Your Email Was Hacked – An Expert‘s In-Depth Guide to Take Back Control

As a cybersecurity expert with over 15 years of experience in cloud data protection, I‘ve seen it all when it comes to email hacking. The number of breaches due to compromised email accounts is staggering – over 80% of data breaches start with access via an inbox according to Verizon‘s 2022 Data Breach Report. And thousands of regular users like you also deal with hacked emails each day.

Rest assured – with the right action plan, you can boot the hackers out, regain control of your account, avoid lasting damage, and secure your inbox for the future. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know, drawing from real-world cases I‘ve handled and the latest data on email cyber threats.

Recognizing the Signs Your Email‘s Been Hacked

The first step is identifying whether your account has actually been compromised. Here are the most common indicators:

You Suddenly Can‘t Log In

Hackers will often change your password first thing to lock you out. In more advanced attacks, they also set up two-factor authentication using their own device to block account recovery. Imagine opening your inbox one morning and realizing your password no longer works. This is a classic sign of trouble.

Tip: If you haven‘t already, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) yourself on important accounts. It sends a login code to your phone, so hackers halfway across the world can‘t access the account with just a username and password.

Strange Emails Appear in Your Sent Folder

Look through your outbox for messages you don‘t recall sending. 9 times out of 10, that means a hacker has taken over your account and is already busy impersonating you. They‘ll ask your contacts for money, account login details, or sensitive personal information.

For example, a new client recently contacted me, distraught because her sister had gotten an odd Facebook message from her requesting $800 and gift card codes to cover hospital bills. It sounded nothing like my client and made no sense. But it was sent from her actual email account – a clear breach.

Contacts Question Strange Emails "From You"

On the flip side, your friends and family will often notice an issue first if the hackers have started impersonating you. They‘ll check in asking if you really needed urgent money or sent that weird attachment.

I can‘t tell you how many times a client has first discovered their hacked email because Aunt May called about a message requesting iTunes gift cards to replace a hacked laptop. Never a dull day in cybersecurity!

Unrecognized Locations Appear in Login History

Check your account‘s recent login history, usually under security settings or activity log. Email providers record locations including country, region, and sometimes IP address for each login.

Scan for any foreign or peculiar areas totally unfamiliar to you. For example, logins from Saskatchewan when you‘ve never visited Canada might indicate your account is compromised. Over 80% of big email providers like Gmail now provide login history to help spot trouble.

Pro Tip: Also look for odd device types you don‘t recognize, like "Windows 10 Desktop" when you only use an iPhone. This can reveal hacker activity.

If you see any suspicious red flags like these, it‘s likely your inbox has been infiltrated. But don‘t panic yet – here are the steps to take back control and block further damage.

Step 1: Run a Comprehensive Anti-Virus Scan

The very first thing to do is scan your devices for potential malware or viruses. Hackers frequently rely on trojans, keyloggers, spyware and other nasty programs to steal account credentials and data.

These insidious infections can lurk on your system for weeks or months, capturing every keystroke and screenshot. Run full anti-virus scans on all your computers and phones to identify and remove any malicious software as soon as possible.

Pro Tip: I recommend using a respected premium anti-virus like Norton 360, McAfee Total Protection or Bitdefender Antivirus. They provide real-time monitoring to catch the latest phishing scams, malware attacks and security holes targeting your email.

Step 2: Log Out of All Devices

Once your system is clean, immediately log out of your compromised email account on every device you‘ve ever accessed it.

Most major providers like Gmail or Outlook give you a handy "Log out all sessions" option. This instantly kicks any hackers out and prevents further snooping or malicious emails being sent from your account.

Act fast here – a shocking 91% of successful data breaches last year took weeks or more to detect according to a 2022 IBM report. The quicker you cut off access, the less damage can accumulate.

Step 3: Reset Your Password and Security Questions

Now it‘s time to reset your password and any security questions to lock the hackers out for good.

Come up with a brand new, ultra-secure password using these best practices:

  • 12+ characters – The longer the better to thwart brute force cracking attempts.

  • Mix upper and lower case letters – Adds complexity that makes passwords harder to crack.

  • Include numbers and symbols – Makes it exponentially more challenging to guess.

  • Avoid common words or phrases – Those are easier for hackers to figure out.

  • Never reuse old passwords – Since compromised passwords are what likely got you hacked in the first place.

If you use common credentials across accounts, take this opportunity to update passwords everywhere – especially for banking, insurance, social media and shopping websites.

Pro Tip: Use a password manager like Dashlane or 1Password to generate and store strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. This is hands down the best way to avoid reuse or forgetting passwords.

With your new password, don‘t forget to also reset your security questions and backup recovery options which hackers may have modified to maintain account access.

