NO PEEKING

If those execs at Hewlett Packard had only paid $5 a month for self-destructing e-mails, they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in now. And that goes double for Congressman Mark Foley.

What’s really amazing is the apparently widespread belief that once you send someone an e-mail it somehow disappears into the ether, never to be seen again. Believe us, the truth is out there, and it’s recoverable. Since e-mail embarrassment seems to be a never-ending story, we decided to do a security column. This is it.

The secure e-mail service that started this little chit-chat is from Echoworx.com. For $5 a month you get encrypted e-mail that no one but you and the recipient can read. When you want to send a secure e-mail, a box pops up asking you, the sender, to provide a question the recipient must answer. That answer is the code word to unlock the e-mail. It should be a question that the recipient can easily answer. (The recipient does not have to be signed up with Echoworx, by the way.)

 

The argument behind a code word generated from a question is that both the sender and recipient of encoded e-mails are usually known to each other, or share some knowledge in common. The question could be about a shared interest in sports, or a company’s products, but you get the idea. It would be a question the recipient could likely answer, but would send anyone else on a long guessing game. The recipient could acknowledge your message with an ordinary return e-mail, like “Got it” or “Thanks,” and that return email is automatically encrypted too. An encrypted conversation can continue back and forth forever. Either you or they can click “verify” at any point to make sure who sent it. After 30 days the encrypted e-mail self-destructs. No, there’s no accompanying theme music.

 

Echoworx.com does not sell this service directly but through some phone companies, like AT&T, Verizon, USA-Net and a few others. You don’t have to be a customer of one of those companies to get the Echoworx service, they will simply sell it to you. But you do need to use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, with more e-mail services to be added later.

There are other encryption programs and you can find several at Download.com; we wrote about some of them many years ago. But what’s nice about Echoworx was that it’s real easy. And $5 a month is pretty cheap for secure self-destructing e-mail.

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