We’ve heard about State Department e-mails and whether or not classified information was put at risk by former Secretary of State Clinton. This has been turned into a political issue for obvious reasons. But when you peel away the rhetoric, it’s about our government’s policies and procedures and what can we all do to protect our own emails.
When it comes to government policies and procedures for handling emails, it appears that some departments may have not done a stellar job keeping up with the technology times. For example, when it comes to email addresses, it appears that Secretaries of State for decades have not been required to use their government email addresses or follow other policies or procedures.
As a result, most, including Secretaries Clinton, Rice, and even Powell, often used their own personal email addresses for government business. These policies go to both the Department’s ability to maintain records and security. The Federal Records Act requires agency directors to preserve documents generated in the course of business, but did not address non-work emails accounts until recently.
Most of us use one of the larger email services, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and such. Each of those companies offers decent email security. You can check your e-mail settings periodically to insure that you’re making full use of everything they offer. Other types of third party security is available but has to be updated regularly to work as intended. And of course never click on those unknown links because that’s how the scammers “phish” to get on to your computer with malware.
Among the best things you can do on your own include using a good password, changing it fairly often and remembering to log out after your you use your email. A good password is one you can remember but is hard for hackers to guess or discover by computer program. Dates or birth day, phone numbers and consecutive numbers are not good. Neither are obvious words like your name. If someone can read it about you on social media, it’s not a good password. Do use upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers mixed. And test your password for strength using one of the on-line tools that do this for you.
E-Mail on mobile devices is especially tricky because there are some places where you’re more susceptible to hackers.
One of the scariest scams hackers use on cell phones is sometimes called “man in the middle.” That’s where the hacker gets access and can then monitor everything you do on your cell phone. One of the more common ways they get that access is by sending you a text pretending to be from your service provider and asking for permission to reconfigure your phones settings so one easy protection is to never click OK to a text like that.
Another way hackers can take over your phone is by embedding malware, or malicious software, in an app. When you download the app, the malware gets to work corrupting your system and stealing your data. So treat your cell phone as you would a computer and be very careful about which apps you download, avoid free apps knock off versions of apps and only get apps from well-known vendors.
It’s also a good idea to read the “permissions” that apps required before downloading them. Steer clear of apps that ask for your consent to make phone calls, connect to the Internet, reveal your identity and location or do anything else that sounds shifty.
You can also download an antivirus app like Lookout, Norton and AVG, but remember, security apps screen only for viruses, worms, Trojans and other malware that are already in circulation. That’s why it’s important to promptly download security updates, not only from app developers but also from your cellphone provider.
Clues that you might have already been infected include delayed receipt of e-mails and texts, sluggish performance while surfing the Internet and shorter battery life. Also look for unexplained charges on your cellphone bill.