According to Statista, 281 billion emails were sent around the world each day in 2018. Of these 281 billion emails, half were business related, which goes to show how integral communication via email is in all areas of our lives.
Regardless of whether the email is business or personal, security remains paramount. If an unauthorized person was to gain access to a personal email, then they can glean extremely private information such as banking details, home addresses, and of course, confidential communications. Hillary Clinton’s email controversy exemplifies just how much havoc a ‘careless’ email misuse can wreak to an entire country.
Admittedly, it is impossible to achieve perfect security and anonymity. However, there are things you can do to improve email security and reduce the chances of attacks and mitigate risks.
1. Use Strong Passwords
Using strong passwords is arguably one of the most vital ways to improve the security and privacy of your emails. A strong password, preferably 20-character long incorporating letters, numbers and special characters that are nonsensical or ‘random’ are ideal.
Also, the password should be unique and used only for one account. To help yourself keep track of all the different passwords, use a password manager that stores all unique combinations in its vault that is easily accessible by you. A password manager has a series of security measures put in place to ensure that only you can gain access to your password treasure chest, such as two-factor authentication (2-FA).
A two-factor authentication grants access to an account only when both the password and the randomly-generated time-sensitive authentication code are both correct. You can choose to view the code in an authenticator app or have it sent to your mobile phone everytime you log in.
To add yet another layer of security to your email accounts, make sure to set up 2-FA there as well if the email client supports it.
2. Ensure That You Are Using TLS
TLS is the Transport Layer Security. It is part of the protocol that governs internet communication. It helps ensure that all your communications with any given website are encrypted which means hidden from prying eyes.
In addition, TSL encrypts connections to email servers and also between one email server and another. If the jargon messes with you, then note there is a simple way of ensuring your emails are traveling through an encrypted channel.
Go to settings, and look for STARTTLS or SSL/TLS. Some software might label this as connect only through an encrypted channel. Once you find this option under settings, activate it.
It is particularly essential to activate the TLS if you are using an external email client such as Thunderbird. That is because often, internal email clients already have the encryption mode activated.
3. Avoid Loading Images or Clicking on Links Embedded in an Email
Often, as a means of gauging how effective their email marketing campaigns are, companies and brands will embed a tracking code to either a link or an image. That way, they can determine the number of people who clicked on the link, read the email and/ or forwarded the email. If you don’t want your behavior tracked, you can either not click the link, or hover your mouse over the link, copy the address, and remove the tracking code in a new browser before hitting enter.
Still, you should be very careful when opening emails from brands or senders you don’t know. Phishing emails might sometimes be disguised as a harmless promotional message and direct you to sites full of malware. These phishing sites might pose as your e-bank or online stores to lure you into revealing personal information such as your bank details. If something looks fishy to you, delete it before it infects your computer.
4. Be Careful with Attachments
Attachments tend to be carriers of malware, most notably Trojans and cryptolockers. To protect yourself, either open the attachment in a virtual machine or use a built-in tool in your webmail provider.
Moreover, ensure you have a strong antivirus. It will immediately identify the more common malware types and inform you. Note that the most popular format known to carry a lot of malware include xls, doc and pdf.
5. Encrypt Your Emails with PGP
PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy. This is a free software that encrypts your emails and ensures no one can intercept, snoop or alter the email. Moreover, the software ensures that only the intended recipient can read the email.
However, note that with PGP both you and the recipient must have the software. That way, you create a key pair—a private and public key—that facilitates access to the email. Also, PGP leaves you vulnerable to people who can glean information from your metadata.
Following the above guidelines will ensure your email correspondence is as secure as possible and that you will not easily fall prey to hacking attempts.