Email changes and security

When was the last time you changed your phone number?  Let’s say you lived in a house for, say, fifteen years.  In that house, you had a landline phone (yes, young ‘uns, once upon a time, homes had their own phone numbers).  For whatever reason, you had to sell the house, move away to another city, and get a new phone number.  So, you went through the exercise of changing your phone number.

Changing that phone number was sometimes quite a task.  You needed to give your new number to your family and friends.  You needed to update your business contacts and associates.  You set up a forwarding number for people you missed.  And you gave your new number to all your important businesses — your bank, your doctor, your broker, your babysitter, your lawyer, your gym, the people in your book club…

Or did you?  Are you absolutely sure you remembered everyone?

That gives you an idea of something that I’m dealing with now.  I’ve had the same email address for a long time; I’m not exactly sure how long, but it at least dates back to when I was in grad school (which was in the mid to late ’90s).

I was determined to not change my email, but recent circumstances made this a necessity.  For one thing, the ISP behind it used old and clunky technology.  Trying to coordinate it with other devices and tasks (calendars, for example) was a major chore.  For a long time, it was not SSL-secure.  It was not easy to check it remotely; if I wanted to do so, I had to remember to shut off my mail client on my PC at home, or else they would all be downloaded from the server before I had a chance to read them.  The issues got worse more recently; the ISP did not provide an easy way to change my password.  I could either (1) send an email to technical support (in response to this, my exact words were, “no way in HELL am I sending password changes via email!!!”), or (2) call tech support to give them my password change.

The last straw came today.  I was looking for a certain email, but couldn’t find it.  Figuring that it was caught in my spam filter, I logged into it to look for the email.  I didn’t find it, but what I did see were spam messages that included in the subject line…  and I’m repeating this for emphasis: IN THE SUBJECT LINE…  my passwords, clear and exposed.

That did it.  I decided right then and there that I was changing my email, since I couldn’t trust the old one (or the ISP) anymore.  I’ve had a Gmail account for a few years, but I never really used it.  Today, that account became my primary email account.  I’ll still hold on to my old email long enough to make sure everything and everyone is switched over to my new email, at which point I’ll shut down my old account.

I suppose there are several lessons to gain from this exercise.  For one thing (as I’d once written), don’t get comfortable.  I’d gotten comfortable with my old email, and I was determined not to change it.  I paid for that with my peace of mind.  For another, don’t take your personal data security for granted.  Make sure you change your password often (and if your provider doesn’t offer an easy way to do that, then get a new provider).  For yet another, if something can no longer do the job (in this case, no password change mechanism, unable to interface with other applications, difficult to use, etc.), then it’s probably time to get a new one (whatever that “something” is).  And for still another, make sure you keep track of your contacts.

(And I’m sure there are a bunch of others that I can’t think of right now.)

Too many of us (myself included) become lackadaisical when it comes to email and data security.  Don’t take it for granted, or you might wake up one day with your bank account drained and your credit rating slashed.