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How safe are emails and phone calls?

The short answer is: not safe at all.

The long answer is actually very long and very technical. The easiest summary is available in an article dated November 30th 2011 from the Bureau Of Investigative Journalism. In a nutshell, while progress has been made in cryptography and in protecting devices such as PCs and smartphones against malicious software via anti-viruses and similar software artefacts, other portions of the communication channels that we inadvertently use are much less secure than we think….
The main aspect is that the article is not only dealing with the presence of some technical vulnerabilities but also on whether somebody is actually using them. The unfortunate answer is yes, and this includes Governments and Government agencies. The article doesn’t explicitly say it but the impression is that there is no overarching control or independent verification – such as Court orders – on this aspect.This news is uncomfortable because we all would like to take advantage of what the new technologies offer us and of what they enable us to do, far more easily than a few years ago: just think for a minute at mobile banking…. The public and private institutions are also investing in enabling themselves and the services they offer on a new technological approach.
However, these news are not more unsettling than the ones that we were receiving a few decades ago about credit cards: though credit card frauds are still there – and actually increasing – the Western world continues to expand their usage. Moreover, the good news is that there is enough understanding of these issues to bring obvious solutions; these solutions, though, are not only technological (e.g. cryptography) but also behavioural: one needs to know what threats are being run at any point in time and needs to behave in a way that minimises them.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Maddy 29-Oct-2013, 13:55

    Hi Armando,

    Very succinctly put thoughts on this issue.

    Challenge here lies in the minset of the users. As absurd as it may sound many of us are not even aware of virus, malware, adware and phishing – leave alone understanding the differences between them. Fast paced communication has become such an integral part of our urban lifestyle that one cannot imagine doing away with these technological boons. Alas maj0rity of us are yet to fathom the gravity of the threats arising out of these.

    Awareness is the key element here. Appreciate your efforts in touching upon this topic.


    • Armando Gherardi 29-Oct-2013, 14:14

      Thank you Maddy!
      The linked article from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism is very detailed on how e-mails and phone calls can be hacked, which are some of the companies that are doing it on behalf of some public institutions, etc.
      I try to inform of aspects that do not always make the front pages….
      Thanks again for the support!


  • Despre 12-Nov-2013, 17:06

    Funny thing is that they can generate many terrabytes of info on an individual and it never gets used, because it takes more to an observer to analyze the data than it takes for the info to be gathered.

    Moreover, there are important bits of information, well known and well captured, which need to be kept secret otherwise producing big catastrophes. Take for example information about Kursk (see [1]), which might have been enough to start a war (see [2]).

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_submarine_K-141_Kursk
    [2] http://www.theage.com.au/tv/Military/The-Kursk-4382901.html (free)