Step 4: Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Once your password is reset, it‘s imperative to switch on two-factor authentication (2FA). This adds an extra layer of protection beyond your password.

It will require you to enter a special code sent to your phone or an authenticator app each time you log in. Enabling 2FA secures your account against hackers even if they manage to steal your new password in the future.

Interesting data point – according to a 2022 Google study, accounts with 2FA enabled are 150x less likely to be breached! It‘s that effective, so no excuses not to turn it on.

Step 5: Check Other Accounts for Compromise

Here‘s an important step most people ignore – take stock of any other accounts linked to your hacked email. There‘s a good chance the attackers have already compromised:

  • Banking and financial accounts
  • Social media profiles
  • Shopping sites with payment info saved
  • Online forums or apps where you used the email to register

Scrutinize all linked accounts for any suspicious activity, updated passwords, newly added devices or payments you don‘t recognize. Update credentials where needed and place warnings for fraudulent charges.

Being proactive here is crucial to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft or financial fraud, which can take months to undo if you don‘t act swiftly.

Story Time: A client who owned a small business had his Gmail infiltrated. The hackers then accessed his Amazon and PayPal accounts connected to the email. They placed expensive orders for electronics and transferred funds before he realized what was happening. We were thankfully able to reverse most of the charges, but it was an expensive hassle for him.

Step 6: Contact Relevant Authorities

You‘ll also want to report the email hack to the appropriate authorities who may be able to provide additional support:

  • Contact your local FBI cybercrime office – They can assist with mitigating identity theft risks.

  • File an FTC complaint – Reporting cybercrimes helps authorities build cases against hackers.

  • Notify contacts – Let close contacts know to temporarily ignore emails from your account.

  • Contact your email provider – Some providers like Gmail have cybersecurity teams that can offer specialized assistance.

Unfortunately email hacking is still all too common. Over 100,000 Gmail accounts are compromised each day according to Google‘s own estimates. But taking quick action lessens the impacts and prevents you from becoming another statistic.

Securing Your Email to Prevent Future Attacks

Recovering from a breach is one thing, but preventing another attack is just as important for long-term email safety:

Use a Password Manager

As mentioned above, password managers like 1Password and LastPass are a cybersecurity must-have these days. They securely store strong, randomized passwords for all your accounts in an encrypted vault. This ensures you have unique credentials across every website for top-notch protection.

Pro Tip: Enable two-factor authentication on your password manager as well to prevent access in case hackers compromise your master password. This adds an extra security layer.

Delete Unused Accounts

Do you have old email accounts from schools, jobs, or providers you haven‘t used in ages? Shut those down – inactive inboxes are vulnerable to hacking. Consider forwarding emails to your primary account as well to consolidate access points.

Monitor Your Credit

Routinely check your credit reports and sign up for transaction monitoring with your bank. This allows you to spot any suspicious financial activity stemming from a potential identity theft situation. Early notice here gives you more time to intervene and minimize losses.

Use Caution with Public WiFi

Avoid accessing sensitive accounts and data over public WiFi networks at coffee shops, hotels, airports, etc. It‘s fairly easy for even amateur hackers to intercept traffic on open networks. Use a trusted VPN if you need to log on for something important.

Establish Backup Verification Methods

Have backup phone numbers or recovery emails set in your critical account settings. This prevents hackers from locking you out completely if they compromise your primary email. Rotate and update your backup contact info every so often as an extra precaution.

Know the Warning Signs

Finally, keep the common red flags for hacked or phishing emails in mind so you can recognize and report problems early before major damage occurs.

Don‘t Become Another Victim – Take Back Control of Your Inbox

Dealing with a hacked email is frustrating and unsettling, especially if financial accounts or personal data is at risk. But armed with this comprehensive guide, you now have an action plan to boot the hackers out, avoid lasting harm, restore security, and most importantly – prevent it from occurring again.

Hopefully you never have to implement these steps. But if your inbox is ever compromised, you now have the knowledge to take swift action. Don‘t let it ruin your whole day or week! With greater awareness and precaution, we can reclaim our online privacy and make life harder for the bad guys.

Stay vigilant out there – your data is a precious asset. Please reach out if you need any specialized assistance getting back online safely after an email breach. I‘m always glad to help clients respond and recover when things go wrong. Here‘s to keeping your inbox secure!

Luis Masters

Written by Luis Masters

Luis Masters is a highly skilled expert in cybersecurity and data security. He possesses extensive experience and profound knowledge of the latest trends and technologies in these rapidly evolving fields. Masters is particularly renowned for his ability to develop robust security strategies and innovative solutions to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.

His expertise extends to areas such as risk management, network security, and the implementation of effective data protection measures. As a sought-after speaker and author, Masters regularly contributes valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital security. His work plays a crucial role in helping organizations navigate the complex world of online threats and data privacy.