Published on March 28th, 2013 | by Mark0
Gmail is a free email service provided by Google and used by over 425 million users worldwide. Signing up for a Gmail account is fast and easy, but do you know how safe your information is?
Behind Lock and Key
The first safety measure to protect your information on Gmail is a solid password. When signing up for your Gmail address you’re asked to choose a password that’s at least 8 characters long. There’s no obligation to use mixed character types (letters and numbers) or different cases (UPPER and lower) – as long as what you type in has 8 characters or more, it’s valid.
Gmail also provides a password strength indicator, but it simply assesses your password on the basis of its length. Anything less than 8 characters classifies as ‘weak’ whereas if it’s 8 characters or more it’s ‘strong’. However you are also provided with a link that opens up a Google FAQ page* with information and a video on how to choose a strong password.
Gmail gives you several options to make your information safer and less likely to be hacked. When setting up a Gmail account, you are asked to give a back-up email address which can be used in case you forget your password or your account is compromised. In some countries, Gmail may also ask the user to enter a mobile phone number to validate the account through a unique code that is sent to that phone.
You can easily make Gmail safer by switching to the encrypted version of the site which uses ‘https://’ at the beginning of the URL. After logging into your Gmail inbox, click on the gear icon at the top-right of the screen and then click on Settings. In the General tab you simply have to enable ‘Always use https’ in the Browser connection area to make your inbox safer.
A two-step authentication process adds an extra layer of security to your inbox by requiring you to type in your password as well as a code that you receive on your mobile phone. Google lets you set this up from the Accounts settings page which you can access by clicking on your profile picture at the top-right of the screen and clicking on Account. On the settings page, you can enable two-step authentication from a list of options on the Security page.
To get the code, you can either have Google send you the code on your mobile phone each time you try to log in or, you can generate the code using an app like Google Authenticator for Android, Apple and Blackberry devices that can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store. If you have a Windows phone, you’ll need to download a compatible third-party app like Authenticator* to sign in.
A safety question is a tricky question and answer challenge that only you would know the answer to therefore allowing you to regain access to your Gmail account should you lose your password. You can set up or change your safety question by clicking on the gear icon in your inbox and clicking on Settings. Go to the Accounts tab and click on ‘Change password recovery options’. You are then taken to a page where you can choose a question from the six available or write your own.
Managing your security settings is a breeze on Gmail. You can access most security options by going to the Settings page (click on the gear icon). Other security settings are only accessible through your account profile page. To access your account settings, click on your profile picture at the top-right of the screen and then click on Account. The Security option offers you a glimpse through the most important security options you need to protect your account including: changing your password, account recovery options, notification of unusual activity, two-step authentication and the possibility to review all the websites and apps that are linked to your Gmail address.
You’re social, but is your data too?
Sharing with third-parties
- Your name
- Your email address
- Your country and language
- Your information on other Google products (e.g. Contacts and Calendar)
Google will always ask your permission first before sharing any of this information and you can always change your mind later by going to the Account settings page to revoke access to your data. It is up to you to decide whether a site or an app should be trusted with your personal information since Google doesn’t review or endorse other websites.
But what about Google?
When you register for a Gmail account, Google only asks for your first and last name, your email address and a password. You can give Google more information to personalise the service you get even better, however this is your choice. Your Gmail password is kept on Google’s servers in an encrypted form. The information in your emails is also stored on the servers and this is processed by Google’s computers to deliver to you targeted ads, back up your data and prevent spam. Other information, such as your login times and how you use Gmail is recorded to help Google improve its services.
Saying goodbye to Gmail should you decide to cancel the service is easy and very straightforward. On your Account settings page, click on Products and you’ll see a list of all Google products you’re using. Click ‘Edit’ and under ‘Delete a Product’ choose ‘Remove Gmail permanently’. This will only remove your Gmail address – your other Google products will remain intact. If you wish to get your address back, Google allows you a limited time-window where you can restore your Gmail account through their password-assistance page.
You’ve got hack
There have been some public confirmations of Gmail being hacked on the news, notably the hacking of its servers by Chinese hackers trying to get into the accounts of human rights activists and other reports of user accounts being used by hackers to send spam. Google puts a lot of effort in securing its products and offers a variety of options to help you and your data stay safer online.
Two’s company, three’s a crowd
You can use your Gmail address to sign up and log into a number of third-party apps and websites. Whether to trust these sites or not is your call. Google does not review or endorse any third-party apps or sites and it’s up to you to choose whether to share your address and information. You can easily review all the sites and apps that make use of info from your Google account on your Account settings page. By clicking on Security, you can pull up a whole list of all third-party products that have been integrated with your account and revoke access to your address with a click.
Keeping an eye on your data
There aren’t many tools on Gmail that help you track how safe your data is. However Google allows you to quickly review any recent account activity by clicking on the tiny Details link at the bottom-right of your screen, under your emails. Clicking on this link opens a pop-up window with a list of all recent activity on your account address. You can see the time, location and IP address of each session. You can automatically sign out from all open sessions and change your password if you feel your account has been compromised. Google also gives you the possibility to get alerts if your address is accessed from an unfamiliar IP address.