Monday, 11 July 2011


If you've been reading my recent posts on 'nix security you may be starting to think that I'm getting a little paranoid - and you'd be right!

Whilst it's easy to point and laugh at the Edward 'Brill' Lyle types out there who live in cages and don't have an email address, the more cautious among us may have the right idea. The BBC recently posted an article of Yahoo!'s intention to scan personal emails and apparently, "the world's largest email provider" is not alone!

Yahoo! is among a number of e-mail service providers which scans content.

Google mail, on its website, says it looks at the text of Gmail messages to filter spam and detect viruses.

"Google also uses this scanning technology to deliver targeted text ads and other related information."

BBC Newsbeat 08/07/2011 (as linked)

Of course, this isn't exactly news: Bruce Schneier warned us as early as 2000 that:

"E-mail has no built-in security.

Like any network packet, any machine between the source and the destination can read e-mail. (You can even see the names for some of those machines in the headers of your received mail.) The common metaphor used for Internet e-mail is postcards: Anyone - letter carriers, mail sorters, nosy delivery truck drivers - who can touch the postcard can read what's on the back."

Schneier (2004 p.200)

However, what Yahoo! and Google are doing isn't some benign equivalent of a nosy delivery truck driver, they are engaging in wholesale snooping on their customers with the intent of stealing information for the purpose of corporate enrichment. This is nothing short of an invasion of privacy.

Not so long ago, those of us who were new to the Internet were encouraged to delete cookies at the end of a browsing session, protect our computers with a strong password (and change it often), and never put anything in an email that we wouldn't put in a sealed envelope: as time has passed and we have all become more familiar with the Internet and its technologies, we seem to be forgetting those valuable lessons. Perhaps it's time to remind ourselves of those lessons and, if something is private, to take responsibility for our own privacy.

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