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How Protect Outlook Emails With Strong Passwords & Security Settings

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This post is part of a series called How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide).
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If you're like most of us, your Outlook email account is full of important personal and business information. The last thing you want to happen is to have a stranger access your email account—or worse yet, to get locked out of your Outlook email account with no way to get back in.

It's no secret that hackers are after your email data. We read about new data breaches every day. And often those data breaches come about by means of email. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights keeps a list of health information breaches. In July of 2018 it listed 22 breaches affecting thousands of individuals. Of those 22 breaches, seven (or nearly a third) involved email.

Fortunately, there are several Outlook security measures that you can take to protect your Outlook email. In this tutorial, we'll show you what you need to know about Outlook security. Learn how to choose strong passwords and keep them secure. Learn how to use the Outlook security settings. And finally, discover some Microsoft email security best practices such as how set up user authentication.

Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery (Free eBook Download)

Before we explore how to secure Microsoft Outlook email, let's look at another important part of managing your Outlook email account. Our Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery is packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently.

Take back your inbox

Now let's dive into our tutorial on Microsoft email security.

Basic Email Best Practices for Strong Security

The first step in keeping your Outlook email secure is to put some email security best practices in place. These practices apply to most email software including Microsoft Outlook.

Disclaimer: I am not an information securities expert. This post is based on a compilation of recommended best practices and my own experiences as an Outlook email user.

Here are six ways you can help protect your Outlook email account:

1. Use a Password

Unless you’re using Outlook on a Microsoft exchange server, you can set Outlook to prompt you for a password each time it opens (see instructions below). A password prompt happens automatically for an Outlook.com account since you set one up when you signed up for Outlook.com. But you may want to set a password up separately for Outlook that’s part of Office 365.

Note: If you’re accessing your Outlook email at work or at school, you’re probably on a Microsoft exchange server. Contact your system administrator to find out how to change your password. 

2. Pick a Strong Password

When choosing a password for MS Outlook or your Microsoft account, be sure to pick a strong one. Avoid passwords that can easily be guessed such as the names of friends, family members or pets. Birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers are also poor choices for passwords since the information may be available elsewhere.

When it comes to passwords, longer passwords are harder for intruders to guess. The best passwords include a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. Stay away from stand-alone password generators, which are sometimes set up disreputable parties to gain access to password information.

Also, make sure your Outlook password is different from your other passwords. If a third party should happen to get access to your account, you don’t want them to have access to all your accounts.

Here’s a great resource to help you learn even more about passwords:

3. Store Passwords Securely

Once you’ve chosen a strong password, be sure to store it securely. An online password manager such as DashlaneKeeperor Sticky Password are good options for keeping your passwords away from prying eyes. Make sure to choose a strong and memorable password for your password manager—you’ll have to remember this one. Here are some other password managers and tutorials on how to use them:

Whatever you do, don’t keep your password on a Post-It note stuck to your laptop, especially if you work from a shared space. Also, don’t keep password information on a list in a Word or Excel doc on your PC unless that document is password protected. If your PC happens to get stolen, you don’t want the thief to find all your password information at once!

4. Change the Password Periodically

Experts disagree about how often you should change your password, but they do agree that sometimes changing passwords can keep others from using your account. That way, if someone does get a hold of your password, there’s a chance that the information they’ve got isn’t current. Of course, changing your password isn't a substitute for picking a strong password.

Not only do you need to change your Outlook inbox password regularly, if you’re using Office 365 you should also update your Microsoft account password regularly. Your Microsoft account password is important because it’s the key to using all your Microsoft products including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on.

5. Add Two-Step Verification

Two-step verification is a type of user authentication that uses two forms of identification to confirm your identity. Forms of identification may include your email address or your phone number.

Two-step verification is used when you try to do sensitive tasks such as reset your password as well as when you try to retrieve your account information. Typically a code is sent to either your phone or your email. To access your account, you'll need to enter the code as well as your password. The purpose of two-step verification is to keep someone else from accessing or changing your account.

6. Keep Outlook (and Your Browser) Updated

Software updates are in important part of keeping your data secure. Updates are often published to enhance software security or to fix security issues that arise. By not keeping your Outlook software and your browser up-to-date you could be leaving them vulnerable.

How to Protect Your Outlook Email Account

The steps in this section are specific to Outlook 365. If you’ve got an older version of Outlook, work on Outlook.com, or if you access your Outlook through a Microsoft Exchange server, these steps may not work for you.

Step 1. Set a Password for Your Outlook Inbox

Did you know that you can set Outlook up to prompt you for a password each time you open it? Here what to do:

Start with MS Outlook open and click the File tab on the left of the inbox:

Open Outlook inbox
Use the File tab to access the Account information window.

The Outlook Account Information window appears:

Outlook Account Information Window
Select Account Settings > Account Settings.

Click on the Account Settings button and choose Account Settings again from the drop-down menu. The Account Settings dialog box displays:

Account Settings dialog box
Choose the inbox file (inbox.pst) from the Data Files tab on the Account Settings dialog box.

Select the Data Files tab. You’ll see various types of Outlook data files (.pst files) including the archive file and inbox file. To have Outlook prompt you for a password when you open your inbox, double-click on the inbox data file. The Outlook Data File box appears:

Outlook Data File box
Select the Change Password button.

