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Protecting yourself from it

It’s a sad day when even genealogists are affected by hackers.

The Legal Genealogist opened her email accounts this morning and there at the top of the inbox was an email from a genealogist friend.

“Incoming Google drive document awaiting you,” it read. “Just click here…”

Internet security concept hacker reading the word password on aIt was signed with the friend’s genealogy sign-off information, including — irony of ironies here — the statement that “As a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists …, I support and adhere to the APG’s Code of Ethics …”

And, of course, the email wasn’t from my genealogist friend at all.

Her email account had been hacked, and it appeared that the Google Drive account of a charitable organization had also been hacked, both by some unknown group trying to distribute what is almost undoubtedly malware: software that will do very bad things to a computer if anyone clicks on the link and downloads the file.


How do we protect ourselves from hackers — and even us lowly why-would-anybody-hack-us genealogists need to protect ourselves from hackers!

Some suggestions:

1. Don’t, don’t, don’t, do not ever click on a link in an email if it isn’t abundantly clear that the link is a good one and safe one. In other words, unless you’ve got good reason to believe the link is completely safe (you’ve been expecting it, the person talks to you about it in advance, etc.), don’t even think about clicking on it.

2. Read up about the security options your email provider offers — and use them. At a minimum, make sure you’ve set up options to recover your account if it does get hacked.

3. Use a strong password — a combination upper and lower case letters and numbers and some punctuation character ending up with something that’s at least 10 characters long and that isn’t a word in your language.

4. Change your password every so often. Some experts say every six months.

5. Don’t use the same password for every account you have. All that does is give the hackers access to everything if they get access to anything.

6. If your system calls for a challenge question (such as “what’s your mother’s maiden name?”), for heaven’s sake don’t use one like “what’s your mother’s maiden name?” Use something nobody else will know and something nobody else can find out by, say, Googling your family tree on the internet! If you have to use “what’s your mother’s maiden name?” as a question, then you’re better off making something up as the answer.

7. Make sure you have up-to-date security programs running on your computer: anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall programs at a minimum.

A couple of resources for prevention:

• Robert Siciliano, “11 Ways to Prevent Your Email From Getting Hacked,” Huffington Post blog, posted 20 December 2013.

• “How to Protect Your Email Account from Hackers,”

And a couple of resources for cure:

• Adam Levin, “9 Things You Need to Do When Your Email is Hacked,” ABC News, posted 21 July 2013.

• Sharon Profis, “What to do if your email gets hacked (and how to prevent it),” c|net, posted 25 June 2014.

Sigh… a royal PITA to be sure… but an unfortunate fact of modern life.

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