Special Reports

Messages that self-destruct after you send them

Thursday, May 10, 2012

For all of the conveniences that come along with modern technology, the loss of privacy may be the biggest inconvenience.

Who can we trust with what information, once it's out there in cyberspace? Some new websites that claim to make your message disappear right before someone else's eyes.

Priv-Note is just one sight that allows you to send a message, and be sure it's read only once, and only by the person to whom you sent it. You type your note on the website, then copy the link into your email and hit send. Once it's read, it cannot be opened again.

Other sites allow you control how long the message lives for. Destructingmessage.com or kicknotes.com can ensure it will be destroyed one minute after you send it, two weeks later, or longer.

The idea is to make sure that emails with sensitive information like finances, or passwords aren't floating out in cyberspace, or end up in the wrong hands. But as with anything, you need to read the fine print.

"How is it deleted? Some of their services just erase that particular link," said online security expert from Drexel University Rob D'Ovidio. "That path to that message on that server is erased. It doesn't mean the message has been erased."

D'Ovidio said erasure isn't enough the company needs to do a "secure-wipe" which may be difficult to find out.

"That means actually deleting and writing over the space where that message is stored on the hard disc or on the SSD drive," he explained.

Another type of self destructing service is designed for texting. Tiger Text will allow you to send a message, which will then disappear from both phones. Each phone has to have the app installed in order to work.

But again, D'Ovidio urges anyone who might want to use this sort of service to make sure "gone" means gone for good.

He said make sure the company isn't capturing your I-P address, that's a computer's digital signature which can be traced back to you.

That's also a word of warning for anyone who might want to use self destructing messages as a means to hide bad behavior. No matter how well something is hidden, even electronically, it typically can be dug up by someone who knows how, and where, to look.

We did reach out to all of these services to ask exactly how emails are deleted but none got back to us. The sites suggest the link to the message is what's erased, and not the message itself.

So while these sites may make things harder for identity thieves, just beware they are by no means a guarantee that your privacy is protected.

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