When you send an email, do you have any expectations of privacy?  I would hazard a guess that most people would be fairly confident that only the sender and the recipient would have access to the email.  Unfortunately that’s rarely the case at least using a default email client which most of us use.

The reality is that the vast majority of emails are transmitted in clear text over the internet.  This means that they are instantly readable by anyone during their dispatch.  Due to the infrastructure of the internet,  they will travel unprotected through a number of intermediate computers, servers and routers.  This is of course made worse if you use something like a public wifi hotspot to begin transmission where potentially anyone connected may pick up your email.

The problem is that anything that is not encrypted which uses the internet as a delivery mechanism is automatically going to be very insecure.  The open architecture of the ’net’ ensures that your message will travel across all sorts of unsecured devices before it reaches home.  At any point an email message can be read by anyone intercepting, it is important that we teach people the reality of this.

This is how the US Prism project and the UK security services are able to intercept billions of emails, all they need is to tap into a few strategic spots and they can download pretty much anything.  It’s not just Government Spying Agencies though which are able to do this – sit in a cafe using a free public wireless network whilst running a network sniffer and you can also read other peoples emails.

All our data also goes through our Internet Service provider, most of these keep logs of all communication we send down their wires.   This means that all our emails are stored in clear text on the server logs at our ISPs – it’s not exactly private.  You can read a little more about privacy here  – how secure is email on this site, http://www.theninjaproxy.org/privacy/how-secure-is-email-privacy-issues/.  But in general, the answer to keeping your email private involves encrypting the message itself, VPN and SSL secured connections to add another layer and really staying away from unsecure wireless access points or at least refraining from sending email when using them!

One encouraging sign is that because of the huge levels of filtering and blocking access by both Governments and Private companies is that security software and VPN programs are becoming increasingly popular.  Someone may only be using security software so that they can access BBC Iplayer by proxy, but they will inadvertently be protecting their connection.

Further details here.