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Wake-up call: Your email is not safe

Think yours is secure? So did the director of the CIA.

By Rich_Maloof Nov 19, 2012 7:03PM

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 Photo: Indigo/Getty Imagesmistake, 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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25Comments
Nov 22, 2012 12:10AM
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Might as well write your email on a big sign and attach it to the top of your car along with your email address. Big Brother IS watching and listening.
Nov 22, 2012 12:09AM
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The article is wrong about the IP address being used to identify a computer. It's actually the MAC address, which is a hard encoded number in the network card on a computer.  You can change the network card and effectively change the MAC ID number, making the computer unlinked to the offending email.  Hackers are able to change or spoof the IP addresses and MAC ID's, and kids can even do it and they do it all the time.  What is amazing is that the top official of the CIA appears to not have even the most basic skills. This is an embarrasment to our country and to the world, not only for what he was caught doing, but also the fact that he was not clever enough to avoid being caught in the first place.  This may be controversial, but I equate the mistake to Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger's women problems.  Both of them did disgraceful things with ugly women. We expect a lot more from our leaders!  It's not so much that they cheated, but how they did it--meaning their choices and lack of brains when doing the deed.  I don't think most people would fault a wealthy and powerful leader for engaging in a little extracurricular activity, but for God's sake, at least have the intelligence to keep it hidden and not to get caught with some skank.
Nov 21, 2012 11:56PM
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Bla bla bla-bla bla blah bla BLA BLAHH!
So, THERE!

Nov 21, 2012 11:06PM
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I don't know whether it is true or not but i read some article  that said when i send an email, someone in Asia is reading it at the same time. I don't care who reads my emails so no big thing.
Nov 21, 2012 11:04PM
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And people were using the internet to vote  November 6!  How secure was your vote.  I have a banker friend who works in bank security.  He says do not  use on line banking nor debit cards.  Use a separate credit card for all online purchases not for nothing else. Banks can not secure them.
Nov 21, 2012 10:42PM
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-->  "...the Internet Protocol number that identifies an individual device."

Um...  No, the IP address doesn't identify an individual device.  The MAC address identifies an individual device.  

The IP address identifies an individual connection to the internet.  Basically it tells you *where* the user was logged, and from there you can usually determine what device was used.
Nov 21, 2012 10:25PM
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add to the other comments; anything in your email is used by MSN for their own needs
Nov 21, 2012 10:22PM
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If you do not want it known by others, don't say it, write it, or even think it.

 

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