Just about every day we here about problems and threats relating to email. For instance on the last day of July 2013 the UK government went into panic mode following threats from the anarchistic group Anonymous which threatened to flood government agencies with pornographic spam emails in protest against plans to filter the internet.
The protest was called “Operation Pornstorm” and was a direct protest against the impending legislation that would require internet service providers to use default network-level filters to all homes in order to block pornography; the intention being the protection of children. Had the attack been successful, then the email system would have been overwhelmed and legitimate email would have ceased to work.
Phishing attacks are also presenting serious problems. Phishing email masquerades as genuine email from known sources, for instance from banks and other financial institutions, and attempt to trick the recipient to provide personal information such as usernames and passwords often by directing them to phoney websites.
Although most phishing attacks should not be too difficult to detect, a surprising number of people are taken in by them. A recent study carried out among undergraduates at the Carolina State University in the US demonstrated that a large majority were unable to detect phishing email despite the fact that 90 percent of the group had said that they were confident in their ability to be able to. Just 7.5 percent of participants spotted all the fake emails; and over half of them failed to spot half of them; females scored lower than males.
And it isn’t only villains that we need to protect ourselves from. It was recently revealed that for years NSA agents have, without a warrant, been accessing the emails, browsing history and chats of American citizens. They have been using a huge database known as X-Keyscore which has been described as the widest ranging database ever, and gives the agencies access to anyone. X-Keyscore has access to 700 servers that are located all over the world and which hold just about anything that anybody anywhere does on the internet.
Despite all the email dangers that are around, many organizations fail to take even reasonable care to keep email safe and secure. It recently came to light that many colleges and universities frequently put at risk student financial and personal information by requiring them to submit this data in unencrypted email. Even though some colleges and universities require that email encryption is used for sending sensitive data, once that email has been decrypted the information it holds again becomes vulnerable. Using encrypted email is only part of the solution.
There are many things that we can do to keep our electronic communications safe, but there is no excuse for hiding our heads in the sand and hoping that it won’t happen to us. Internet fraud happens every day and around 10 percent of the UK population has fallen victim to it.
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