By Lincoln Spector
All too often, we send and receive sensitive information by unsecured e-mail, leaving us open to data and identity theft.
Fortunately, there are relatively easy and inexpensive solutions for transferring personal data over the Web to friends, relatives, and business associates.
A little inattention to security can be costly
A few weeks ago, my accountant e-mailed an early version of my tax returns — and sent them in an unprotected .pdf file. I wasn’t happy about that. He’d effectively put my private information (social security numbers, bank account numbers, and so on) up where anyone might find it. Fortunately, no harm was done.
We’re so used to sending everything by e-mail that we forget its shortcomings — one of which is that almost anybody can read it. Yes, using an https connection encrypts mail as it travels between PC and mail server, but then it might sit on a server, unencrypted. Moreover, messages typically pass through multiple servers and remain on those servers for extended periods of time. If you want to ensure your messages are secure from end to end, you’ll have to take extra steps.
I’ll discuss two solutions to this security problem: how to send encrypted e-mail that the recipient can easily decrypt, and a Web service that goes around e-mail.
Although I’ve never found the perfect solution to secure document transfers, I’ll give my view on what that solution might look like. But until it comes around, these will do.
The first problem is the person on the other end
In researching this article, I found a great many workable solutions well within the capabilities of most Windows Secrets readers. In the worst cases, I’d have to walk you through one or two somewhat unfriendly setup wizards.