New Software Can Delete Emails Permanently

Software scatters encryption keys among temporary BitTorrent nodes
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2009 6:24 PM CDT

(Newser) – Email is inherently insecure, because it has a long shelf-life—even deleted messages can be stored infinitely on the email service of the sender or recipient. Now a team of scientists is poised to unveil software later this month to make them disappear for keeps, reports the Economist. “Vanish” uses the ephemeral nature of P2P networks to render messages unreadable after a set amount of time. Essentially, they self-destruct.

Emails written with Vanish, such as through its Firefox plugin, are encrypted with a unique security key, which is then broken into pieces and distributed to random “nodes” created by computers logging into a P2P network—in Vanish’s case, the Vuze BitTorrent network, formerly known as Azureus. As users log off, pieces of the key are lost with their nodes. So the message can be unencrypted for a few hours after it is sent, but it soon falls into obscurity as the key is totally lost.