Jean worries about hackers stealing her email passwords

By | October 8, 2011
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Jean is concerned about hackers stealing her Outlook Express passwords
I have Windows XP. I am wondering where email addresses are stored other than in ‘stored user name & passwords’ via the control panel and User Accounts? Mine shows it blank…no passwords saved, yet when I ran the SIW program (System information for Windows by Topala Software Solutions) I ran down each category which included ‘passwords’. I was shocked to find all my email addresses and passwords there. Two of them were email addresses for Windows Live, which I no longer have, but cannot find anywhere to delete those two. My question is where else are system email addresses hidden? Is this normal? If my computer were to be hijacked, I see how easy it is to get any of my personal emails and private information. I always thought if there the stored email passwords area in user accounts was blank, none were stored. Not the case. Can you advise? Thanks!

Our answer
Hi Jean. Outlook Express passwords, messages, and folders are stored in several places – the main one is in your Outlook Message store. Passwords are also stored in the registry. We’re not sure what you mean about your computer being “hijacked”. For the sake of answering you we’re going to assume you mean a hacker – someone outside your home accessing your email addresses and passwords remotely. The chances of that happening are very remote – about one in one billion. Hackers don’t sit in the shadows lurking nearby waiting to hijack your computer. They may trick you into giving up passwords and other personal information. They may trick you into installing a data-stealing bot or Trojan. But the odds of a hacker targeting your personal computer are infinitely smaller than you being struck by lightning, or struck on the head by a meteor, or you winning the Mega Millions Lottery (about 1 in 95 million). So your odds of winning “The Big One” in the lottery are about 10 times greater than you having your data stole by a hacker targeting your computer directly.

You can reduce your risks by not clicking on links in email that ask you to click links to change your password or account information. You can reduce your risks by keeping your computer protected with good antivirus and antispyware programs and keeping them updated. You can reduce your risks by thinking before you click. The horror stories you hear about hackers lying in wait and stealing your information by “hacking” into your computer are very very slim. Your PC or laptop is just of a billion computers and devices connected to the Internet. If you have good security software, you don’t click on links in suspicious emails, and you use your own good common sense, your risk is so small that your time would be better spent worrying about something more probable.

Now if you’re talking about someone with console access to your computer – i.e. someone sitting at your computer and logged on as you, then that’s another story. If you allow someone to login as you then they’ll see whatever you can see. Don’t let anyone you do not trust use you computer. If you have two or more people using your computer, password protect your Windows user account (Control Panel/User accounts). Then set up separate restricted user accounts for each other person using your computer. Even if you trust the others using your computer – always set up separate password protected accounts for each person using your computer. The others can change their passwords after you’ve set up their accounts.

Also, if you are using a wireless router, make sure you are using good security and password protection – it’s essential and it’s easy to do. There was a time when someone had to be in close proximity to your wireless router to intercept and use your wireless connection. But now, your wireless can be intercepted by someone a half-mile or more away. If someone gains access to your wireless router they have access to any data that you transmit via your wireless connection.

And one more thing to remember – everything you’ve ever seen or typed on your computer is still there somewhere. Don’t worry about the phantoms created largely by those seeking financial gain by scaring you – i.e. firewall vendors. They sell billions of dollars worth of software by scaring people – and they way they like to scare people is by making it seem that your PC, my PC, EB’s PC, all of our PCs are just moments away from being “hacked” and our personal information stolen by phantoms lurking in the ether. It just ain’t so.

Use common sense. Don’t click links in emails asking you to “verify your account”, or “change your password”. Especially don’t click links in emails which may look like they’re from your bank, credit card company, or any financial institution which ask you to verify your information or change your password – these are almost always phishing emails or may contain links which will attempt to install password-stealing Trojans.

Keep your antivirus and antispyware programs up to date. Most of all, don’t worry about phantoms conjured up by money-driven security vendors who want you to believe your personal information will be stolen by “criminals” or “hackers” unless you install their great software. It just isn’t true.

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