People who want to open email from patent attorney Andrew Currier have to know the drill. First, they must answer a predetermined question, such as “Where did we first meet?” If they answer correctly, they will then be allowed to view the contents of the email — but they can’t alter it or forward it to anyone else.
Concerned about privacy, the Toronto-based lawyer has begun using a new service that encrypts his emails and tries to keep unintended recipients from reading the contents. The tool, developed by Echoworx Corp., adds a “send secure” button to his Microsoft Outlook email program. Unlike other email-security systems Mr. Currier has tried, this one doesn’t require recipients of his emails to download any software or use the same email program.
“I really need it to be easy for the client on the other end,” says Mr. Currier, who says that leaked information could be disastrous for one of their patent applications. “People don’t appreciate just how vulnerable email is.”
Amid heightened privacy concerns, a handful of technology companies are touting new services designed to make existing email programs, such as Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook, more secure, with features ranging from emails that can’t be forwarded to self-destructing messages that can be viewed only for a limited time. While most email programs by themselves guard against inbound attacks such as viruses and spam, they give computer users little control over the messages that are sent. So these third-party developers, which aren’t working directly with Microsoft or other email companies, aim to fill that hole.
The new outbound-email services focus on safeguarding data and protecting the sender from legal liability, says Richi Jennings, an email-security analyst at Ferris Research in San Francisco. “The state of the art of the technology, though, for some time has just made it really difficult to deploy,” he says. “That seems to be changing.”