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Organised crime develops high tech dead letter box

Computer criminals and terrorists are turning internet messaging systems such as Microsoft’s Hotmail into the technological equivalent of the Cold War dead letter mail drops in a bid to baffle the security services.

During the cold war, spies communicated by leaving letters in a pre-arranged place such as the hollow of a tree, which would then be picked up later by their minders. Now  high tech criminals have adopted a similar method to evade the message interception systems developed by organisations like GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.

The system involves opening an account on a web-based email service such as Hotmail. The person writes an email but instead of sending it they save it in the ‘drafts’ folder of Hotmail. As the message is not sent, it cannot be intercepted by the security services listening systems. The log in details of this Hotmail account are then passed to the person that the criminal or terrorist wants to communicate with either; by phone using a pre-agreed code,  text or by word of mouth, so that person can then log into the account and  read the message.  The message is later deleted, so it appears it had never existed.

Having passed on the message – which might even include the details of the next account to be used –  the criminals  abandon the accounts which are subsequently automatically deleted by the email company –  in the case of Hotmail this happens if an  account has not been used for 30 days.

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Published 22nd of July, 2007, Sunday Express