Take precautions to prevent your email from being hijacked


HELP DESK

Q: My computer sometimes powers off by itself. It usually works fine. However, it does at times make a strange noise – a high pitched whine. Do you know what’s going on? — Jim Allen

A: Actually I do think I know. It sounds to me as if your computer’s power supply is failing. That high pitched whine is a common way a power supply announces that it’s soon going to be toast. While replacing a power supply isn’t difficult for some home users I recommend that you take the PC into a repair shop and have a professional do it for safety reasons.

Q: I’m still using my 7-year-old computer with XP. I was about to replace it when MS said Windows 8 was imminent, so I put that off. Now than 8 is out I’m still waiting, as you recommended, for several months until any bugs in 8 have been noted and fixed.

In the meantime, my computer seems to have gotten slower and slower. Frequently now, when I’m in IE8, IE8 is suddenly “Not Responding.” Often it seems to get back to being OK after I click on ‘Close’. I’m also spending a lot of time clicking on windows that want me to either End Program or Cancel. In addition, just yesterday I got the same “Not Responding” bit with Outlook Express. The computer is pretty slow to respond to changes of programs, and it is also slow to respond to clicks from my wireless mouse. — Brook Evans

A: Brook, I feel your pain. The usual cause of a big slowdown like that - one that comes on quickly and seems major - is spyware and adware. But you are running Spybot and that’s a fine program as far as finding and eliminating spyware. So I’m not sure.

It wouldn’t do any harm to try this program — make sure you download the free version:

http://www.malwarebytes.org/products/malwarebytes_free/

(It’s fine to run more than one anti-spyware/adware programs … you do not, however, want to run more than one anti-virus).

Speaking of anti-virus: What are you using for that? I think you know that Spybot doesn’t look for viruses, just adware/spyware. A virus is a possibility although less likely than adware/spyware.

Other than that? I’m not sure … if the slowdown started fairly recently you could try the Windows Restore feature. It will, however, wipe out any changes you’ve made to software. It should not delete any data … however, it’s smart to have a recent back-up anyway …. just in case. And Windows 8 has been out long enough now to give it a try if you wish.

After an exhaustive and highly technical study here at Technobuddy Ranch, I’ve determined the most common way hackers are able to take control of your email account.

They slip right past – you make it simple for them. Maybe your password was too easy to crack. Or perhaps you clicked on some bogus web link pasted into an email and now your computer is infected. Could be that your computer doesn’t have up-to-date software running to guard against malware such as viruses and spyware. There are all kinds of ways to lose control of your email account but most often you are at the bottom of things.

Email hijacking is a big deal. I don’t have to do much to convince you of that. I’ll bet – in any given week – you receive at least one bogus message falsely sent in the name of a friend or business contact whose computer has been hijacked. Or, one fine day your friends may have received spam that seemed to come from you. And since spammers use this hijacked accounts to shield themselves from the law – it may have advertised pornography or illegal scams. All in your name.

Let’s start today with some simple ways to reduce the chances that you’ll have to send embarrassing emails to your friends and family warning them that your account has been hijacked and asking them not to open any emails that seem to be from you.

That’s what we’re doing today – learning to take tight control of your email account. These tips are both highly effective and extremely easy to implement – no computer tweaking required.

Passwords: At the very least your password should consist of a jumble of letters and numbers. It should not be a word.

Common sense: Do not click on a web link contained in an email – even if the email is from your mom. It's a common way that hackers use to infect your machine. The link can take you to a site that downloads a program to your computer giving the hacker access to your email account.

Wide open computers: I find it incredible that many people have no protection at all against viruses, spyware and other malware. It's like driving a car that has no brakes. And there are plenty of excellent programs out there that do a fine job and yet don't cost a penny.

Naïve users: While browsing the web they see an offer that seems too good to be true, or a contest that sounds like it would be fun, or a new game to play online. So they click on the button and allow software to be downloaded to their machine. What a deal. Not only do they get to enter a contest or play a game, they get hacked.

Secret questions that beg to be hacked: You were probably asked to create the answers to some questions when you opened the account. That way, being able to answer helps to prove that you are the owner of that account. But some of the usual questions and answers make things easy for a hacker to be able to answer them and change the password – taking control of the account. For instance, a common question is "what high school did you attend" or "what's your mother's maiden name." In cases like that a little Googling make it easy for a stranger to find the answer. Or the answer may be as close as your listing on Classmates.com or Facebook. Here's what to do. Create goofy responses. What high school did you attend? Why Walt Disney World, of course. Your mom's maiden name? Dracula.

You may not have been hijacked after all: There's another way to send out email messages that seem to be from you. And it doesn't require hacking your account. It is possible for a spammer to use what is called a spoofed email address. It's trivially easy to send out emails in another person's name that seem legit.

Recovering from a hack attack: OK. You failed to take these tips to heart. Or it's possible that you did everything right and still got hacked. Let's talk about preparing for that event.

For starters don’t use a free email account for important business transactions or any other type of email that is personal or important. Here’s why. Providers of free email accounts often are next to impossible to reach when your account is hacked. That makes sense – after all they can’t afford to spend a lot of support money when no money is coming in to them. On the other hand you are a paying customer of your Internet provider, so it’s more likely that you can get personal help for your problem.

Getting quick help is important since, once your account has been hacked, it’s likely that you won’t be able to receive new emails or, in some cases, to see old emails. Hackers often change the password so that you’ll be blocked from opening your own account.

Take heed of my suggestions and you’ll make it less likely that I’ll be receiving a sheepish email from your explaining that your account has been hijacked.