Skip to main content
Silence of the LANs

"Turns... If I help you, Clarice, it will be "turns" with us, too. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though – about yourself. Yes or no"?

Ever thought of shredding your email? Try Cyberscrub.

It seems that everyone is worrying about email recently and they have a right to. You could be Ford or Allied Irish Bank or simply paranoid, like me, the Hannibal Lecter of IT, with a taste for good Chianti and raw information scandal.

Like it or not, most companies now need to think pretty seriously about having an email auditing programme (EAP) in place, increasingly squeezed as they are, between flesh-coloured concerns over personal privacy and the risk of corporate liability, a rock and a hard place.

Nobody of course wants to see his or her email auctioned-off to the highest bidder? That is, of course, what happened on eBay, when an auctioneer, using the alias of ‘Cruvdog’ offered 64 pages of personal email between Enron’s former Chairman, Kenneth Lay and it’s CEO Jeffrey Skilling to the highest bidder. In the popular rush for souvenirs eBay has been auctioning anything Enron branded. These include ‘Must Have’s’ such as resignation letters from Enron employees, mouse mats and branded golf balls, raising the whole tacky process into a serious privacy issue that goes well beyond the auditing scandal.

What happens then, if someone steals your mail? Who is responsible and can you protect yourself from the risk?

Fortunately, in the UK, we have the 1998 Data Protection Act, which offers us some protection in law and we have the right to see any personal information that is stored electronically as well as physically, the kind of progressive legislation which can make a Civil Servant's bottom twitch. Unfortunately, if an opportunist like Cruvdog, sniffing around an abandoned Mail Server, manages to find a few interesting scraps with your name attached and then proceeds to auction these from an offshore site, outside of the reach of the Data Protection Registrar, there's not much you can do about it other than protest at the injustice of it all.

There are of course many different examples of content "insecurity". My travels in the Middle-east have revealed that at the most senior and influential levels of government and industry people are using Hotmail and Yahoo accounts to bypass the routine monitoring of local Internet traffic. Osama Bin Laden had one such account and I’ll bet that Mr Arafat does too. It would be naïve to think that Western security services hadn’t spotted this little opportunity a long time ago.

Although such services are allegedly secure, email conversations still have to be kept on file ‘for reasons of national security’. Here, if the Government gets its’ way, every little indiscretion passed over the Internet will be available for seven years, including my innocent chat-room encounters with the fabulous 'Pussycat-1' in Vancouver, which may yet find their way into the Mail on Sunday.

As Bill Gates once discovered to his cost, a hasty email 'one-liner' can return to haunt you in court. A jury can broadly misinterpret even the friendliest expression of business rivalry, such as “Take care of them”, if the company in question subsequently collapses.

One security consultancy, is, I know, itching to sell the Whitehall mandarins an email auditing service and most recently, the very public confrontation between Mr Byers and Mr Sixsmith at the Department of Transport once again has the civil service agonising over their own use of email. You’ll remember the character of Sir Humphrey Appleby in ‘Yes Minister’, arguing that “The Official Secrets Act is there to protect official's secrets’ and the very idea of Open Government and email would have been anathema to him!

There’s a strange irony that people will write and include in an email, indiscretions and images that they would never dream of committing to a letter. Email encourages a feeling of invisibility, a splendid isolation from responsibility, which only exists in the imagination of the user, so remember, that everything you ever type in a message may be stored both locally and remotely and that a touch of paranoia isn’t such an unhealthy condition in a digital society.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…