All e-mails can be traced to sender

Deccan Chronicle: SHAUKAT H. MOHAMMED

If you think that the mails you have seen sending or forwarding e-mails using Yahoo! of Gmail or other free Web-based mail cannot be traced, think again. Each and every mail can be tracked back and you could be in a world of hurt if you have forwarded sensitive stuff, or vulgar stuff for that matter. The following case should illustrate just how careful you need to be with your emailing habits. Admittedly this has happened, is happening, in the United States, but it is equally germane anywhere around the world.

First, some quick facts of the case: A former employee, let’s call him Mr. X, of Source Media, which publishes financial market information, has been arrested and charged for reading confidential e-mails about pending personnel moves and for sending e-mail messages to the affected employees, tipping them off that their jobs were in jeopardy.

Mr X had been director of information technology at Source Media, which employs over 1,000 people, between 1998 and 2003, when he was fired. In his capacity as IT director, Mr X had access to the passwords for the e-mail accounts of Source Media employees.

Three years after he lost his job, in August and September of this year, two employees of Source Media got mails from a free Web-based e-mail service alerting them that they might be losing their jobs.

According to the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, “Before these anonymous e-mails were sent, these employees had been the subject of e-mail messages among senior Source Media employees discussing their employment status and possible termination”.

So, how did law enforcement officials nab the alleged offender. Well, they got him using the Internet protocol address, which is a unique numerical address assigned to a particular computer that is connected to the Internet during a given session. “Based on technical data logs that contain identification information about computers that access Source Media’s computer network over the internet, records from the company that provided cable modem service to the former employee, records from Yahoo!, and other information, the alleged offender was identified both as the individual who hacked into Source Media’s email network on various occasions prior to the sending of the anonymous Yahoo! e-mails and as the user of the Yahoo! e-mail account from where the e-mails originated”, the attorney said. If convicted, Mr X faces a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Moral of the story: Be careful about what you write in your e-mails, especially from free Web-based services.

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