Worried about the U.S. government spying on you? Facebook, Google, Microsoft — and criminals — could be spying on you, too.
Internet service providers and others can and do view personal email. Here’s how to securely send private information.
Widespread third-party access to personal email
Email is an open book. Between sender and recipient, messages pass through and are stored on numerous online servers — and some of those servers have eyeballs. If you’re using a free email service such as Gmail or Outlook.com, the company providing that service almost certainly scans your mail for antivirus purposes — and often to better target advertising. (A CNNMoney story describes a Microsoft/Google spat over what constitutes “scanning.”)
Moreover, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) not only scoops up mobile-phone metadata but reportedly has copies of everyone’s email. And cyber criminals have their own ways of snagging email in search of credit-card numbers and other bits of information they can use to steal your identity and money.
The obvious solution to keeping your messages private is encrypting them — a process that’s far from easy. The various recipients must have the ability and technical know-how to decrypt your messages.
On the other hand, simple solutions have their own particular weaknesses. For example, I know an accountant who emails sensitive material as password-protected PDFs. The message accompanying the file informs the recipient that the PDF’s password is the last four digits of their Social Security number. But according to the How Secure is My Password website, a desktop PC can hack a four-digit number in less than an eye-blink.
Here are three ways to send encrypted email that are both secure and relatively easy to implement. Hopefully, the person you’re sharing information with can handle one of them.