Rhodri Marsden: The true cost of email security

Cyberclinic

I have a friend called Jenny. I don't receive many emails from her – for some reason we don't have that kind of relationship – but the ones I do get are worded awkwardly and tend to urge me to buy stuff. This isn't what I'd expect from her, frankly. She's highly literate and a bit of a closet hippy, and this doesn't square very well with her references to exciting new "electornic" gadgets, and insisting that this is a "really good chance for shoping". Sadly, Jenny has become one of thousands of "malware mules", whose email account details and passwords are available on the black market from anywhere between 65p and £13. A down payment of this piffling sum gives you access to her online address book (including my own details) and thus the unmissable opportunity to send me messages masquerading as friendly communiqués from Jenny that begin with the words "Hello Dear" before immediately segueing into a sales pitch for a popular brand of training shoe.

The evil masterminds behind all this figure, quite rightly, that we're more likely to open messages from people who are embedded within our address books – even if the subject lines of their emails are suspiciously reminiscent of spam, eg, "you'll be the super lover". Not only that, the message is far less likely to be rejected in the first place by spam filters, which are, thankfully, getting better at rejecting random missives from non-existent humans advising us of tempting ways to boost our flagging sexual appeal. This hijacking of email accounts is just one contributory factor towards the ever-increasing level of spam that mail servers are having to deal with: up 6 per cent in the first three months of this year over the same period in 2009.

But spam is only one of the problems faced by the malware mules. We store all kinds of personal information in our webmail. Login details to various websites, including online banking and credit card sites, can get lodged in online inboxes without us even thinking; perhaps we've sent them to a trusted friend so we can access said sites on their computer, or just emailed them to ourselves as a reminder. But once we've done that, they sit on the email server for perpetuity – unless we delete them – and the only barrier to them being accessed is the guessing of one password. And a recent analysis of breached passwords showed that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide still consider the password "123456" to be a pretty clever security device. It isn't.

Security software firm Symantec has just highlighted this issue in one of its regular, and by their nature slightly harrowing, Internet Security Threat Reports. Con Mallon from the company underlines the dangers by stressing that all our passwords could thus be obtained for less than a pound. For this scenario to occur you'd have to be pretty unlucky, and a bit stupid, but many people, including me, can easily fall into that category from time to time. And with cyber crime having recently overtaken the international drug trade as the most lucrative illegal global business, we'd do well to take Symantec's advice, change our passwords, and stop using our email accounts as pathetically insecure filing cabinets.

***

Another example of malfunctioning security was exposed on Monday, when Apple inadvertently revealed its new iPhone model about three months early, thanks to an employee who went out for the night in Redwood City with a prototype in his or her back pocket, and ended up leaving it on a bar stool. Many of us have lost a phone after two drinks too many, but few of us have had to face the wrath of our employers on Monday morning as a direct result. The fate of the unfortunate employee isn't known, but before Apple remotely disabled the device the new owners were able to ascertain that it was running the hitherto unseen iPhone 4.0 software, at which point they handed it over to technology website Gizmodo. As Apple's powers stop short of being able to remotely retrieve the device via some gigantic geolocating magnet (the company is reported to "want it back") Gizmodo treated us to a YouTube showing-off: it has a front-mounted camera for video chatting, a larger battery (thanks to the other components slimming down) and a squared-off construction faintly reminiscent of a Braun gadget from circa 1972. It's atypical for Apple to have scuppered a big reveal moment in this fashion – but predictably, it hasn't stopped people wanting one. Now, when's my upgrade due?

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Infrastructure Engineer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking to find a...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

    £21000 - £23600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing