New Browser Tool Self Destructs Personal Messages

July 22, 2009

(ChattahBox)—As the iconic theme plays from the classic TV show, Mission Impossible, Agent Phelps must quickly dispose of a tape containing the details of his secret mission that self destructs in five seconds. And now a new security tool, called Vanish performs the same function, allowing users to set a time limit on Web based text messages, before they self-destruct and disappear forever.

The Vanish prototype was developed by a group of researchers from the University of Washington, to provide a method for sending sensitive messages that don’t end up in the wrong hands. When emails and other messages are deleted, they never completely disappear, as they are archived on Web servers indefinitely.

Head researcher, computer scientist Tadayoshi Kohno cautions that, “If you care about privacy, the Internet today is a very scary place.” “When you send out a sensitive e-mail to a few friends you have no idea where that e-mail is going to end up, said Kohno.

Vanish works by making use of the natural turnover process, called “churn,” used on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. The program creates a secret key that is not revealed to the user, and then encrypts the message with that key.

The key is broken into dozens of pieces that are distributed across random computers, which are part of massive file-sharing networks. Since the file-sharing networks constantly “churn” data, as computers join or leave the network, the pieces of the key disappear over time, leaving the original message undecipherable.

As an added security measure, Vanish programs a network’s computers to purge their memories on a continual eight-hour cycle.

Vanish only self-destructs text messages, but the concept is viable for digital photo and audio files as well.

The Vanish prototype is available as a free, open-source program that is compatible with the Firefox browser. You can download it here.

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One Response to “New Browser Tool Self Destructs Personal Messages”

  1. “This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds…” on July 22nd, 2009 5:07 pm

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