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Inside the Middle Kingdom

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Protecting your Email Account

This blog posting is not about living in and experiencing China. Rather I am going to use this forum to blog about another important topic right now- internet security. I feel strongly about this after a recent incident of my own when my email account was hacked into by some shifty West Africans in London. I was out of commission for a couple of weeks because Google went so far as to not only shut down my account to the hackers but me as well. I wasn’t able to access my gmail account, my google calendars, my google documents and this blog was also temporarily shut down. I appreciate everyone’s concern during this entire ordeal. Thanks to my friend Eva who called the guys and gave them an earful as well as my parents who actually called the London Police and Scotland Yard. They’ve got the guys at the crime lab working in shifts so I have hope that justice will soon be mine.

Sadly, I know that I am not the only victim of these amateur but crafty hackers. So from my ordeal I would like to offer a few tips on how to protect yourself from having your account and privacy on the internet compromised.

1) Change your email password- Do this especially if you are afraid that your account has been compromised.

2) Do not use the same password for everything. While it is easier to remember just one password for your email account, your online banking, Skype, and iTunes, etc., it is too easy to be figured out by hackers if you are using the same password over and over.

3) Check your account activity- If you have a gmail account, you can check the location/ IP address of each time you have logged onto your gmail account. That way if an IP address in an unfamiliar location shows up, you will know if your account may have been compromised. This function is in the middle and at the bottom of your gmail mail page (on the same page where you have your Inbox). It is small and says “Last account activity” and you should click on “Details” next to it. If anyone knows how to do this with other web clients like yahoo.com or hotmail.com, please share!

4) HTTPS websites- When possible, access websites that have HTTPS instead of HTTP. Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure or (HTTPS) creates a secure channel over an insecure network. Unfortunately not all web sites are equipped with HTTPS, however you can get an encrypted search engine through google and make it your home page on your internet browser. You can also download a free Firefox extension from HTTPS Everywhere which will allow you to have encrypted communication with a number of websites.
- Google encrypted https://encrypted.google.com/
- HTTPS Everywhere https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere

5) Use a VPN- For folks in China, having a virtual private network client comes in handy to access facebook, youtube and other blocked blogs here in China. However, in addition to your activity not being easily detected by the Chinese government, a VPN client will protect you to some level from hacking predators who just want to get your information and suck your blood. This is why I will aim to use a VPN connection even when I’m outside of China and can freely access youtube.com, etc.

6) Download a free virus scanner- A virus scanner can work round the clock and detect viruses on your hard drive as well as any tracking cookies on your web browser. You can also schedule a full scan on your computer. I do scans every day now on my computer.
- I recommend Avast Antivirus. http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download

7) Clear cookies and the history on your internet browser- I recommend doing this every three days or more often if you feel that you are vulnerable.
- Firefox web browser- You can do this under Tools on the toolbar on the top of the page
- Windows Explorer- I think it can also be accessed under Tools on the toolbar on the top of the page. Switch to Firefox!

So there you have it. I am by no means a tech savvy person, but I think these tips will help protect you and your information on the web. In a day and age when so much of what we do is wrapped up in us being able to access the internet and our own information, it really can be quite frustrating if not debilitating when you are suddenly cut off from your email account, your documents, your calendar, your contacts and your email history. Good luck and safe surfing and emailing!

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