Monday, August 17, 2009

This message will self destruct in 8 hours

What's the closest we get to infinity? The endless reaches of outer space? The time it takes for the taxman to repay an overcharge? An apology from a banker?

No. It's the cyber Elephant. It's the longevity of storage of our personal data on computer banks. Like the prehensile-trunked mammal, servers remember everything forever. Your laptop has a copy of your e-mail, of course. So does the recipient, naturally. Your IP provider stores one. And then the many servers en route.

Those messages might contain bank details, personal info, legal contracts, business secrets, job offers etc. that you really don't want hanging about in cyberspace. The Times tells us a recent US survey revealed that one in five Americans had written something online they regretted later. Whilst one in eight teens had posted revealing photos of themselves.

Divorce lawyers love to obtain old e-mails which can be used in a court settlement. That message from the oil rich husband to his Liechtenstein bankers. His ex-wife's 'secret' liason with the poolman. These e-mails live like ghosts, lingering forever. Deleting doesn't really clean them out. A judge's subpoena will release them. A thief might steal them. Government agencies have no trouble squeezing them from IP providers.

Sometimes there are good reasons that this should happen. Nobody in their right mind wants a paedophile protected or a bank robber. But what, you may ask, of the privacy of the rest of us?

Now Professor Hank Levy of Washington University and Roxana Geambasu may have found an answer. It's a programme they call Vanish. Any message written under Vanish self destructs in 8 hours. Like the old Mission Impossible messages. It will disappear in all it's forms, wherever it is held. Pouff! Like a magic trick. It also applies to social network messages. Facebook, etc.

Vanish scrambles your text into a string of gobbledegook letters. It then splits the digital key to decode your message into 10 pieces. These are hidden across 1.5 million, randomly selected computers across 200 countries. As each user logs off his machine then reboots, refreshing its memory, they disappear, one by one. The prof. reckons that averages an eight hour span before the decode keys are gone.

He's offering it free as a research project HERE.

The picture is from HERE.

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