December 01, 2010, 10:41 AM — E-mail is one of the most widely used forms of communication today. Estimates from May 2009 suggest that around 250 billion--with a "B"--e-mails are sent every day. That equates to more than 2.8 million e-mail messages per second, and some of them are not even spam.
E-mail is faster and cheaper than traditional postal mail, but at least when you seal that envelope and stick a stamp on it, you can have some confidence that only the intended recipient will open it. With e-mail, however, your message could be intercepted midstream, and you might never realize it. Copies and remnants of your message stored on your PC could be compromised as well. You have to take steps to secure and protect your e-mail messages.
Your PC provides easy access to your e-mail communications--both for you and for others. Anyone who happens to walk by your system--whether you're in the middle of using it or have stepped away from your desk--could potentially see e-mail messages you are in the process of writing or have already sent, or your incoming e-mail messages. You need to take steps to minimize the opportunity for passing bystanders to snoop on your e-mail.
For starters, don't leave your e-mail client open--or at least not maximized on screen. Whether you use a client application such as Microsoft Outlook, or a Web-based e-mail system like Google Gmail, you should minimize or close the e-mail window when you are not actively using it.
You also need to make sure that snooping eyes can't see what's on your screen when you walk away from your PC for an extended period of time. Many people know to lock or shut down the PC when leaving for the day, and perhaps even when going to lunch, but they might step out to discuss something with a coworker without thinking about it.
As an automatic security measure to protect your e-mail, as well as the PC in general, you should enable a screensaver (go to Control Panel/Appearance and Personalization). Set a delay before the screensaver kicks in--it shouldn't be any less than five minutes because it is not uncommon to go five minutes without touching the mouse or keyboard while reviewing a document or reading a Web page, and having the screensaver come on would be an annoyance. Fifteen minutes is a reasonable timeframe. Make sure you check the box to display the logon screen and require credentials when resuming.
This should go without saying, but make sure you have a secure password. Using your dog's name, or that of your favorite baseball team, won't provide much protection. In fact, you should never use any word that can be found in a dictionary; guessing or cracking them is trivial.
Protecting Web-Based E-Mail