Last month, Christopher Chaney pleaded guilty to breaking into the email accounts of 50 well-known celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson whose private pictures were posted all across the web as a result.


Chaney could face up to 60 years of prison and up to $2.2M (£1.65) in fines. It will hopefully serve as a deterrent for others, but it probably won’t be. Perpetrators have been breaking into accounts (and getting caught) for years— as happened to Sarah Palin or George Bronk?


These cases all have one thing in common—bored troublemakers breaking into email accounts by simply clicking on the “forgot password” option and correctly deducing the answers to the security questions. With so much of our personal information freely available on the web, it doesn’t take long to break in.


So how do you protect yourself from being victimized this way?


Think about what kind of information such a person would be looking for; your birthplace, your pet’s name, the street you used to live on, or the kind of car you used to drive—All information you could’ve handed out a hundred times, right?


Now think about where somebody might go to find that info. Your social networking account, a background search engine such as Spokeo, a blog post, a professional bio—or any number of places.


Now think… How vulnerable are you if someone wanted to break into your email account?


You hopefully now realize just how vulnerable you are to such an attack. The good news is there’s something you can do about it. Most free email providers, though premium services, allow you to create disposable emails to prevent you from having to give out your primary email address.


You can also go to your account settings and change the security questions and answers. But this time, instead of being truthful, choose answers that would hold up as genuine passwords. For instance, if you choose the security question “Where were you born,” don’t answer Chicago. Instead, answer with a real password like Uf893Bx. And keep it somewhere safe.


Remember, once someone is able to access your email, they can use the additional information they find about you to access other accounts—financial, social and otherwise. And consider deleting any emails that contain sensitive photos or other information that can be used to embarrass or harm you.


Otherwise, who knows? You just very well, unwittingly, might be the next victim.


If you any have questions, please post them below. Or let’s talk about it on Twitter or Facebook.