This blog post will answer the question, “Can someone hack your email without a password?” and cover topics like how the hackers can attempt to gain access to your account with just the email address available, and how they can use the email address to research or gather more information to target you.
Can hackers access your email account without a password?
Authentication is key to access, and your email and other online accounts are not likely to be accessible without a password. In the hands of a skilled hacker, an email address and username can be quite a valuable commodity however, to be able to gain a higher level of access, they need a password or must be able to access it at a moment’s notice. The hacker will not necessarily stop trying to gain access, once they have identified a key email or online account that they want access to, password or not.
The following methods can be applied by a hacker to either attempt to acquire full access or use the email address without full and credentialed access to it:
- Attempt to gain access by targeting your email account directly with various attacks and techniques
- Password guessing, credential theft and acquiring access to other accounts and systems
- Gather more information associated with the email account
In an age where information is currency and knowledge is power, most hackers will not hesitate to make attempts to gain access to key email accounts and the potential wealth of information they may contain.
How do hackers use an email account without the password?
The sheer perseverance that some hackers possess that enable them to try out multiple methods in gaining access, can be mind boggling and even impressive to an extent. Hackers are a resourceful bunch.
They will not be able to read your emails or send any from your account without that password, but they will try to find a way to access it or capitalize from the email account (if they fail to access it entirely).
Attempts to gain access by directly targeting your email account
There are various methods that a hacker can use to target and attempt to obtain the password of an email account by directly targeting the account itself or other email technologies:
- Launching Phishing campaigns against your account: An attacker can add your email address into a list of addresses to target during an attack.
Phishing is a popular type of social engineering attack that can be successful in stealing user data, company confidential information, login credentials and banking or financial information.
It involves a message, notification or email that seems like legitimate correspondence or coming from a trusted source and often contains links, URLs and attachments that contain other forms of malware.
To completely understand how a advanced phishing email functions, it is helpful to understand that data is recorded and logged for most occurrences of activity the phishing email passes, performs and undergoes:
When the email is delivered, the attacker receives acknowledgement that the email address of the recipient is valid. Once the phishing email is opened, the attacker receives receipt of this activity. At this point there also exists a strong opportunity and possibility for malware to be dropped onto your machine. The hacker can also start seeing information about where you are and what your IP address may be.
Once you start clicking away on URLs or pictures and opening attachments, all sorts of information are communicated back to the attackers. This may include your usernames and passwords or other account details that you may have voluntarily entered and sent to the scam artists.
At this juncture, there also exists a strong possibility that malware and other malicious software have been installed on your device.
- The crafty use of keyloggers: Keyloggers are Spyware and used to monitor, capture, and log all your activities on your devices. This malicious program records everything you type, saves it on a log file, and sends it to a remote server for a hacker to use.
Considering how many times you may enter your passwords in a day, it is safe to say that keyloggers are a massive security risk and can successfully be used by a hacker to obtain elusive credentials.
Furthermore, it should also be considered how the illegal keylogger found its way onto your device. You may have already fallen prey to a phishing campaign or social engineering attack where malware was dropped and installed onto your network and linked devices.
Password guessing and acquiring access to other accounts and systems
Most people use their email address as the primary identifier or username in the login process. It is then combined with a password and sometimes additional authentication to add a layer of security.
If a hacker has the means of successfully guessing this password and combining it with the relevant username, then they may be able to access the account.
This is often achieved with the skilful use of social engineering techniques as well as previously gained access to other online accounts you may have used (very relevant if you have been a victim of cyber-crime or have been hacked in the past).
Two of the more advanced methods applied in acquiring access to email accounts, other systems and privileged information, include the exploitation of known vulnerabilities of a system or device and the Hacking of email service providers.
These methods take time and a lot of resources on the hackers’ behalf and are mostly seen as the result of an APT- type attack (APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat).
These are not usually a concern to public users due to the stringent laws and security measures implemented by the service providers and organizations that provide or own these services. Also, hackers will not waste resources on targets that are not as valuable or who do not justify the efforts made by them.
Most of the time, you would have not been the intended or original target, but your account would be accessed as part of a larger scheme or by chance (depending on your status and role within an organization, since these usually apply to large corporations that have been targeted by Hacking syndicates)
Gather more information associated with the email account
Although your email account cannot necessarily be hacked without proper authentication and a password, it can be used to gather more in-depth information on your life and online habits.
The email account can be used as a search parameter on the open web as well as the deep web. Worse than that is the slight possibility that if you have been hacked before, or you are a high-profile target or your information has been stolen in a security breach, then it may even be possible for information to be gathered on you by querying the dark web as well.
Because most people are inclined to store personal information on the open web and deep web, the email address can be cross referenced to reveal the email address’ usage to reveal various accounts that are used by that email address.
Common searches usually include Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube accounts. All these everyday accounts contain personal information that can be linked to an email address.
Although your email and other online accounts cannot necessarily be hacked without the proper authentication such as a password, your email address and usernames can be used to gather more in-depth information on your life and online habits.
Various techniques can be applied to try and infiltrate your email account, once you have been targeted by a hacker.
Should the attackers fail to acquire the necessary authentication to access your email and other accounts with a targeted attack, they may still try to capitalize from it or include the email address in larger attacks such as phishing campaigns.
Healthy online habits, proper encryption policies, strong authentication and user awareness skills are key to staying safe when using the internet and online services.
1. Should I use 2FA if I am already using a password for my email account?
Yes, you should use 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) along with a password. Adding the additional layer of security is no longer an option but a necessity in an evolving threat landscape.
It is strongly advised that a Password Managing program be used instead of thinking up your own passwords, as well as using various methods of authentication to be communicated e.g. Have your PINs sent via text and install a separate authentication tool on your mobile instead of having it installed on your laptop (do not keep all your eggs in one basket).
2. How often should I change the password to my email account?
It used to be acceptible that all passwords are changed every three months, however, it has become necessary to change passwords at least once a month.
Never reuse a password or use the same password for multiple accounts. Each account should have its own password and login combination.
3. What are the best passwords to use for email accounts?
It is better to make use of a password generating and management tool to generate passwords on your behalf, due to the level of encryption it provides and because it cannot be guessed (it is random and not based on your personal information).
If this is just not an option for you, then consider using the following quick guidelines:
· Do not recycle, re-use, or duplicate passwords. Use a unique password for each of your accounts
· Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. This should no longer just consist of the creative spelling of words (commonly known as Leet or “1337”) since hacking tools have adapted and can read words written in Leet. That means that you can no longer use passwords such as “C@r3n” instead of “Caren”, and think you are fooling anyone.
· Create a password that is hard for others to guess or that cannot be extracted somehow with the use of social engineering techniques. This basically means that anniversaries or the use of the names of loved ones as passwords are not good options when picking a password.
· Make sure that your device and system password recovery options are up-to-date and secure along with all your Antivirus (AV) and security management tools.
· Change your passwords regularly (at least once a month on all your devices and accounts)
· Avoid predictable keyboard patterns such as “QWERTY”. Use patterns instead of human words or Leet e.g.: “2022@wsxXDRty!”