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Personal Email Not Private Online

November 15, 2012, 6:02 PM by Hailey Higgins

Personal Email Not Private Online

Email privacy is at the center of the scandal swirling around CIA director David Petraeus. It has many wondering, if the head of the top secret CIA can't keep his emails secure, who can?

One of the lessons you can take away from General Petraeus downfall nearly a week ago is understanding that privacy doesn't necessarily exist in the electronic world.

At Dakota State University, students are reviewing for a big exam. But one thing they won't be tested on is how to secure personal email is because it's so complex. Assistant Professor Matthew Miller won't even take a crack at it.

"It's painfully hard to configure an email server for the most part," Miller said. "So, it's not something a typical user or even I want to do."

Miller says a personal server is really the only way to have secure email. Because when an email is sent, it bounces off at least four computers before it's read while a server saves the content, such as Google or Yahoo.

"When you delete them, if you're going with Google, they don't typically delete things, they have the archive button. So, normal people are just going to hit delete and it's up to Google to do the deleting of the email," Miller said.

And with every device carrying an IP address, it doesn't take long to track down who was the messenger and receiver.

Miller says most emails won't be read by an outside source, but the possibility is always looming, especially when the government gets a warrant or subpoena while investigating a crime. 

"Other people can and do look at your email if they need to by law," Miller said.

Miller says similar rules apply to text messages as well.

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