Wake-up call: Your email is not safe
Think yours is secure? So did the director of the CIA.
By now it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that David Petraeus was as unwilling or unable to secure his email as he was to secure his belt buckle. If the director of one of the world’s greatest intelligence agencies could not manage to protect his digital communications, what hope do the rest of us have?
If your email privacy has never been invaded, there’s really only one explanation: No one has wanted to yet.
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Of the many confusing factors in the Petraeus scandal, one nagging head-scratcher is how the top spy in the United States could get busted via email. Don’t these guys use invisible ink or embed chips under their skin anymore? You can get a secret decoder ring in a box of Cap’n Crunch that offers more security than Petraeus and his paramour employed.
Their first mistake, aside from their personal indiscretions, was using a Web-based email account. Petraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell thought they were being pretty clever by not exchanging emails between them; instead, they opened a Gmail account and saved messages to each other in a drafts folder, a tactic that had been used previously by terrorists.
That may have kept their spouses from discovering emails on a laptop, but it wouldn’t even protect someone involved in a minor lawsuit. As the New York Times has noted, courts wield search-and-subpoena powers enabling a lawyer from the other side to access emails and info on a computer, on a smartphone or stored on a cloud. Tick off the authorities with a potential breach of national security, and you can bet they will be up in your stuff faster than you can say “empty trash.”
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Their second major flub was not masking Broadwell’s IP address, the Internet Protocol number that identifies an individual device. Though the shared Gmail account was ostensibly anonymous, Broadwell never cloaked the IP address when using her computer on hotel Wi-Fi networks. When she harassed Jill Kelley using the same computer, Kelley forwarded the messages to the F.B.I., who were easily able to cross-reference IP addresses on hotel Wi-Fi’s with hotel guest lists and track the computer to Broadwell.
Despite the many missteps of an intelligence expert who should have known better, there are numerous options for covering — or obliterating — your digital tracks, from virtual private networks that offer protection on public Wi-Fi’s to encryption services to email messages that self-destruct on a timer. But the only surefire method to avoiding the discovery of wrongdoing, online or off, is not doing wrong in the first place.
Photo: Indigo/Getty Images
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