How To Keep Your Email Safe And Secure

Your email is your business’s lifeblood these days. Most clients like the convenience of reading their updates on their home, on their title commitment, and everything else through the convenience of email. And, while they may or may not be following safe procedures, it should be one of your primary concerns.

After all, your clients private information is in those emails. Financial records, account numbers, names, and other forms of sensitive data that shouldn’t be released to the public. What if someone guesses your password or otherwise gets access?

There are some very good tips you can follow to keep your email safe. Most of these solutions are simpler than some recipes you’ve been dying to try or some driving maneuvers you perform daily. If you add these layers of security, you can be confident in your email’s safety.

Password Security

The first line of defense against people who’d like your information is to create strong, unique, and unguessable passwords to your accounts. Many people tend to use passwords like “pa$$word1! “ when that’s one of the most easily guessed passwords. Below is a list pulled from CBS News of the 10 most common passwords last year:

 

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. 123456789
  7. 111111
  8. 1234567
  9. iloveyou
  10. adobe123

 

If you see any of your passwords on here, you should be changing them right now. Those are the most common and they are also the most easily guessed.

Best practice for passwords is to use a random string of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols of significant length (8 or more characters). It should look more like “1dfGHt#2” than “password.”

If you’re worried about remembering passwords, use a password manager app or sync tool like iCloud Keychain or 1Password. That way, you can generate extremely secure passwords that your phone and/or computer will put in automatically for you while still maintaining the security that you need.

Phishing Attempts

But, a good password isn’t worth anything if you give it away willingly. We’ve all been warned about phishing and spam, and never to click links in emails where you (a) weren’t expecting an email or (b) don’t know the sender. Those maxims are still true but there’s even more to be worried about now.

Phishing is, specifically, the act of imitating a legitimate company’s login screen to get your password. They’re getting good at replicating the official website, too. Here are some common traits of phishing emails, pulled from Microsoft:

  • Threats
    • An email might claim your account will be shut down or important documents will be lost if you don’t take action through their links. This is usually false. If it isn’t, you’ll be notified when you log in to the real service through a link you’re familiar with.
  • Grammar errors
    • Most spam artists are not well known for having good grammar and punctuation. If the email reads choppy or wrong, it’s most likely a fake.
  • Email is “from” a big company
    • Phishers generally don’t want information for smaller, niche websites, so be especially suspicious of emails from the big guys: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

Follow this rule of thumb if you don’t want to get caught by a phishing scam: if you receive an email from anyone asking you to login, give them your password, or otherwise give up information, do not use their links or give them that information. Instead, if you’re concerned, go to the website they’re claiming to be from yourself by hand-typing the URL into your browser. That way, you can be sure you’re at the right place.

A problem that faces real estate and title professionals in particular are schemes to get you to transfer funds to a dummy account. The emails in question will look almost exactly like real requests for transfers and if you’re not careful, you might end up sending large amounts of money to fake accounts. When in doubt, verify the transaction request with the sender if you know them, or take steps to find out if they’re legit. Use the tips above to recognize and avoid emails intended to steal passwords or cash and delete the offending messages as soon as you can.

Security Questions

Recovery options are also difficult because if you’re vigilant about setting a good password and avoiding/ignoring phishing but make your security questions easy to answer or easily researched, you’ve done a lot of hard work for nothing. When you set up your security questions, make sure they’re:

  • Obscure
  • Not public information
  • Instantly memorable

If you’ve ever revealed your security question’s answer anywhere, ever, don’t use it. Instead, if you’re given the option, make up your own question about something you don’t tell others, or use the question that you’ve never told anyone. Be aware, too, that some image memes that are commonly shared on Facebook are looking for information commonly found in these questions. If you know you use certain details for these questions, don’t publish them on any social media network or tell anyone you don’t trust.

2-Factor Authentication

Some websites (like Google, Facebook, and Twitter) have introduced what’s known as 2-factor authentication. It may sound complex but it’s actually rather simple: they require any password input to have another, smaller password generated by another device. The services I mentioned earlier all use apps on iPhones/Androids to generate the code. If you activate this system, you’ll be asked for a code each time you log in that only you, on your device, can make. That way, even if someone else has your password, the only way anyone’s getting in is if they have your code generator—and they’d need to steal your phone for that.

Stay Safe

The only way that you’re going to lose your data and your email account if you use these tips would be to hand it to them directly. Staying safe has never been easier thanks to the basic tools that we’ve been given from the email providers themselves and the basic tips to maintaining a safe, secure email system earlier in the email: make a good password, give it to no one, don’t log in through links but rather through the sites themselves, and just practice good email management, and you’ll be fine!

 

Actionable Tips

Follow these basic tips to stay safe through your email:

  • Trust no one
    • Any email coming from anyone you don’t know or any company from whom you’re not expecting an email is suspect. Don’t click those links.
    • Any legitimate web service or company can verify those requests. Call them or send an email directly to your contact, not by “reply.”
  • Use good passwords
    • Get rid of simple passwords and those “123456” codes—they will get you into trouble.
    • Passwords should contain:
      • At least 8 characters (the more the better)
      • Symbols, numbers, and both upper and lower case letters
      • A jumble of letters that can’t be found in a dictionary
  • Use additional account protection
    • Services like Google’s Authenticator and other forms of two-factor security make it harder for phishing and brute-force password hacking. Use those services.
    • Don’t make your security answers public information—if it’s used to secure an account, keep it to yourself.
  • Use good judgement
    • If an email feels wrong or is unexpected, confirm and verify it. It’s usually too good to be true.

