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Wednesday, 09 March 2011 10:39

Boffins work out how to identify anonymous emails

Written by Nick Farell
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Good enough to stand up in court
Boffins at Concordia University in Quebec have worked out a way of identifying the author of an email by sniffing out patterns in their writing style.

Their research, published in the journal Digital Investigation, could kill off the days of anonymous internet trolls and defamation. Even if a troll works through an anonymisor and through several relay servers, their writing style will give them away. The boffins have come up with techniques that could be used to serve up evidence in court, giving law enforcement more detailed information than a simple IP address can produce.

Study co-author Benjamin Fung, a professor of Information Systems Engineering at Concordia University, in a statement that there had been an alarming increase in the number of cybercrimes involving anonymous emails. These can be used to transmit threats or child pornography, facilitate communications between criminals or carry viruses."

The downside is that the technique could be used to reveal identities of whistleblowers or others who have legitimate reasons for sending emails via publicly available tools for sending anonymous messages.  The boffins tested their system by putting it to use on over 200,000 emails from 158 employees of Enron, and were able to identify authors 80-90 per cent of the time.


Nick Farell

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