Your email account is a bit like your digital passport and keyring. How often have you forgotten a password and requested a new one? Now, imagine that someone has access to that mailbox. How many services and sites could they lock you out from? What information would they have access to? It's difficult to estimate how much damage could be done, which makes email account hacking particularly dangerous.
As a term, 'hacking' can refer to some positive things, like 'life hacks' or 'growth hacking', however, in general, two different (negative) scenarios are meant.
- 1.Your login information was leaked by a service provider.
Chances are that you've heard of the attacks targeting large companies and service providers over the past few decades. Through these, cybercriminals have gained access to reams of data, most likely including your email address, and, sometimes, even your password. These lists typically find their way to hacker forums, where they are used for identity theft, doxing, spam, and worse.
- 2.Hackers gained access to your personal email account.
Hackers can also attack you directly, by attempting to access your email account using stolen login data from other services (known as 'credential stuffing'), or malware (like spyware and keyloggers). Once they're in, your email account will likely be misused for fraud, identity theft, and other criminal acts.
There's practically nothing that the average user can do against the first type of hacks and unfortunately, these have become common over the past few years. The good news is that for preventing the second type, you have a number of options at your fingertips, and in this article, we'll take a closer look at them.
Has My Email Account Been Hacked?
The first thing you'll probably want to know after reading the above is whether your email account has already been leaked. There are several ways to find out:
Have I Been Pwned?
Have I Been Pwned? is a site that will answer your burning question in a matter of seconds. This database collects leaked login data and allows users to search for their email addresses, making it possible to quickly see if, and how often, their data has been compromised. Have I Been Pwned even lists the individual services that leaked your information, helping you to contain breaches.
HPI Identity Leak Checker
The Hasso-Plattner Institute's Identity Leak Checker offers another way to check how exposed your email address is. This service checks whether your email address has been leaked online, along with personal data like a telephone number, address, or birthday. Simply input your email address, and you'll receive an email with a table showing which information has been compromised in which leak(s).
How to Prevent Your Email Account From Being Hacked
There's little you can do to prevent large service providers from leaking your information. If your email address has been leaked, chances are high that you will receive a fair amount of spam emails. So long as only your email address is compromised (and not your password, or recovery phone number), cybercriminals won't be able to crack your account and do real damage.
Think of this like a thief who knows your address, but doesn't have a key for your front door, or know your security system's combination. Below, we'll discuss three of the best ways to protect your accounts.
Create complex, unique passwords
These protect against brute force attacks and credential stuffing. Never use the same password more than once, since this prevents hackers from gaining access to more than one account. Thankfully, there are password managers, a kind of software that creates and stores unique and secure passwords for you, making it particularly convenient and safe to log in to online services.
As its name suggests, two-factor authentication requires two (or more) separate means to access an account, such as an SMS code, or a series of numbers generated by an authenticator app. This ensures that no one can misuse your data, and prevents even a cracked password from providing the 'master key' to an account.
If you're looking for a preventative measure against hacking, antivirus software can serve as your digital watchman, keeping out intruders, and warning you when someone touches your digital door handle. Especially among the various premium versions on offer, there are a variety of special features that protect against keyloggers and other types of spyware.
You only have some, not full control over your email account's security. If your data has been leaked in the past, the most you can do is limit damage, however, if nothing has gone wrong, you're most likely ahead of the cybercriminals. As long as you have secure passwords (such as those generated by a password manager) and enable two-factor authentication, it will be very difficult for anyone to gain access to your email account.