After years of steady decline, email extortion is on the rise once again. In the first half of 2019 alone, the security company Symantec recorded almost 300 million scam emails. Most of these emails fall under the category of “sextortion.”
What is Sextortion?
Sextortion is a common practice among cybercriminals. You get an email, threatening to release photos or videos of your sexual activities unless you pay the hacker in cryptocurrency. Hackers can claim they infected your computer with malware and took control of your webcam to record you without you even knowing. They can use terms like “keylogger” and create a pretty convincing email praying on your fears. And of course, they can claim to have contact information of your friends, family, and coworkers — people they will share all that recorded material with unless you pay them off.
For many, it will sound plausible already. But some hackers can add a few more tweaks to make sure you believe them. Usually, it’s your password in the subject line of the email to get your attention. And to make the hack or malware story seem that much more real.
Here’s an interesting twist — most of the time, those photos or videos don’t even exist. No one hacked you, and there is no malware on your computer. These are mass emails that somehow bypass your spam filter. And your password suffered in a major data breach rather than from the hands of that particular ‘hacker’.
So why did people report almost $85 million in losses in 2018? Because hackers know how to convince you that they aren’t lying. Thus, it’s crucial to understand sextortion and what you can do not to become a victim.
So I Have Nothing to Worry About?
You shouldn’t go that far. Sextortion emails are scary. Although the people behind them may not have personal photos and videos of you, that doesn’t mean you can ignore them.
Especially if the hackers somehow have the password for your account. You face a threat if you still use the exposed password. And even more so, if it protects more than one of your accounts. As a quick fix, be sure to change your password immediately. And if you use that password anywhere else, change the passwords of all your accounts.
The easiest way to take your password security to the next level is by using a password manager. It encrypts and stores the details of your online accounts. Plus, you can use Firefox password managers (https://nordpass.com/download/firefox/) to generate long, secure, and unique passwords that are pretty much unbreakable. Not to mention the convenience. All you have to do is remember one password, and the password manager will take it from there.
What Else Can I Do To Stay Safe?
Using a password manager is not the only way to ensure the security of your online accounts. Follow these essential email safety tips:
- Use strong security technology on your email account. It prevents these types of messages from ever reaching your inbox.
- Never open attachments, links, or emails from unknown email addresses.
- Learn to recognize phishing attempts or suspicious activity from known associates. It can be a sign that their accounts may have been compromised.
- Scan all files before downloading, even if they came from trusted senders.
- Use multi-factor authentication as well as biometric security features.
- Check sites like haveibeenpwned. com to see if your email address suffered in any data breaches.
- Once in a while, review the activity of your social media accounts.
- If you discover a breach or see some unusual activity in your accounts, change your passwords right away.
- Change all passwords every 30-60 days.
- Report all suspicious emails to your local authorities.
Sextortion is one of many potential threats online. For better security, be sure to learn about digital hygiene. It’s a set of best practices you can follow to secure your data and privacy online.
Sextortion: How to Avoid the Latest Email Scams
Sextortion plays on our deepest fears of shame and embarrassment. By targeting these emotions, cybercriminals can convince people to send them hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But in reality, sextortion emails are quite low-tech. Like the “Nigerian Prince” scam. But instead of our need for money, sextortion scams prey on our fears.
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Protect yourself from sextortion and other email scams by using security strategies and tools. Secure all your accounts with unique passwords, learn to recognize suspicious emails, and make sure to use extra tools like multi-factor authentication and biometric security. Not only it will save you from falling for sextortion emails, but also a vast list of cyberattacks that threaten your privacy and safety online.