Cyber experts: No such thing as private email

Free email accounts use bots to mine email information

Published On: Mar 25 2013 04:13:37 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 25 2013 05:48:51 PM EDT
DETROIT -

Most of us know what we send in a work email may not be private. But, did you know there may not be such a thing as a private email?

The cyber experts at the University of Detroit Mercy's center for cyber security and intelligence studies showed Local 4 just how easy it is to build a worm to send to an unsuspecting email.

Within minutes of demonstrating the process, a student had full access to everything on the test laptop, including files, contacts and even images.

As shocking as that was, experts say, it is not the biggest breach in your cyber security, not by a long shot.

Free email accounts:

The most common breaches of your privacy happen every single day with what you think is your private email. If you have a free email account, you are being watched and your emails are being read, scrutinized and judged every single time.

Dawn Frasa of Clawson first noticed that when using her Gmail account, advertisements popped up that seemed to be addressing the contents of her private emails to her husband.

"I use email constantly. I have four different email accounts," said Dawn Frasa. "At first I didn't pay a lot of attention to it, once I really looked at the content in my emails and the ads that were popping up, it was surprisingly close to home. Very targeted."

Local 4's Paula Tutman sent Frasa a dummy email to test the theory. Paula sent out an email that contained information about potentially having to place a loved one in a nursing home.

Less than a minute later, numerous ads popped up alongside the email. "And the ad that popped up is from the Oakland County senior living and long term care insurance. Two out of four ads are directly related to content in the email," said Frasa.

Cyber experts say all free email providers consider your private emails their property. They mine the contents of your email for their own purposes including selling advertisement, and they tell you so.

"Who reads those agreements when they pop up. It's like forty pages long. I don't even understand them completely," said Jeff Ingalsbe from the center for cyber security intelligence studies.

How do they do it?

How do these free email providers snoop?

"They say they will scan your emails, but they'll do it with a bot. A real person won't read your emails," said Ingalsbe. "That's what they say."

If you don't like the ads you can go to your privacy settings and opt out of it. "But, that third party or that provider reserves the option to scan your email, scan your traffic and monitor your use of their program," said Eric Barnes also from the center for cyber security.

The experts warn that free is not secure and you never know who's minding the bots as they mine your private information. 

What you can do:

Don't send social security numbers or information via email.

Don't send anyone bank accounts or credit card information via email.

Don't talk about private, medical or legal matters.

Don't e-fight with your spouse, unless you want ads popping up for counseling services.

In fact our experts say, don't even talk about your kids or nick names they have. 

Paula contacted Google's regional media person for a comment and, wouldn't you know it, his phone doesn't accept messages. He asked Paula to send an email, and she is still awaiting a response. 

The computer and cyber experts have put together more tips and tools to help keep your computer safe, you can view them HERE!