One Briton in eight has hacked into an online account

Email accounts are considered 'skeleton keys' to other online accounts owing to the large amount of storage they offer

One in eight British people have hacked into someone else's online accounts, according to a research published today.

Nearly one-third of so-called "casual hackers" said they did it "just for fun", while a similar number admitted they were snooping on a partner. A further 8 per cent said they accessed email and other accounts to keep tabs on work colleagues, while around 2 per cent said they accessed information for financial gain.

Most common among the online accounts accessed were personal and work emails, money-transaction portals such as PayPal and online banking sites, according to the study. About 16 per cent of the 2,005 people surveyed said someone had accessed their accounts online without permission, with one in 10 claiming to have had money or a loan taken out in their name.

Graham Cluley, an online security specialist with the IT firm Sophos, said: "If you have permission, it is not illegal. However, if you access someone's accounts without permission, that would be a crime under the Computer Misuse Act. And, according to the law, reading someone's emails is worse than reading their diary."

Mr Cluley added that email accounts, because of the amount of storage they offer and their users' propensity to retain messages for years, are the "skeleton keys" to many other online accounts.

He said: "When people sign up to things online, they do so using their email. Usually, any login details and password reminders are sent there so, once someone gets in to your email, they can potentially get into just about everything else."

CPP, the insurance firm that conducted the research, advised people to change their passwords regularly, leave any website where they noticed strange behaviour and avoid transmitting sensitive data over public Wi-Fi.

The firm said that people worried about online security should also only join trusted Wi-Fi networks.

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