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11 Dec 2020

How to futureproof your inbox

We explain how to switch away from an outdated legacy email account, pick a new service and keep your account super secure

While the ways we communicate are endlessly evolving - from texting to WhatsApp, phone calls to FaceTime - one form of messaging has been with us since the early days of the internet: email.

Thousands of Brits still rely on legacy email accounts from internet service providers (ISPs), all of which come with their own quirks and terms and conditions - and many now have to pay to keep using their longstanding email address.

For many of us, our inboxes remain home to treasured memories and photos - not to mention records of goods we've bought. With this in mind, here's our guide to safeguarding your favourite emails, moving away from legacy ISP email accounts, and creating a new email account that's secure, free and fit for the future

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Moving to a new email service: why now?

Even if you've been using your current email account for years without issue, and are comfortable with the idea of paying to access your emails, we'd strongly advise you to consider moving to a new email service that isn't owned by an ISP.

Not only is your data at the mercy of these companies (which, as we've seen, don't live forever), but many ISPs don't have a great track record with security, either.

Just this year, Virgin Media had to announce that the contact details of more than 900,000 customers had been exposed via an unsecured marketing database. TalkTalk had a similar issue in 2016, when data on 156,000 customers was easily accessible to hackers, including email addresses and passwords. TalkTalk was issued with a fine of £400,000 - the maximum at the time - for that breach by the Information Commissioner's Office.

Yahoo! Mail, which has been a longstanding email address and service provider, also powers the back end for a number of these ISPs' email services (including TalkTalk and Sky). Yahoo! has been the subject of a number of data breaches and outages in recent history, leaving some people unable to access their email accounts all day, and, in some instances, finding their accounts completely wiped.

The problem with ISP mailboxes

Security issues aside, ISP mailboxes rarely offer great user experiences. They often have poor storage and spam filtering compared with their newer counterparts, which are constantly updating their spam filters to protect you from phishing emails.

Since ISP email services usually run on legacy systems, it can also be much more complicated to set up these accounts when you get a new tablet or smartphone. Newer email providers either have their own apps or are much more intuitive to configure.

Even if there's an old email account you don't use often, it's still worth taking the time to secure it or close it down - before anyone else gets the chance to.

Protecting your old emails before you switch

For most people, a new email account is a breath of fresh air. We all get many more marketing emails than we need, and ISP email accounts, which you might have had for many years, are particularly likely to be getting lots of spam.

But in between all those junk messages, there are probably some important emails from family and friends buried in there that you'd like to keep. Before you close your account and move elsewhere, take the time to browse through your emails and see if there are any that you'd like to save. We recommend either taking a screenshot of them, which will be saved to your phone's camera roll, or forwarding them to your new email address when you set it up.

Similarly, your contacts are worth noting down too. Some ISPs let you export a list of your contacts and import them into your new service, but in most cases it can be quicker and simpler to weed through them and make a list of the few email addresses you want to keep - either digitally or in a notebook.

Newer services are better at automatically recognising who you message frequently, so there's less need to explicitly 'save' contact information when you're typing in email addresses.

Finding a new email provider

When choosing a new email provider, there are plenty of options out there. We recommend Gmail and Outlook.com (the new name for Hotmail) for their ease of use, strong security and great spam filtering. Both are free to use and owned by Google and Microsoft respectively, so you can trust that your new email account will be here to stay. Both also have straightforward step-by-step instructions to create a new account, and it only takes a few minutes.

Regardless of who you sign up with, it's important to make sure your new account is as secure as can be.

How to set up your new email service

Nobody deserves to have their favourite conversations at risk of being lost or paywalled, nor should you have to fight through pages of spam before getting to the messages you want. With a new account from a reliable provider that's safeguarded by great security, all you have to worry about is who to email next.

  1. Sign up for a new account - Look for ones that are free and from a name you trust: we recommend Microsoft's Outlook and Google's Gmail. It means you'll get a brand new email address that people can start using for you immediately
  2. Protect your account with a strong password - Use a unique password that you don't use for any other service and avoid any personal or revealing phrases. Longer passwords are better: we recommend a long but random passphrase that's easy for you (but only you) to remember, such as 'umbrellacablekitten'. For more, see our expert advice on how to create a strong password.
  3. Enable two-factor authentication - Most modern email providers allow you to enable two-factor authentication - commonly known as 2FA. This is an extra safety step that helps to ensure that you (and only you) can access your emails. It does this by sending you a unique six-digit code when you log in, usually via text message or displaying it in a separate authenticator app. It's a great way to protect your account, as it stops hackers who might have got your password via a data breach or phishing scam from logging in. Find out more on two-factor authentication.
  4. What to do with your old account - Make a list of all the services you use, and next time you log in, visit your account settings to update your email address. Send friends and family a message from your new account or text them to let them know your new email address. Don't delete your old account right away - you might need it to access an old email.

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