How to Protect Your Email Account From Malware and Hackers

Many people are likely unaware of how large a cybersecurity vulnerability their email represents. This is not to disrespect the excellent work of our favorite communication tool. Still, given that email was never designed to be secure, we should use it only in addition to other forms of communication.

So important is email to the Internet experience, and so vulnerable are our accounts to malicious software and hacker that many of us don't realize how easily we can get hacked. But we can protect ourselves with a few simple steps, which will be discussed in this article.

How is Malware Sent Through Email?

 

Malware can be sent through email via several techniques. One mechanism malicious actors use to gain access to private networks is tricking employees into clicking links or downloading attachments in phishing emails that mimic trustworthy sources (such as banks). Infected attachments, such as PDFs or Word documents, can also attack macros that run when opened.

What Are the Best Defenses Against Email Viruses?

Enable Two-Factor Authentication for Added Security

How to Protect Your Email Account From Malware HackersDownload

While most email providers now use two-factor authentication as their default, you should turn it on if they aren't. 2FA offers the additional security of requiring you to perform two different actions—enter your password and press a verification key on an external device—to log in. Some providers offer this option for mobile devices, while others may require purchasing a dedicated key fob or flash drive. To take your email encryption to the next level, consider managed PKI. 

Many social media and e-commerce sites now offer two-factor authentication—a combination of passwords and secondary codes sent to your phone or generated by an app like Google Authenticator. Even if a hacker could steal your password and log into your account, they wouldn't be able to access any of the data stored on other devices you have created backups for.

Use a Strong Password that is Unique to Your Email Account

A strong password is the foundation of email security. Even if a password is not easy for others to guess, an attacker can still access your account by brute-forcing it—repeatedly trying different words and dictionary combinations until finding the right one. To make this harder for attackers, include numbers and symbols in your passwords—but also use words that are hard for computers to figure out. Randomization is another good way to keep your password secure.

When you use a password manager to create and store your passwords, you only have to remember one complicated master password rather than dozens of weaker passwords for each website. Use a strong master password that is easy to remember but difficult for others to guess.

Install Antivirus Software on Your Computer and Keep it Up-to-Date

Whether your computer is a corporate laptop or an old PC at home, antivirus software can protect against malware that could capture your keystrokes. Also, installing anti-malware software is effective if you frequently use public computers. A good antivirus will scan all incoming email messages and attachments for known viruses before they can enter your inbox.

Avoid Opening Attachments or Clicking Links in Emails from Unknown Senders

a fish hook on computer keyboard representing phishing attack on computer systemThe number of data breaches that occur to individuals and organizations could be significantly reduced if people only used caution when opening emails and attachments. Emails that people send you know will only contain links or attachments if they are expecting an urgent reply. An email from someone you don't know should only ever include a link if you requested to see their contact information or read more about them on their website.

Beyond the obvious security risks of opening an attachment, it is also essential to avoid this for design reasons. Your email client cannot display your signature file if you click a link before opening an attachment.

Regularly Scan Your Computer for Malware and Viruses

Pay attention to your computer's update advisory warnings. If your computer's operating system or application software isn't up-to-date, it will be less secure and more vulnerable to viruses and malware.

Updating your computer's operating system and email client is a critical step in keeping your data secure, but this can be difficult if you have an old computer. The best solution may be purchasing or upgrading to a newer version of the antivirus program with updated software—plus, it will make future updates easier!

Regularly scanning your computer for malware and viruses can save you from becoming a victim of cybercrime. Scanning is quick, easy to set up, and could protect you if criminals attempt to hack into or take over accounts on the computer—including yours!

Back-Up Your Email Messages and Contacts Regularly

Email accounts contain many of the most important pieces of your life's history, but they won't always be safe. If a system failure ever causes you to lose access to those emails—for example, if Microsoft discontinues Hotmail or Outlook Express and stops supporting POP3 connections in favor of IMAP (a change that will occur sometime between 2016–2025)—it’s good for you to have an up-to-date backup on another computer or cloud storage service as well.

While deleting your email messages won't protect you from hackers, doing so may reduce the amount of incriminating evidence that people leave behind in their inboxes—especially if you make it a habit to back up important files regularly.

Keep Learning About Business Email Protection Solutions

Two-factor authentication should not be considered an option but the email security standard. It Using a solid and unique password is one of the best—and easiest—ways to protect your account from being hacked by cybercriminals. Scanning your computer regularly for viruses and other threats is essential to protecting yourself against phishing attacks, system failures, and the like. You can also use a reverse email lookup tool — like the ones we've linked below—to identify someone when they aren't in your address book.

By regularly backing up your contacts and other information, you can protect yourself against data loss no matter what happens to your device (or how many times it gets stolen).

  • Implementing a comprehensive email security system can help prevent advanced threats, such as targeted spear phishing and ransomware. 
  • Keep the integrity of your email safe by securing the cloud with spam filtering and enterprise-grade anti-spam services.
  • By following these best practices, you can improve your email security posture to protect against cyberattacks and breaches.
  • Get the latest updates on how to stay safe online.

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