WebWatch is the cooperative effort of two of Phnom Penh's most
experienced Internet users:
David Lewis of Telstra's Bigpond and
Bill Herod, information technology consultant at the NGO Forum on
Cambodia. Contact through: PhnomPenhPost@bigpond.com.kh
Email, as the saying goes, is an electronic post card. That is, an
ordinary email message is no more private or secure than a scrap of paper on
Most email messages exist in several copies, and those copies
may linger on various computers for months or even years. As an email message is
just a computer file, it can be opened, copied, changed or deleted at any number
When you send an email from one computer to another over the
Internet, you can't possibly know which computers (servers) that message will
pass through and whether they are secure or not. You can't even know for sure if
it will arrive at its intended destination at all. For example, if you make a
mistake in typing the address or there is a temporary power outage or some other
technical problem at the recipient server, the message would bounce back to the
account where it originated. If that happens to be a shared account at your
office or a "guest" account in an Internet café somewhere, your message may be
read with interest by a variety of people.
The same thing is true at the
recipient's computer - it may be shared by other people who could quite
innocently stumble across your message long after it was sent. In fact, for most
of us, the most serious considerations for email security will be at those two
points: the computers of the message's sender and recipient. It is technically
possible that email messages could be tampered with at any of the servers
through which they pass, but that is unlikely.
For the average
individual, common sense will cover most of the potential problems. If you
wouldn't leave your message on a sheet of paper in a public place, then don't
put it in an email.
If you occasionally have reason to transmit really
sensitive information there are a number of excellent security programs easily
available - at no cost - over the Internet. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is
a fairly robust encryption program in wide use, though some find its system of
"public keys" and "private keys" a little confusing. Another solution is
Hushmail - a free, web-based email service. If both correspondents use
Hushmail accounts, their messages are encrypted during transmission. Another new
service offering secure email is Zixmail, which combines encryption with
a digital signature for extra security. Zixmail can also handle PGP files and is
compatible with SecureDelivery (see below) for communicating with
recipients who do not also use Zixmail.
Digital signatures, as
currently used in email, aren't quite what the name suggests. A digital
signature doesn't really confirm that the message was sent by the person named,
but that it was sent through a particular, registered account.
would be better to call these little files "digital seals" because they
primarily show whether the message has been tampered with during transmission.
They offer no protection against casual snooping on the sending or receiving
Finally, perhaps the simplest and safest form of secure
messaging is a kind of electronic "dead drop". Using one of these programs
(ZipLip or SecureDelivery, for example), you type a message into a form
on a web site where it is encrypted and stored for a period of time you
determine. You then send a message (or instruct the program to do so) to the
intended recipient, who logs on to the web site, enters a password and views the
message. You are then informed that the message has been seen and it is deleted.
No copies are retained on any computers. Deep Throat would have loved this!
Last month saw a large increase in the amount of
surfing traffic in Cambodia. BigPond customers accessed over 2.5 gigabytes of
web pages a day. The most popular E-Destinations were :-
Network, Yahoo, Olympics, CNN, AOL, Microsoft, The Sydney Morning Herald, The
We have recommended previously a whole range of
search engines and directories. Special mention goes this month to Google, which
is probably the Internet's prettiest, fastest and best search engine. It is
claimed that the search of over 1 billion sites is equivalent to searching a
stack of paper more than 70 miles high in half a second. No special conventions
or codes are needed - just type in a few words. You will be surprised by the
accuracy of results.
Moreover.com provides access to current news
articles derived from over 1500 news sources. The site is organised as 300
categories ranging from Asia Pacific to Motorsports to Public health. A quick
search for "Cambodia" yielded 220 relevant articles. Newshub is another
such service, with fewer categories and sources but it is well-presented and
updated every 15 minutes.