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This E-Mail Will Self-Destruct In Five Seconds

New E-mail technology applies digital-rights-management technology to let senders determine how recipients access and use messages.
The Mission: Impossible team ain't got nothing on Atabok Inc. The digital-communications-security firm is introducing technology that applies digital-rights-management rules to E-mail, letting users of Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes send a message that will self-destruct--maybe not in five seconds, but according to a predetermined timetable.

Atabok's VCNMail 2 adds a significant layer of security to earlier versions, which allowed the sender to cancel a message that had been sent and delivered but not yet opened by the recipient. Now, senders can set expiration dates on messages and attachments, limit the number of times they can be viewed, and prevent printing or forwarding of those messages. The software is available as an application-programming interface that can be built into an E-mail database, or as an add-on to the E-mail interface that appears as a "send secure" button. In either case, it's up to the sender to choose and enact the rules.

Atabok VP Jeff Wyne says the technology will give the sender unprecedented control over who reads an E-mail, how often it can be viewed, and how it can be used. Wyne says the encryption involved also helps prevent E-mail from being unknowingly intercepted or pulled off of E-mail servers. "It really becomes an additional layer of security," he says.

Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald says most companies haven't developed sophisticated policies about dealing with sensitive information sent via E-mail. For those that understand the issues surrounding E-mail security, MacDonald says the Atabok technology is an interesting alternative, but that it represents just one of many possible approaches.

He says that, in addition to developing policies that dictate what employees can or cannot send in E-mail, companies can deploy encryption technologies that take the decision-making out of the hands of employees. Still, MacDonald says, the Atabok software could be useful to companies that are willing to spend the money to implement easy-to-use, user-controlled security tools. For the time being, at least, "it's only going to appeal to a small number of companies that are security-savvy."