Are you inadvertently a spammer? You might be surprised by the answer!
One of the typical problems customers call us about is hacked email accounts. This is a very common problem particularly with hotmail, Yahoo mail, and AOL mail accounts but also happens with gmail accounts and isp-provided accounts (like comcast.net or verizon.net accounts). The primary symptom of a hacked email account is that your account suddenly starts sending spam emails to your friends as well as to strangers. You might not notice it right away, but if you start receiving messages from people, particularly friends, wondering why you are sending them spam, chances are, your email account has been hacked (also referred to as a hijacked email account).
SOLUTION: What to do if your email account has been hacked…
More often than not, you can shut out the hacker by changing your account password. Of course the hacker may have already changed the password to shut you out. In this case, you will need to go through the password recovery/reset process provided by the email vendor. It’s also a good idea to change your security questions/responses (eg. the mother’s maiden name question)
How did you get hacked?
Common causes include phishing emails, viruses, trojans, keyloggers, and such. Most of which is a bunch of geekspeak that boils down to: Either you were tricked into giving your password to a hacker, or your pasword was stolen via malicious software (malware) running on your local computer.
What precautions can you take to help prevent your account from being hacked again?
While nothing short of closing down your email accounts is 100% effective, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of getting hacked again. First, never give your password out to anyone. Even your software providers (Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL) would not ask you for your password. If you are asked to submit or disclose your password in an email or text message, chances are you are being “phished”, which means you are being tricked into disclosing your password. Don’t do it!
Second, keep your computer clean with frequent malware scanning and cleanup in addition to regular antivirus protection. At Geek Housecalls, we typically see our customers every six months for a tech checkup. It is unusual to find no malware on a machine that hasn’t been scanned in 6 months. We recommend scanning at least weekly with a tool like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
Third, use strong passwords (oooh! more geekspeak!). A “strong” password means a password that uses a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers or special characters and has a minimum length of 6 characters. The idea behind strong passwords is that they are more difficult to guess, and less susceptible to dictionary attacks. A weak password would be a regular english language word like “elephant”. Stronger would include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters such as “ElephanT”. Stronger still, add some numbers “ElephanT12″, and strongest would include special characters such as “ElephanT%12″
Spamming Vs. Spoofing – It’s not always a hacked account
This discussion wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t at least touch on email spoofing, which looks a lot like a hacked email acount, but isn’t. Spoofing is when somebody sends out email and shows your email address as the return address instead of using their own. The result is that any response to that email, including if it was undeliverable, would come to you and could make you think you were the sender when in reality you weren’t. Spoofing is often practiced by spammers as a way of misdirecting anyone trying to find the source of the spam.
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This article was written by Andy Trask, Head Geek at Geek Housecalls, the New England area’s original traveling computer geeks, on the web at www.geekhousecalls.com. Geek Housecalls specializes in “anything computer” and, since 2001, has become the trusted in-home computer and technology support provider for over 15,000 families and small business computer users in eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southern New Hampshire. For help with your computers, gadgets, or network at home or at the office, click here to contact Geek Housecalls via the web, or call toll free: