Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are you Sure your Email isn’t being Hacked?

email-trap.jpg In the interests of full disclosure, I didn’t come up with this idea. I read about it in a computer magazine a year or two back but of course when I wanted to refer to it for this article, I couldn’t find it! But someone on Digg eventually managed to find it so here is the original article if you want to see it.

As email providers give away more and more storage space, more and more personal information is being stored in those accounts. People are increasingly using their email accounts for more than just email - it has become their online document storage area with backup documents such as passwords, bank account numbers, account usernames, scans of correspondence and much more. Even if you don’t use your email for this purpose, you may still be inadvertantly revealing personal information in general conversation emails to family and close friends. A 6GB Gmail account or an unlimited space Yahoo account is potentially an information bonanza source for identity thieves who manage to figure out your email password and then go snooping.

But if someone HAS cracked your email password, it may not be apparent to you. A snooper can easily read an email then mark it as unread again. So the best thing to do would be to set up an “electronic tripwire” so if someone breaks into your account, you’ll know about it.

Here’s how to do it :

    1. Sign up for a website hit counter at You can leave a fake name and whatever URL you want (I used for mine).

    2. You will then receive a welcome email from OneStat with a text attachment called OneStatScript.txt. Download this attachment to your computer and then delete the email (you don’t want any email snoopers finding it later). But before deleting the email, write down your OneStat account number as you will need it later.

    3. Change the name of the text document to something that will make the email snooper salivate such as passwordlist. Also change the file format from a text document to a website page. So make it something like passwordlist.htm .

    4. Email this newly-renamed file as an attachment to the email account you want to monitor. Make sure the email subject title also lures the snooper in (maybe something like List of Passwords. You get the idea :).

    5. The trap is now set. Basically if someone opens the email and opens the attachment, OneStat will record a hit. If you then log into your OneStat account say once a day, you will see how many hits you have had to your attachment.


The OneStat account page then gives you details on each “visitor” including the date and time they accessed the web document and more importantly their location and IP address!


So how does having this information help you? Well first of all, it will alert you to change your password to something stronger. Secondly, if you see the snooper’s location and you only know one or two people there then it narrows down your list of potential suspects.

By the way, I recommended signing up for One Stat because the author of the original idea mentioned them. But if you know of any other hit counter services that send text documents to your email address, then please mention them in the comments. I don’t have any financial advantage recommending One Stat so I am perfectly happy to consider alternative companies.

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