Monitoring Your Brand Image

As professionals, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s going on in the world we live in. From the vast social networks that we must keep track of to the niche sites where our businesses might be talked about without our knowledge, how can you keep your eyes on what’s being said—and how can you use that information to make your business better? reputation poster

Google Alerts

One popular way of monitoring your image is to use Google Alerts to ensure that you’re always on top of what Google sees—and we all know that Google sees just about everything. Put your name into the box, set your email to receive the alerts, and you’ll be on your way. If there’s something new that Google finds, you’ll hear about it as often as you like. That way, if something happens in one of the remote corners of the web, you’ll know about it.

Social Media

You can track your image on social media channels mostly by making sure you maintain a solid presence online. The internet is not shy about telling you exactly what it thinks, good or bad. If you give people an outlet to pour out their experiences, good or bad, you’ll hear about it. In fact, some companies have taken to proactively diagnosing and fixing the problems while engaging entirely through social media channels. Listening to social media for your name or business name can be as simple as searching through Twitter, Facebook, or your preferred network’s search function, but you might consider using a solution like Hootsuite to set up search terms on each network that it will monitor and create a dashboard for. It might make it simpler for you to be listening for what people are saying about you.

Location Websites

A big one that people don’t generally think of is to be monitoring sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, and other map-based sites where people might be tempted to leave bad reviews or say bad things. Make sure that in your search of the internet that you keep sites like these in mind. It’ll help you in the long run because not only is it good to claim your locations and keep the info up-to-date, you’ll be able to head off customers who didn’t use the proper support channels to let you know about the problem.

Overall, monitoring your online image is easy once you get the hang of it. In fact, most of it is automated thanks to tools like Alerts and Hootsuite. Don’t let it distract you from the goal of providing the best client service that you can.


Maximize Your Battery Life

Our world is increasingly mobile, it seems, and that means that battery life is a far greater concern than it used to be. As of May 2013, only 9% of Americans don’t have a cell phone of some sort and about 56% of the population has a battery-drinking smartphone. We’ve all had fears about low batteries, losing connectivity and our only real line of communication. Those fears are well-founded, especially considering that average battery life in a smartphone is around a day if you’re babying it. However, there are some things you can do to make sure your mobile link to your data and business stays running throughout the day.

iPhone charging screen

Battery Misconceptions

First and foremost, you need to know a few things about the battery itself. All cellular devices sold in the US right now use Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries, and these batteries are the most advanced battery tech we have available to us. These are not like the old rechargables we were using when cell phones first came to market.

For instance, Li-ion does not suffer from “memory effect”, and therefore does not need to be drained empty and fully refilled each time for the safety of the battery. To maintain Li-ion’s ability to hold a charge, best practice is to charge it when you can, and don’t let it discharge completely very often. Keep a charger with you and let it sip when you can. This will not harm your battery; in fact, it’s the way the battery works the best.

When you’re losing charge in your smartphone’s battery, it’s either because the battery’s charge gauge is a little off or because the battery is getting old. Be sure to do a calibration (discharge to 0 percent and recharge) as often as the manufacturer recommends. For instance, Apple recommends doing this to your iPhone once a month. This does nothing to the battery itself, it just resets the gauge.

The biggest way to damage a smartphone battery is by exposing it to excessive heat. Don’t leave the phone in a hot car or in direct sunlight; the higher the temperature, the faster the battery will degrade.

And, so you know: modern smartphone batteries are rated to last 3-5 years, which is most often longer than you’ll own the device itself, so don’t worry too much about battery health. Be responsible and you’ll be fine on this part.

Battery Usage Best Practices

Most battery drain problems are more usage related than battery health related. How you use your phone has as much (if not more) effect on how your daily charge holds up. Certain apps (like the Facebook app) are known battery drains, while your brightness settings and cellular settings can affect your charge.

By and large, the biggest culprit of battery drain is when your phone is searching for cellular signal. iPhones, which have great battery life in optimal conditions, can have abysmal battery life if they’re constantly searching for signal. One of our employees here lives in a signal dead zone and sees his battery drop from 100% to 40% in a matter of a few hours when at home, but walks out of the office every night with over 90%—he has good signal there. If you’re consistently in a low signal zone and don’t need your phone or text messages, consider turning on Airplane Mode and WiFi. Those two steps will skyrocket your battery life.

Also, hunt for apps that continually refresh in the background, such as email, Facebook, and other social and communications apps. While they’re handy, they’re also battery drains. It comes down to how necessary they are. The same employee from our previous anecdote uninstalled the Facebook app and has seen an improvement in battery life.

The simple way to put it is this: if you need your battery to last all day (and even into the next day), evaluate your apps and keep only what you need on your phone. Otherwise, be sure to carry a charger—it’s the ultimate solution to poor battery life. This should help keep your business moving!