Click the Change Password button. At the prompt, type your new password twice and click OK. Click OK again. 

Note: If you don’t currently have an inbox password set up, leave the space for your old password blank.

Important: Microsoft won’t be able to retrieve this password for you if you lose it, so be sure to save it in a secure place.

Step 2. Change Your Password

Passwords should be updated on a regular basis. In this section I’ll show you how to update the password for your Outlook inbox and the password for your Microsoft account.

1. How to Change Your Outbox Inbox Password

Once you’ve created a password for your inbox, you’ll need to update it regularly. From the Outlook Account Information window, select Account Settings > Accounting Settings. The Account Settings dialog box appears:

Account Settings dialog box
Use the Account Settings dialog box to change your password.

Select the Data Files tab. Double-click on the inbox data file (inbox.pst). The Outlook Data File box appears:

Outlook Data Files box
Use the Change Password button to set a new password for your Outlook inbox.

Click the Change Password button. At the prompt, type your current password in the Old password field. Type your new password in the New password field and again in the Verify password field.

Note: Be sure to keep this password in a secure place where you can access it if needed. Microsoft doesn't keep this information and can’t retrieve it should you lose it.

When you’re done entering a new password, click OK and then Close. You've just changed your password.

2. How to Change the Password for Your Microsoft Account

Not only should you change the password for your Outlook inbox, if you’re using Outlook with Office 365 you should also change your Microsoft account password on a regular basis.

To change your Microsoft Account password, log into your Microsoft account. Click your user profile icon in the upper right corner. From the drop-down menu, select View Microsoft account. Your Microsoft account information displays.

Click the Security option from the menu across the top of the screen. The Security basics window appears:

Microsoft account information
The password that you change here will be for your entire Microsoft account.

Click the Change Password button. You’ll be prompted to verify your identity by through email or text. Follow the instructions to verify your identity. You’ll see the Change your password screen:

Microsoft Change your password screen
Type your current password once. Then type the new password twice.

Type your current password in the top field. Type the new password in the two fields below.

Notice the check box next to the words Make me change my password every 72 days. If you check this, you’ll be prompted to change your password in 72 days. Checking this box can be a good idea if you have trouble remembering to change your password.

When you’ve finished, click Save to save your changes.

Step 3. Check Your Security Settings

While you’re on the Security basics screen, it’s a good idea to check your Microsoft security settings. Click the Update Info button to view your current Microsoft account security settings. These settings are important because it determines how Microsoft verifies your identity. Here’s the Microsoft Security Settings window:

Microsoft Security Settings window
Verify that the information on this screen is correct.

Make sure that the information displayed is correct. If it's wrong, use the Remove link to remove the incorrect information. Click the Add security info link to add new or updated information.

Step 4. Set Up Two-Step Verification

You can also use the Security Settings window to set up two-step verification for your Microsoft account. Click the more options link in the text at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see the Additional security options window:

Additional security options window
You can set up two-step verification for your Microsoft account.

As you can see, there are several security options available. For this tutorial we want to focus on the Two-step verification. This is a good identity safe guard for most users. Click the Set up two-step verification link to start the process.

The system will walk you through the process of setting this protection up according to your specific situation. Be sure to read each screen carefully and follow the instructions as given.

Step 5. Check for and Install the Latest MS Outlook Updates

Installing software updates is often overlooked, yet it’s an important part of keeping your account secure. To make sure that you're using the latest version of Outlook (and other MS Office Software) go to the Outlook Account Information window. From the navigation pane on the left, click Office Account. The Microsoft Product Information window displays:

Product Information
Since Outlook is included with MS Office, it'll be updated when you update Office.

As you can see, the window includes information about your Outlook software, including the current version. To update Outlook, click the top button next to Office Updates. A drop-down menu displays:

Drop-down Update menu
Use the drop-down menu to update MS Office if updates are available.

Several update options display. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to select Update Now. If your version of Office is current, you’ll receive a prompt that says You’re up to date!

Otherwise, the system will try to update your Microsoft Office apps, including Outlook. If you’ve got Office apps open on your machine, you may be prompted to close them:

Close open apps
If you've got any Microsoft Office apps open you'll need to close them before you can update MS Office.

Follow the instructions on the prompt. You may be required to restart your computer. Your Microsoft apps are automatically updated.

Don't forget to also update your browser regularly.

Learn More About How to Use Email Effectively

Whether you're a business owner or a business professional, email is an important communications tool. It's important to make sure your emails are as professional as possible. These tutorials can help:

If you need to become better at using MS Outlook, check out the rest of our handy Outlook Tutorials in the series: What Is MS Outlook? (Pro Email Software Tool).

To better manage your email inbox and keep your incoming emails organized, don't forget to sign up to theTuts+ Business newsletter and grab our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently.

Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery

Secure Your Outlook Email Account Today

Now that you know several Outlook security measures you can take, you're ready to protect your Outlook email. You've learned how to choose strong passwords and how to use the Outlook security settings. We've also discussed email security best practices such as how set up user authentication and more.

Your Outlook email account is an important part of how you run your business. Be sure to take full advantage of Outlook security best practices.

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