Email hacking is an all-too-common occurrence these days, as one Aiken County legislator recently discovered first-hand.

How to Protect Your Computer

• Keep Your Firewall Turned On

• Install or Update Your Antivirus Software

• Install or Update Your Antispyware Technology

• Keep Your Operating System Up to Date

• Be Careful What You Download

• Turn Off Your Computer

*Source: FBI

District 84 Rep. Roland Smith received a call from the local legislative delegation office several days ago notifying him an email had been received that appeared to be suspicious. The email contained a link which sent recipients to a website promoting and selling Raspberry Ultra Drops, a weight-management supplement with “8 super ingredients.”

Not only had the legislative delegation office received the bogus communication but so had dozens of other people Smith corresponds with regularly via email, including his son in Greenville and daughter in Florida.

The email was absolutely not distributed by him, Smith said, but the result of a successful email hack.

“It was embarrassing that a group of emails went out from Roland Smith that wasn’t from me,” he said. “I contacted as many people as I could and let them know it wasn’t me.”

Either Smith’s email account was breached or his computer was a “carrier” of a virus activated by a trigger that then generated the unsolicited emails using all of the email addresses in Smith’s contact list, according to 4T’s Computers Manager Joel Pangborn.

That kind of virus is known as rogueware, a variant of malware or malicious software.

“It’s basically holding the customer at ransom, so to speak. It is something that is quite common,” Pangborn said. “Most of the time it’s coming to you by way of a drive-by pop-up ad. You click the cancel button, but really that means ‘OK.’”

The virus will lay dormant for a period of time until it’s activated by a trigger so that the user does not associate the virus with what they’ve just done, he said.

Smith said he was using his computer the night before the fraudulent emails were sent and did not encounter any problems. There appeared to be no indication that he’d been hacked or that his computer carried a virus.

“It’s troubling they got to me. Apparently, it’s happening all over,” he said.

Just last week, the email accounts of both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush were hacked. The Secret Service is investigating.

“Definitely the first thing you need to do is change your (email) password” if you are the victim of a hack, said David Elder, a computer repair technician with 6 to 9 PC Repair.

A strong password contains eight characters or more, at least one number, one letter and one upper- and lowercase letter, according to Pangborn.

The math involved to decode a password like that is “astronomical,” he said. “The only way to get through that is to use a ‘brute force attack’ (or exhaustive key search), and that takes days. The hackers aren’t going to bother with that.”

The next step is to take your computer to a professional who can rid it of viruses. Then, notify your contacts of the spam emails.

If you’re on the receiving end of a suspicious email, “don’t open any email attachments you’re not sure of,” said Elder.

It also doesn’t hurt to invest in anti-virus software. No program is 100 percent effective, but “having some protection is better than having none,” Elder said.