We’re truly living in the digital age. So many of the most basic tasks we have to perform are done online. We can register our car, book a cruise and order the groceries for the week all with a few swipes and keystrokes – from wherever we like.
The one thing that unites all of these functions is our personal email address. From banking to baking recipes, it’s linked to all our digital activity.
So you can imagine the absolute horror I felt when I woke up one Sunday last month to find that my Hotmail account had been hacked and subsequently disabled by Microsoft.
Once I’d got my head around what had happened, I set about attempting to recover my beloved email account. I’d held the same address for close to 15 years and had – as I suspect everyone does – treated it as a bit of a digital filing cabinet. Lots of personal information and emails from loved ones are filed away in folders in my email, along with a whole bunch of concert tickets, holiday tickets, insurance policies etc. The blueprint of my life, as it turns out.
But recovering the account is where is gets tricky. You can’t just call Microsoft, Google or Yahoo! and ask them to unlock your emails accounts, thanks very much. For our very own protection these accounts have high security settings on them.
No problem, I thought. I’ll just answer the questions and hey presto! I’ll be connected once more. Oh how naive I was. Because I couldn’t answer those questions. I had no clue. ‘Who is the love of your life?’ Microsoft asked me. Answering that today is simple. But answering it as me 15 years ago was a whole other story. Fail!
‘Please tell us the date of your last Skype transaction, how much it was for, and the last four numbers of the credit card you used to pay for this transaction’. My best guess was circa 2008 and that’s all I had. Fail!
‘Tell us the subject lines of some of the most recent emails you’ve send’. Fail! And so it continued.
Suffice to say I had unceremoniously failed my own security verification. I was stuck in no-man’s land with nowhere to go. I tweeted Microsoft who was quick to respond but could only do so much due to my security failure. I spoke to a live chat ‘bot’ who was very polite but could not help.
I reached out to my social media community for advice, hacks… anything that could get me reconnected again. People were wonderfully supportive and tried to assist but it was futile. Even the automated messages from Microsoft were telling me I’d had too many failed attempts and it was time to move on and open a new email account. It was over.
Thankfully Microsoft Australia heard of my plight and over a six day period managed to escalate my issue and resolve it for me.
But I truly consider myself one of the lucky ones. During the week I was off the grid, I came across hundreds of similar stories, but particularly in the last month or so. And far fewer of those shared my happy ending.
With huge organisations being hacked every other month, I suppose it was just a matter of time before my email address was used to send spam. And I’d expect my email provider to crack down on irregular behaviour within accounts and freeze them until they can be verified.
So my tip for you all: check your security questions. If you change jobs or move house make sure your contact details for your email provider are updated. Make sure you can still answer those security questions. And check that your personal details are correct. It seems my Hotmail account had been registered by me with the wrong date of birth for 15 years. It’s no wonder I couldn’t pass the security questions…