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Chapter 8. E-mail Security > The Dangers of E-mail

The Dangers of E-mail

E-mail was first thought of by Internet pioneers as a way to communicate, criticize, argue, and joke around. Its potential was quickly realized, as e-mail spread worldwide among the earliest Internet users as a medium for sharing ideas, collaborating on emerging privacy issues, and communicating in general. The fascination of e-mail quickly turned from a hacker's toy to an important means of information exchange. In fact, e-mail is one of the driving forces behind the growth of the Internet. Its quick, worldwide spread did not require too many changes to the core protocols. The security shortcomings of POP3 and SMTP were considered an acceptable risk by those responsible for setting up e-mail systems, and the risks were largely unknown to the vast public, who uses e-mail without fully understanding it. Today, the security shortcomings of e-mail have manifested themselves into several obvious dangers. Let's look at the major dangers that face e-mail users:

  • E-mail can be intercepted by a man-in-the-middle attack, where an unexpected third person reads and possibly modifies e-mail sent between two legitimate parties.

  • E-mail can threaten your privacy when government agencies or intercepting ISPs monitor and read the e-mail messages (as in the case of DCS-1000).

  • E-mail can be exploited by attackers who spoof (masquerade as) someone else's identity to gain information from trusting recipients.

  • E-mail can be exploited by spammers or advertising agencies by using a shotgun delivery approach to send a widespread message or sales pitch in bulk.

  • E-mail can be used to deliver threats to networks and computers, in the form of viruses, worms, and Trojans.



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