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Hacking vs. Spoofing

We all use the internet with a healthy amount of fear. Identity theft. Erroneous credit card charges. Scams. Viruses. Scary stuff.

How can you stay safe?

You are probably already doing what you can: your computer has an antivirus program, you download the updates, and you scan your computer regularly. Further, you do not respond to suspicious ads, you do not agree to send money to people you don’t know, nor do you randomly reveal personal information. Good start.

There is another thing that you can do on a regular basis: change your passwords.

(I know what you are thinking: “No, please not the passwords! Anything but the passwords. I can barely remember the ones I already have.”)

Ok. Maybe you don’t need to change all of your passwords right away. But let me give you an example of why you should at least know how to change your email password.

Ever receive an email from a friend you know didn’t send it? The message contained an ominous looking link, or the email’s content was for products you know your friend would not be soliciting. It’s called “spoofing.”

Spoofing is annoying. It may feel like an invasion of privacy, but in the world of internet invasions, it is relatively benign. It is not hacking.

Hacking is illegally getting your password and actively gaining access to — and possibly compromising — your accounts.

Spoofing is an automated “robot” picking up your email address and placing it in the “From” field of its own email. It enters some content, and sends the email to the addresses in your contact list. It is not actually targeting you personally.

That said, it is still uncomfortable.

If you suspect that your email account has been spoofed (you’ll know because you get an email from yourself, or fifty friends contact you about a strange email they got from you), check your “Sent” folder for emails that you didn’t send. If you see any, you should change your email password immediately. This will lock out the unauthorized “robot” and re-secure your account, at least for the time being.

Of course, if you change your email password on your computer, be sure that you change it on your smartphone and your tablet too.

I can’t tell you here how to change your email password — each email service handles it differently — but you can Google your service (AOL, Gmail, Comcast, Bellsouth, etc.) for directions. Nor can I tell you here how to change your passwords for other password-protected sites you frequent; each bank, store, and service has its own protocol.

Be vigilant about protecting your computers and your privacy. One way is to learn how to change your email password, in case you get spoofed.