It seems like such a simple question. And we know that managing
your password is an important part of security on the internet.
So why is it typically so hard to do something that should be so simple?
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First I want to be really, really, extra clear: this
article is not about web-based mail services such as HotMail, Yahoo
Mail, GMail and the like. They each have clear ways to manage your account, and
most importantly, interfaces for changing your password.
This article is for folks who download their email into a mail program such
as Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Eudora and the like, from a POP3
(or possibly IMAP) email account.
I actually ran into this scenario as well, as I was working on a client’s
email server. After setting up email accounts, one of the users asked me “so
how do I change my password?”
I was stumped.
The sad fact is that while there are a bucket of standards around getting
email from point A to point B, and even how to include authentication
information within that transaction, there’s no standard interface widely
deployed for actually changing passwords.
I was shocked.
actually changing passwords.”
I understand how it came to be this way. Email was, originally, a side
effect of having a login account on a specific computer system. By logging into
that account through other means – typically the primary use of that account at
the time anyway – there were standard tools that allowed you to change the
password on that account, and hence the email associated with it.
Email has, of course, become the primary function of those accounts these
days, and typically there simply is no alternate way of logging into the server
to perform a password change. (And even if it does, it’s obscure and geeky
enough that most people wouldn’t want to try it anyway.)
So how do you change your password?
Well, it’s that age old and annoying answer: it depends. It depends on your
ISP, or whomever provides your mail account. In almost all cases, that
ISP will provide a web interface that you can visit to do it. I couldn’t tell
you what that is for you, because every ISP is different. While you might find
it down a “Customer Support” link on one ISP’s web page, you might need to
visit a different page and look for “Account Management” on another.
In the case of my client, I ended up installing one of the open source
WebMail interfaces, SquirrelMail. In addition to providing web-based access to
email, one feature of that
package is an interface for changing passwords.
The bottom line is to check with your ISP or mail provider. They should have
clear instructions somewhere on exactly where to go and how to go about
changing your password.
One last tidbit: it’s extremely unusual for a mail provider to have separate
passwords for POP3 (incoming mail) and SMTP (outgoing mail). It’s possible, but
unusual. Again, I’d double check with the mail provider on just what might be