September 18, 2008

Freebie Dangers: Getting Your Yahoo Email Hacked

Yesterday and today, the news is filled with Gov. Sarah Palin's Yahoo E-Mail account being hacked, and the contents spread over the web. Last night on TV, I heard that even her teenaged daughter's cellphone number was revealed - and that she was getting calls from strangers.

Look, I don't care how you're voting -- there are mentally ill people out there, surfing the web, who don't need to have personal contact information for the minor children of politicians, celebrities, and the like. That's just dangerous and children should be protected no matter how famous their parents are.

Okay, enough of the soapbox.

Freebies are great, but ....

Freebies are great. Simplifying life means taking advantage of freebies whereever you find them.

And one of the great free services that's out there is Yahoo Mail. I use it everyday -- along with Yahoo Calendar, and I'm very happy with the service.

But is it safe? Can my Yahoo E-Mail Be Easily Hacked? Just how private is my Yahoo mail?

Well, I went and found a blog with a detailed explanation of how Sarah Palin's email was hacked (go here for details) and discovered that you're only as safe as the hacker's access to your personal information.

In Palin's case, he (or she) had the opportunity to surf the web for all sorts of personal information (where Sarah Palin went to high school, her residence's zip code, etc.) which he/she then used to start playing around with the secret questions that Yahoo asks when you report to Yahoo that you've forgotten your password.

So, once the hacker had her username -- not sure how he/she got that -- he/she started playing around with the Secret Questions until he got to change the password himself. And then, the hacker took over the mailbox after changing the password to "popcorn" -- reading it, disseminating it.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Freebie Email Account?

Yahoo has some security suggestions -- they seem inadequate here. As of this posting, I did not find any clear, easy-to-follow article or post that provided clear guidance on how to protect your Yahoo E-Mail account from being hacked just like Sarah Palin's.

I did find these suggestions:

1. Use a long, strange password and change it often. Nothing connected to your personal information. Letters and numbers.

2. Use different emails for different things. Have disposal emails. (I do this -- I have an email address for newsletters and the like, not only a separate account but on a separate service. No personal information goes thru here.)

3. Protect your computer with firewalls and a good anti-virus software (me, I use AVG - it's free and it's good).

Two things I would add:

(1) have your own set, bizarre answer to any secret question - your mother's maiden name? Manufacturer or Llama ... name of your first pet? Lawn or Expense. Why? Even if they can get your username, no amount of personal information is going to give them your zany answer to the secret question; and

(2) change your IP address via your ISP periodically -just call and ask, they can do this remotely.

Maybe we'll get some good techie advice soon - and maybe Yahoo will even go public with some more advice on this issue. If I see/hear anything more, I'll post it here in the Comments.
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