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How to check your email account security - Gmail

This step-by-step guide will explain how to check the security of your email account for Gmail on your desktop.

Checking your email account security

Email accounts are a common target for cybercriminals. If cybercriminals gain access to your email account they can steal your sensitive information, commit fraud or send emails pretending to be you.

Proactively reviewing your email account’s security will help you to prevent its compromise and increase your chances of regaining control if it becomes compromised. 

Step 1: Change your password

If you are concerned that your email account has been hacked, it is important to log in to your account as soon as possible. Once logged in, you can change your password to disrupt a cybercriminal’s access and regain control over your email account.

If a cybercriminal has changed your password, skip to Step 1A to recover your email account.

1. Visit www.gmail.com and enter your email address.

mail Account Security Gmail Step 1-1

2. Once logged in, select the Profile icon (top right) and then select Manage your Google Account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1-2

3. From the list on the left side of the screen, select Security.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1-3

4. Scroll down to the section labelled Signing in to Google and select Password. Enter your current password and choose a new password.

When choosing a new password, consider creating a passphrase. A passphrase uses four or more random words as your password, which is hard for cybercriminals to guess but easy for you to remember. Read more information on creating strong passphrases.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1-4

After you have reset your password, skip to Step 2.


Step 1A: Recover your email account

Recovery of your email account is only required if a cybercriminal has changed your password. If you have completed the previous step, you can skip this one.

Note that this recovery process will require you to confirm your identity by providing either your phone number or a recovery email address.

1. Visit www.gmail.com and enter your email address.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1A-1

2. Select Forgot password?

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1A-2

3. One option to recover your email account is to enter the last password you remember using before your password was changed by a cybercriminal. If you cannot remember your password, select Try another way. Carefully follow the recovery process and instructions.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 1A-3

Please note that this process will be different from person to person depending on what security measures you have set up for your email account. Some recovery methods may include:

• Providing a code from your multi-factor authentication app
• Providing a verification code sent to your alternative recovery email address
• Providing a code sent to your mobile phone via SMS
• Inputting the last password you remember


Step 2: Update your account recovery details

In some cases, a cybercriminal might change the recovery details of hacked accounts. They can use this as a way to regain access to the email account even after you have changed your password. Be sure to check your account recovery details are linked to either a recovery email address or recovery mobile phone.

1. From the home screen, select the Profile icon (top right) and then click on Manage your Google Account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-1

2. From the list on the left side of the screen, select Personal info.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-2

3. Scroll down to the section labelled Contact info. You can now change your recovery email and recovery mobile. In doing so, it is important these are changed to email accounts or devices you can access.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-3

4. To change your email, select Email.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-4

5. Select Add recovery email. You will be prompted to re-enter your password.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-5

6. Google will use your recovery email to reach you if unusual activity is detected on your email account or you are accidentally locked out. Select the pencil icon. A prompt will open where you can add or update your recovery email.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-6

7. Select Save to go back to Email (Step 4).

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-7

8. From the email options, scroll down to Alternative emails. It is important you check no unknown or suspicious email accounts are listed, as a cybercriminal may use these to access your account. If there are email addresses you don’t recognise select Manage alternate emails.

You will be prompted to re-enter your password. Remove all alternate email accounts to ensure that an alternate account cannot be used to access your account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-8

9. To change your phone number, go back to Personal info and select Phone.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-9

10. Select Phone and then the phone number you wish to change. If you have not entered a phone number you can select Add now and follow the on screen prompts.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 2-10

Google will use your recovery phone number to reach you if unusual activity is detected on your email account or you are accidentally locked out. Select the pencil icon and re-enter your password.

A prompt will open where you can update your phone number.


Step 3: Sign out of all other sessions

Cybercriminals may still be logged in to your email account after you have regained access. By signing out of all sessions you will disrupt a cybercriminal’s access and regain control over your email account.

To sign out of all sessions, you will need to change your password. If you have already changed your password in Step 1, then you have already completed this step.

If you have not yet changed your password, instructions on how to do this can be found in Step 1.

Step 4: Enable Multi-factor Authentication

Turning on multi-factor authentication is the most important defence against cybercriminals gaining access to your email account.

Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for cybercriminals to gain access to your email account by making them guess two pieces of information rather than one (such as a password and a constantly changing PIN).

For a more detailed set of instructions, see the ACSC’s Step-by-Step guide Securing Google Accounts.

Step 5: Check account mail settings

Cybercriminals will sometimes set up ‘forwarding rules’ to send themselves a copy of emails coming into or leaving your email account. You should check your email account to see if cybercriminals have set up forwarding rules and delete any you don’t recognise.

