A couple friends have recently had security scares with their Gmail account where they were worried that their accounts might have been hacked. I was emailing one of them about how to make sure that your account is safe, and I realized it might be handy to post this on my blog as well. Here’s the email that I just wrote to a friend: Here’s what I’d do: – change your password (make sure you’re on google.com when you change your password) – check for any strange activity. In Gmail, go to the bottom right and look for a message that looks like “Last account activity: 30 minutes ago. Open in 1 other location” and click on the “Details” link and look for any unusual logins, for example log ins from countries that you haven’t been in recently. – Also check for weird forwarding rules. If hackers get into your Gmail, sometimes they’ll create a rule that forwards all your email to them. To check your filtering rules, in Gmail click on the gear icon in the top right, then select Settings from the drop down. Click on the link for “Filters” and just check whether there’s any rules that look suspicious to you. In an ideal world, you’d turn on two-factor authentication like is described at https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/180744?hl=en . It’s more hassle to use two-factor authentication, but it makes your account much more secure against being hacked. I’m a big fan of two-factor authentication , but I realize that casual users might not want to turn it on. My take is that it’s a lot better to set up two-factor authentication than worry about a hacked account.
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I wanted to post about Google’s new two-factor authentication announcement. Two-factor authentication is something you have (e.g. a phone) and something you know (e.g. a password). It’s a Big Deal because if your account or business has two-factor authentication, those accounts are immediately less likely to be phished, hijacked, or otherwise abused. There’s a neat Google Authenticator application that runs on Android, iPhone, and Blackberry: For the “something you have,” Google provides lots of ways to authenticate: – SMS, e.g. for cell phones – a voice phone call, e.g. for landline phones – authentication apps, e.g. for smartphones that might be abroad or not have a signal. Android, iPhone, and Blackberry phones are supported. – one-time/single-use codes that you can print out as a final fallback and put in your wallet, desk or a safety deposit box. This announcement has a few bonus features. Here are some extra-good things that make me happy: – Two-factor authentication will be offered on all Gmail accounts “in the next few months,” according to TechCrunch. – You can authenticate a particular browser using cookies for 30 days per browser . So you don’t get bugged with a login message on a computer you use every day, like your home computer. – Google open-sourced the Android authentication app and according to that page will open-source the iPhone app soon. – Drew Hintz mentioned in the TechCrunch comments that the Google Authenticator app uses RFC 4226, so a lot of this work is open stuff that people could take and build on. Drew also does a great job debunking misconceptions in the TechCrunch comments: “Random commenter: Google wants my phone number? (insert too-much-data-conspiracy here)” “Drew: Actually, you can use the app if you prefer not to provide a phone number” Overall, this is a great launch. I’ve seen the pain that a hijacked account can cause , over and over and over again. Don’t just protect yourself with a password. As soon as you can, add an extra layer of protection with two-factor authentication on your account. Two-factor authentication: it’s not just for World of Warcraft any more.