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Identify the Problem

People contact you to say they've received an email from you and tell you...

  • There are dubious links in it,
  • Their anti-virus software says it’s suspicious, or has neutralised a virus in it,
  • They now have malware or a virus - and it's all your fault!

How Did This Happen?

Well, someone you don’t know has got hold of your email address and is using it to send unwanted e-mails to others. This might happen in several ways, but here are just a few:

  • The most likely: someone hacked the email account of someone you know, or an online store you've used, and your email address is in their contacts list;
  • Someone hacked your own email account and now has access to all the email addresses in your contacts list;
  • Your email provider was hacked - unlikely, but with millions of addresses in their databases, they're prime targets;
  • You may even have given your address willingly, without realising, when you signed up for something, like a download or RSS feed.

If many of your contacts complain, then it is likely that your own account has been compromised, and you should follow the guidelines below.

If only a few people complain then, probably, the hackers stole your address from one of the other sources. Short of telling all your contacts to check their email accounts, and pointing them to this page, there isn’t a lot you can about it.

What To Do About It

If Only One or Two People Are Affected

Change the password you use to access your email account. Make sure it's long and strong: include letters, numbers and at least one special character (!, £, $, #, etc). Here's the password page from the Get Safe Online Campaign.

Change your passwords regularly, say, every couple of months.

Alternatively (or as well), download a browser plug-in password that masks your email address. Blur is our favourite, but the latest (2015) AVG and ZoneAlarm anti-virus systems offer a similar facility.

We haven't tried them, so we can't vouch for them, but we are currently trying Blur. We'll post on our blog when we have some experience of it.

If Lots of Your Contacts Report a Problem

First and foremost, change the password you use to access your email account, as described in the previous section. Then:

  • Email all your contacts and explain that your email account has been hacked. Apologise. Tell them, should they receive a strange email from you, that:
    • you didn't send it,
    • they should delete it, then delete it from their trash / deleted items folder,
    • ON NO ACCOUNT CLICK ANY LINKS IN IT,
    • ask them to let you know they received it,
    • and to tell you if any more arrive in future.
  • If you can still log in to your account:
    • change your password; if you haven't already done so,
    • change all secondary questions and answers, if any,
    • if available, set up two-stage security, where your provider sends you a text or email with a number or code to type in, to prove you’re the owner,
    • change or remove all personal details (may be too late, but still do it),
    • tell your email provider what happened, if you can (some free email services have no support).
  • If you can't log in, first unblock your account. Your email provider will have a written procedure somewhere. Here’s Outlook’s advice as an example.

IMPORTANT: perform a full scan of all the drives on your computer using your anti-virus software and check for malware, using a program like Malware Bytes.

Moving On

You can never be sure that your email won't get hacked; too much is outside your control. However, you can take steps to minimise the risk and reduce the damage when it does happen.

Private Email Address

Though not 100% safe, this is the safest method, and it doesn't cost much.

For just a few pounds a year, you can register a domain and get a proper email account from someone like Fasthosts. Your new email address might look something like john@john-smith.me.uk, or myself@marylin-h.co.uk. You can use the same domain for all your family’s email addresses, too, usually at no extra cost.

See FastHosts for domain name search and email hosting.

Free Email

If you have a free email account, consider getting a new one and changing your email address; this is a pain, of course:

  • free accounts like Yahoo, Sky or Hotmail, are the most likely to be hacked;
  • Google’s Gmail is free, too, and may be the safest, simply because of the resources they have to keep one step ahead of the hackers.

Multiple Free Email Accounts

Here's a way to isolate the problem and minimise the effect - and the work required to fix things. Use three separate email accounts, one for banking, one for shopping and the third for everything else.

That way, you can narrow the problem down. We'd use a Gmail account for banking, as that's the least likely to be hacked (possibly).

If You Have A BlueTree ezeSite Website

Email management is included in your ezeSite On-going Support Contract, which gives you a top-level domain (TLD) email account (like myname@surname.me.uk).

  • Hackers are far less likely to break into such an account but, should the worst happen, just let us know and we’ll sort it out.
  • If you didn’t take up the TLD email option, then maybe now’s the time...

 

BlueTree ezeSite Content Management
comes with a free top-level-domain email address that's less likely to be hacked
than a free one.

BlueTree ezeSite

Interested in a website you can update yourself?
Call BlueTree now, 0117 339 0095 or Contact Us.

 

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