1. Log in to your Google account. Select the Google apps button and select Gmail.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-1

2. From your email account, select the Settings icon (cog) and select See all settings.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-2

3. From the tabs at the top of the page, select the Filters and blocked addresses tab.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-3

4. Check that no unfamiliar filters are being applied to incoming emails, or that there are not any unusual email accounts that are being blocked. Delete any of these unfamiliar filters or email accounts.

A cybercriminal may have set these up to hide emails from you, especially if customers or contacts have become suspicious and tried to reach out to you.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-4

5. From the tabs at the top of the page, select the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.

POP and IMAP are protocols that allow emails to be accessed through other applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail and Mozilla Thunderbird. Cybercriminals sometimes use these as another method of accessing your email account, as it can allow them to bypass some security measures such as multi-factor authentication.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-5

6. Make sure there are no forwarding rules, this will prevent cybercriminals who may be forwarding incoming emails. If you don’t use an email application and only use a web browser to access your emails, consider disabling POP and IMAP as these can be used by cybercriminals to access your emails from another application. Select Save changes when finished.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 5-6

Step 6: Check third party application access 

Have you ever logged into another application or website using your email account, sometimes without needing to put in your password? Many websites and applications can use this method to avoid having to create a new user account. However, the connection this creates between your email account and the website/application is a common way for hackers to gain access to your email account.

Check if there are any apps or services that have access to your account and remove any that you don’t recognise or no longer require.

1. From the home screen, select the Profile icon (top right) and then select Manage your Google Account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 6-1

2. From the list on the left side of the screen, select Security.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 6-2

3. Scroll down to Third-party apps with account access and select Manage third-party access.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 6-3

4. It is important to reduce the access by third-party apps to your email account. If a cybercriminal has hacked a third-party app, they may be able to use it to enter your email account.

Select Remove Access for each app listed that you didn’t configure yourself. If you’re not sure what apps might be, remove those you’re not sure about as they can be reconfigured later if required.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 6-4

5. Scroll down and select Google Account sign-in prompts to ensure the toggle is turned off. This will disable the ability to sign in to third party applications using your Google account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 6-5

Step 7: Check login activity 

You can see what devices have been used to log in to your account, the time and date they logged in and an estimation of the location where your account was logged in to. As a good practice, regularly review your login activity to check if your email account has been accessed at unusual times or from unusual locations. By doing so, you will be able to pick up on anything suspicious.

1. From the home screen, select the Profile icon (top right) and then select Manage your Google Account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 7-1

2. From the list on the left side of the screen, select Security.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 7-2

3. Scroll down to Your Devices and select Manage Devices.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 7-3

4. Check the devices you have logged in to. If you see any suspicious activity since the last time you changed your password, change your password immediately. Alternatively can also select Don’t recognise this device and use Google’s security check-up to change your password.

If you have recently changed your password, you will have been signed out of all sessions except the one you used to change your password. You can check all the devices that have been signed out by scrolling down to Where you’ve signed out.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 7-4

Here are some things to consider to help you identify suspicious activity:

  • The Access Type – is this a device/browser/application you are familiar with, use or own?
  • The Location (IP address) – was the login from a country you are familiar with?
  • The Date/Time – does the login date and time seem out of the ordinary?

Step 8: Determine the impact of unauthorised access to your email account

Check email folders

Once you have made sure only authorised persons have access to your email account, you may want to consider checking your email folders, specifically your sent and deleted items. This will help you assess what actions a cybercriminal has taken if they accessed your account.

1. From your inbox, select Sent to view your sent emails.

Search for emails that you did not send and take note of the recipient, whether attachments were included, what the email was requesting, and when it was sent.

Compare any unusual activity times with the time the email was sent. Verify login records to confirm that a criminal contacted someone from your email account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 8-1

2. Under the Sent folder on the right, select More to make more folders visible.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 8-2

3. Undertake the same steps taken for your other folders, especially Drafts and Trash folders.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 8-3

Step 9: Enabled Enhanced Safe Browsing

Enhanced safe browsing is a tool that will warn you about risky downloads, sites and extensions. It will also warn you about potential password breaches and send additional data to Google about your activity.

Find more information on Google's website on Google Enhanced safe browsing.

1. Profile icon (top right) and then select Manage your Google Account.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 9-1

2. From the list on the left of the screen, select Security.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 9-2

3. Scroll down to Enhanced safe Browsing for your account and select Manage Enhanced Safe Browsing.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 9-3

4.  Toggle Enhanced Safe Browsing, read the information and follow the prompt to turn on.

Email Account Security Gmail Step 9-4

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