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This message will self-destruct: Destroy digital evidence before it destroys you

Feb 28, 20127 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Are you a sexting flirt? Those text messages can hang you during a digital age divorce. To protect your privacy from snoops, why not use one of these messaging services that will destroy the evidence after it's viewed?

To protect against snooping during a digital age divorce, you should obviously change all your passwords immediately. However, an attorney may file motions to acquire the same information. In fact, 94% of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) say there is a rise in the use of text messages as electronic evidence in divorces. “Text messages can be particularly powerful forms of evidence during a divorce case, because they are written records of someone’s thoughts, actions and intentions.” A whopping “92% of the nation’s top divorce attorneys say that they have seen an increase in the number of cases using evidence taken from iPhones, Droids, and other smartphones during the past three years.” Other commonly used digital evidence from mobile phones include emails, phone numbers, call histories, GPS locations and web search history.

David Raybin, a Nashville attorney who advises divorce attorneys on wiretapping and privacy laws, told The Salinas Californian, “It is only going to get worse instead of better. As electronic communications become so dominant, people lose sight of the fact that it is very accessible,” he said. “They believe that their computers are private little islands, [but] they are extremely accessible and so you should take precautions to keep things private.”

If you value your privacy, or are engaging in digital flirting behavior then you might be interested in Mission Impossible types of self-destructing messages. It’s also handy if you send an email in the heat of the moment, or intoxicated, and use an email service that will not allow you to recall a message like Microsoft Outlook does.

Not Free:

Have you ever wished you hadn’t posted that Facebook status, comment or photo? PrivateString has an app that will give “users a private place to be uncensored in the world of Big Brother.” The PrivacyString FAQ claims, “You can set messages to self-destruct either by time or can manually destruct them at anytime by clicking the X in the upper right corner.” Both iPhone and Android apps are available, but it’s $1.99 and not free.

Neverending Apps launched This E-Mail Will Self Destruct so users can send private messages that will “disappear in a puff of smoke” and are removed from the servers once the time runs out. It offers to send a read receipt. It’s not free, but a “pay-as-you-go” service — $1.95 for up to 500 self-destructing emails. This Email Will Self-Destruct co-founder Brian Klug told Messaging News, “You never know where regular email will end up. It’s too easy for someone to accidentally forward your message, or for it to be inadvertently saved in your email archive.”


Privnote allows you to create a confidential note that will self-destruct after being read. You are given a link to your note and can choose to be notified when the note is read, but the link won’t open the note again. The Privnote privacy policy states, “Since only the link binds the decryption key to the note’s content and since Privnote does not have the link, at no time is any note held in any readable format state at Privnote….When a note is retrieved, its data is completely removed from Privnote, which implies there is absolutely no way to recover it again. When a note is not retrieved after 30 days, Privnote removes it permanently, just as if it were read.”

Burn Note is another service that allows users to anonymously create an online message that will be destroyed either by a timer which starts as soon as the recipient opens the message, or the recipient leaves the page. Burn Note FAQ states that each message has a unique link that can be sent via email, text message, or other digital means. There’s no logging in and none of the notes are archived. “By default Burn Notes are created with the ‘Short phrases’ display option which prevents the recipient from copy and pasting their contents. The ‘Spyglass’ display option also prevents copy and paste of note contents.” states, “Sending confidential information such as passwords, account information and other sensitive data in emails and IM is not necessarily safe. That data is typically stored with remnants of the bits in places you don’t need it to be.” You create a note, it’s encrypted and after the message is unlocked and read, “the message is deleted into the digital ether.”

The free service KickNotes suggests, “Nosy family members? Employers screening your e-mail? Need to send online messages that literally self destruct after being opened?” You can opt for the message to be destroyed after being read once up to 100 times. Or after one minute to no time limit — which would seem to defeat the purpose of self-destructing messages.

Self Destruct Message claims “Text messages need not cause embarrassment for long.” 60 seconds after being read, the note is destroyed. It’s “a great way to tease or have fun, with the peace of mind that it will not come back to haunt you.” There’s no need to login and you will be notified immediately after your recipient has opened your message.

DestructingMessage allows you to set the self-destruct timer from 15 seconds to 5 minutes, but once the clock reaches zero, it’s bye-bye message. “This ensures your message is read by no one but the reader and all evidence of the message is erased. Messages are also anonymous unless you add any identifiable information to your message.”

TMWSD (This Message Will Self-Destruct) “is a secure messaging service. Messages sent are encrypted, securely transferred, and automatically deleted when they are retrieved.” About TMWSD added, “We didn’t stop there, however. We added the ability to restrict access by password. You don’t need to worry about your password either, because in this case we never actually store it. Instead we hash it using a heavy-duty hashing utility (bcrypt). As an added bonus, if you provide a password we salt the encryption key with it for even more security. This means that without the password no one can decrypt your secret message, not even us.”

The University of Washington also has worked on self-destructing digital data. Vanish research “seeks to protect the privacy of past, archived data – such as copies of emails maintained by an email provider – against accidental, malicious, and legal attacks. Specifically, we wish to ensure that all copies of certain data become unreadable after a user-specified time, without any specific action on the part of a user, without needing to trust any single third party to perform the deletion, and even if an attacker obtains both a cached copy of that data and the user’s cryptographic keys and passwords.”

That’s 7 free services, 2 more which are not free, and additional research to make your data disappear. Why not try one? You never know when that text, email, or social media being monitored may come back to bite you.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.