August 13, 2013

Who Is Reading Your E-mail?

By Paul Bieber

Courtesy of Mr. Snowden, we know that Uncle Sam is.  The question is:  Is anybody else reading your e-mail?  And, it is about even odds that someone is.  Maybe you approve of this … your wife or husband, your partner or your secretary may have access.  Increasingly, e-mails are being read by others who gain access to your account. 

I receive one or two e-mails a week from someone I know, trying to sell me something I don’t want.  An e-mail list has been hijacked and out comes the spam.  And if the spammer can reach into your computer for the list, they can also read your e-mail.  And if they find something juicy, it will bite you in the tail.  Guaranteed.  How do you prevent this?

The single best answer is a complex password to gain access to your computer and e-mail server.  A good password should contain at least eight characters, one of which is a capital letter, one of which is a number and one should be symbol, like @#$%^.  Never, ever use your birthday, your pet’s name, any family member’s name or a common word or phrase like “baseball”, or “home run.”

Next best step, set your spam filter on your e-mail to be highly selective, letting the filter look for common spamming words in an e-mail.  An e-mail in your junk list is less likely to be opened than one in your primary inbox, and that will help you avoid spamming.  Once a day I look through my junk inbox to see if there is something I should read.  Rarely is there one that should  be in the regular inbox.

Why is this important?  Because just opening a spam e-mail can let a virus into your computer that will hijack your e-mail list, read your other stored passwords and make copies of your data – all in a second or two.  By the time you realize it is spam, it is often too late.  I caught a virus a year ago that froze my system and demanded a ransom to get it back. If I paid a $200 fee, sent by using a prepaid charge card which could not be reversed once the payment has been made, my system would be released.  I called my local computer guru, he came to my house, and an hour later my system was mine again.  This type of virus, called ‘ransomware’ is becoming more prevalent.  If someone pays the $200, and the system is freed up, next month you get hit again and then again and, well, you know. 

When you are on a public network, such as an airport or restaurant, never go into financial accounts that need special passwords.  Don’t let a stranger use your computer to access their e-mail.  Don’t let your kid’s friends use your systemChange your passwords often.  Many sites will send you a reminder to change your password because you have not done so in six months.  Take their advice. 

In your business, do you have an unethical competitor?  He may hire someone to break in to your system – not to steal money, but to read your files, see what and how you are bidding, learn your employees’ and vendors’ information or to just cause havoc by erasing your hard drive.  I have a continuous, on-line, back-up going with a company named Carbonite that saves everything.  Cheap insurance.

Be real careful with ‘reply all’ button.  Force yourself to check who you are sending to for every single e-mail you send.

And the last rule, never say anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want a third person to read.  You have zero control of where that e-mail can go.  Odds are it will go to the wrong person at some time.