Ever had the nightmare of someone hacking into your mail account?Losing all the contacts you had in a moment....unable to access important mails, or even worse someone is taking advantage financially?Well these are common scenarios theses days, with the increased number of malware infections,increased online presence and reused passwords.If you depending gmail as your main email address you may want follow some precautions to ensure that you can recover your account without much loss and in time, in the event of an incident.
Have a separate secondary email address ready: The first step in recovering your gmail(or google account in general ) password is through the secondary email id. If the hacker haven't changed your secondary email address,then you can reset the password, hence regain access. If are not sure about your secondary email or haven't set it yet, go to google account settings.There select change password recovery option. Then set your secondary email, security question and update your phone number also. Its better to have a dedicated email account separately to be used as the secondary email for various services you use.Make a point to set a different password to this account, and also do not enable email forwarding.For added security,do not disclose this address to anyone or use it for any other purpose.
Try your luck with security question: If you lost access to your secondary email address or couldn't remember the id itself now, you can try password recovery using the security question you have set.But if the the hacker is smart, he will immediately change these details once he have access.So the only option left with you is to use the password recovery form and prove that you are the rightful owner of the account by entering few details.
here.So take a sheet of paper and write down the following details( you can also use your mobile for easier access).Even if you can't find the exact details,get the closest data.
Account Creation date:Go to the oldest emails in your Inbox.There will be a welcome email with the subject "Gmail is different. Here's what you need to know" from the Gmail Team upon creation of your account.If you have deleted that email,take the date from the first email you have received.
Orkut and blog creation date:Most likely you will be having these two enabled(if you don't have it,create it and note down the dates).For getting the approx creation date of orkut account, take the date of the first scrap you received.For blogger, go to your profile and note down "On blogger Since" date.
Also note down the account creation date for any two of the google services like analytics,adsense etc.[If you don't have any of these services activated, now is the time :) ]. For Analytics, look at the first date when it started collecting stats for your website(s). For AdSense, you may take the help of your AdSense account manager.(I don't know how to get the creation date for services other than these,if you have any idea kindly let me know, I uses these only.)
Noting down some more details like, most emailed contacts,custom labels created, email address of the person invited you to gmail may also help you in some cases.
Once you have recovered your account, reset your password,secondary email,phone and security question immediately. Also do check the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab in the settings page for any forwarding rules added.The hacker could have added a forwarding rule so that he will be able to read all your mails, even if he lost control of the account.You may also check the activity history by clicking the "Details" link at the bottom of the page.It will give you the IP address of the hacker, by which you can pinpoint(may not be possible always) the attacker.
But always prevention is better than cure, do take precautions while browsing on a public system,un-secure wireless connection.Be cautious about the links/files you get in mails etc.You can create a backup copy of your inbox locally using an email client like Evolution/Outlook etc for better security.
[Update: Friend of mine suggested another idea for archiving, create a separate gmail account and add an email forward to this account from your normal mail.Also add send email as u r original email in this secondary email.So even if your email is compromised you will have all your mails and still will be able to send emails. ]