive additional details about the breach that contains your e-mail address. These details include the site your address was found on, the date of the breach, and a paragraph description describing the hack and the impact it had. This information is valuable, as it puts you on notice that your password may need to change.
The best part of the search feature at CheckThem is it’s completely free. In fact, you can use this service without even entering a credit card. The site also promises not to release any e-mail addresses you share.
What to Do if Your E-Mail Was Hacked
If your search comes back clear, go about enjoying your daily life! However, if it turns out your e-mail and password were included in a data dump, you should take immediate steps to secure your e-mail account.
First and foremost, log in to the account and make sure you still have access. While many hackers are content to log in and spam others with your address, some will move quickly to lock you out of your account.
If you are not locked out of your account, quickly change your password. From there, check your mail settings to ensure they were not tampered with. Some hackers will quietly set up e-mail auto-forwarding so that even after you add a new password, any e-mail you receive will be forwarded insecurely without you knowing it.
From here, your best bet is to do a deep review of any potential liabilities. If you follow the bad practices of storing passwords in your e-mail account or using the same password for everything, you will need to change all of those passwords as well.
What if Your Password Was Changed?
In the worst-case scenario, hackers can change your password and lock you out of your own e-mail account. Hopefully, you have (a) set up an emergency recovery e-mail address and (b) that address has not also been compromised. In some cases, that will give you the option to reset your password and bring this stressful episode to close.
Some providers like Google have a process for recovering a stolen e-mail address even if all of the other safeguards fail. By following the prompts, you can get your e-mail address – and everything stored in it – back to its rightful owner.
Tips to Protect Your E-mail Passwords
If you are lucky enough to have gone this long without having your e-mail hacked, now is a great time to ensure it never happens to you. With the proper strategies, you can virtually eliminate the risk of losing your account due to a data breach. By following these five steps carefully, you will put yourself in the best position to keep your e-mail account out of the hands of scammers and thieves.
1. Use a Strong Password
Gone are the days when you can get by with a password like “soccer” or “baseball.” Even short phrases or dates are not safe with modern hacking software. To ensure a strong password, select something at least 8 characters long with a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid words, phrases, or sentences altogether.
2. Use Secure E-mail
Your choice of e-mail host can have an impact on your password security. Accounts with hosting companies or private e-mail servers are at much greater risk compared to e-mail accounts from Google or Yahoo.
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication
Another way to fend off hackers is through the use of two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a security feature that requires two distinct forms of credentials. For example, your e-mail could require not only a password but a response to a text message prompt as well.
4. Change Your Passwords Across Sites
Never use the same password across every account or website. When you diversify your password, you reduce the impact a data breach can have. In those instances, your worst-case scenario involves far fewer compromised accounts than if you shared a single password for everything.
5. Change Your Password Often
The best step you can take to protect your account is to change your password often. As helpful as the hacked e-mail tools described above are, it is possible someone can gain access to your account long before a data breach becomes public. By changing your password often and following the other tips mentioned here, you put yourself in a position to avoid a compromising e-mail hack.