Email Privacy

In the last decade, email has not changed much. On the other hand, methods for exploiting email have evolved quite a bit, so protecting private data in email environments is more challenging. The past ten years has seen increased hacking and more effective phishing tactics. Following are some strategies to help protect your email privacy:

1. Use a “spam” address
When you sign up for new services or accounts, or make online purchases, you are typically requested to use an email address. If you are not sure of the website, a good technique is to have a “spam” or secondary email address to use in these types of cases. Then, if your email address is shared beyond what you approved, it will not clog your “real” email address with spammy or even malicious emails.

2. Use a good email provider
Does the email service provider you use offer encryption? Good spam filters? These are important questions to find answers for before you sign up for that new email account. Three of the most popular email platforms, Yahoo Mail, Gmail and Microsoft, offer encrypting of messages for their users, which keeps third party software (AKA hackers) from intercepting them. If your email provider does not include built-in encryption, you can add free email encryption tools like OpenPGP. Most email services also provide phishing and spam filters, and it is worth the time it takes to set things up and prevent unwanted messages from reaching the inbox, because the wide majority of emails today are spam.

3. Be careful when opening email
You should be very careful of any emails that are sent from email addresses that are not familiar to you, whether that is a business or individual. Never download any attachments from senders you do not recognize, as they can contain viruses or other malicious software; this type of software can take control of your computer or harvest your private data. Another kind of email practice is known as “phishing” and uses elaborate tactics to trick email recipients into giving their money or information. Sometimes these phishing emails will claim that there is a large amount of money, and that you must confirm your account or verify your billing data by giving them your private information. Remember that if something sounds potentially spammy, it likely is and do not download any attachments or respond.

Emails from acquaintances, or from businesses that seem legitimate, cn still be malicious. Viruses can take over a friend’s email and send messages to everyone in their contact list. If you get an email that looks suspicious from a friend, especially asking for money or with an odd attachment, verify with the friend via another method that it is really from them. Spammers also impersonate businesses or legal entities like the FBI and IRS; they send fraudulent messages that seem legitimate. If you get this type of email, you should confirm with them by phone that it is legitimate. The FTC operates a website that helps to educate consumers about common types of email fraud.

4. Email is moving towards interconnectivity
Email today is basically set up to send and receive content and messages via private channels – and that hasn’t really changed over the last ten years. Recently, there has been a push to make email more like social network accounts by embedding features with additional functionality. Google and Yahoo have both moved in this direction by introducing Yahoo! Pulse and Google Buzz. Email providers are continuing to move toward more public and interconnected accounts.With email, this includes all of your data such as your contacts, how often you communicate, and possibly even the content you share in your email. A new player in the industry is recent startup is expressly interested in making user emails public. If you want your emails to remain private, you should be especially careful setting privacy controls.

5. Passwords and sign-outs
Strong passwords are a vital part of email privacy. For privacy, the more complicated the password is, the better it will protect your account. Your email password should include numbers and letters, and make use of both lower and upper cases, and other characters like dollar signs and pound signs. Microsoft has a guide on setting strong passwords, along with a password strength checker, that is useful for making sure you are secure. Always remember to sign out when done using your email, especially when using a shared or public computer. This prevents access to your account by anyone else; just closing the browser is not enough, you must sign out of the email account.