Email Piracy, Email
by Mike Banks Valentine
How much sensitive information do you send via email? Email piracy
is usually not a major issue for small businesses online. If only
because there's not enough *money* at stake for expensive industrial
espionage and undercutting by competitors who beat you to the punch
in launching a new idea because they worked out how to intercept
your emails to a business partner.
I have signed fairly high-level Non-Disclosure Agreements and faxed
them over non-secured phone lines and discussed them via email as
we negotiate terms or propose changes to sensitive parts of a contract.
I have discussed important decisions by email and brainstormed new
ideas for incredible new internet businesses with start-up firms
risking their financial future on an idea. Just a delicate idea,
that if stolen, could mean financial ruin for a few individuals.
But nobody I've ever dealt with has even once expressed any concern
that their email could be intercepted and read by a third party
while in transit across the web. It's possible but improbable that
corporate spies or simply your neighbors twelve-year-old may be
able to access your email as it zips across the span of the back
yard phone line past his bedroom window, via those little copper
Well unless you are a criminal, a spy, or a brilliant scientist
with a billion dollar idea - it's not likely you'll care if any
of your email communications are intercepted in transit online.
But if you do have reason to keep your communications private, say
sensitive company information meant for clients eyes only or a letter
of resignation for your boss or even that private conversation with
a friend or lover, sit up and pay attention.
There is a simple, if time-consuming way to have your email encrypted
for privacy and signed for authenticity that is rarely used. You
might consider going through the process of applying for a digital
certificate for your email client.
This encrypts those little personal information files and claims
that your email is secure from any prying eyes in transit since
it is encrypted and cannot be read unless the recipient has a copy
of your "Public Key" as it is referred to. Your Digital
Certificate that is saved by your email software to identify you
to those you *want* to receive and un-encrypt your new private emails.
There is a rather long process to put you through with tutorials
which show you how to set up either Explorer or NetScape to accept
a "root certificate". This digital certificate identifies
you as the *owner* of the account and allows your emails to be encrypted
by your email software. Be prepared for anywhere between a half-hour
to an hour to set this up for your new account.
Then you establish passwords and save a copy of your new certificate
to removable disks so that you can keep a backup to be able to access
your own mail should your computer ever crash or the information
in your software become corrupted.
You can also do nearly the same process with either of several certificate
issuing authorities online. Two related companies that offer these
certificates are Verisign and Thawte, which is owned by Verisign,
(go figure) at http://www.verisign.com
and at http://www.thawte.com
. The Verisign version costs $14.95 yearly and the Thawte version
is free, with the ability to upgrade to a paid version they call
the "Web of Trust".
Both of these certificate issuing authorities offer the same long
process of setting up your account and send you emails to verify
your address before providing usernames and passwords to access
and "install" your new certificate.
When you apply for the Thawte certificate, you will have to swallow
a big "trust-me" pill as they require extensive information
about you, including social security number or driver license number
along with five (yes, I said FIVE!) reminder clues to retrieve your
password should you ever forget or misplace it. The application
process offers some very long, if occassionally humorous text in
the instructions and warns you sternly to "WRITE DOWN YOUR
PASSWORD AND REMEMBER IT" or it will be very difficult to retrieve.
So if you're just in the habit of telling embarrassing personal
secrets or gossiping to friends and family, it's probably not worth
the effort and energy to encrypt and sign your emails. But if you
are doing serious business online and need to email sensitive contracts,
non- discolosure agreements or million dollar ideas, consider applying
for a digital certificate.
The digital signature allows you to assert that you *are* who you
say you are via email and encrypt your messages so they can't be
read if intercepted by prying eyes or even nosy neighbors. Maybe
you just want to be certain that it is your mother you are talking
to and not a houseguest that signed on to the web on her computer
and downloaded her email. The passwords and encryption take a few
extra minutes and if you are using netscape, you'll have to go through
an additional step to set up another user profile.
Or there is also the option of being sweet and innocent with no
secrets and nothing to hide! ;-)
WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet Ezine emphasizing
small business online http://website101.com/arch/
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By week's end you're ready expand your business to the web!
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