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As the recent Microsoft antitrust trial illustrated, e-mail is often the smoking gun in contemporary business litigation. Microsoft was just one of many companies to learn that the virtual pen can be mightier than the lawyer’s sword. What’s a company to do? It can automatically purge messages older than so many days. But that doesn’t stop employees from printing, archiving or forwarding important messages. Once a message has left the premises, it could end up in the wrong hands — those of a competitor or, worse, of its counsel. Wouldn’t it be nice if e-mails were like telephone calls, in which the physical evidence evaporates after the communication ends? Several software developers have recently stepped into this void by offering programs that control and even vaporize e-mail messages. These programs can be clumsy to use, taking away some of the spontaneity of quick e-mail exchanges. But for clients willing to trade ease of use for less potential liability, these programs are worth a look. Authentica Inc., Disappearing Inc. and QVtech Inc. offer or plan to offer these software tools. They scramble messages with strong 128-bit encryption and control how the intended recipient can access and use the message — whether he or she can forward, print, screen capture or copy and paste from it. The sender can also control how long the message itself — and even tape backups of the message — are readable. Think of it as electronic paper-shredding by remote control. The programs are able to accomplish these sleights of hand by associating rules with the key that unlocks a message. These keys are managed by a central Web site known as a key server. These three products are integrated with Outlook, and support for Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise may be forthcoming. Authentica also supports Eudora, another popular e-mail program. Recipients who don’t have a supported e-mail program will still be able to read messages, but only by downloading a separate viewing program or some other work-around. For example, Disappearing Inc.’s Disappearing Mail system sends messages as HTML files. Recipients without Outlook can view the messages on a Web browser, but they cannot send encrypted messages. Inquiring minds may be wondering, “If I can read the decrypted message on my screen, can’t I just copy and paste it into another program?” With Disappearing Mail, this is possible. That particular program is best suited for work between friendly parties who want their correspondence to remain private and want it to self-destruct after set periods of time. However, both QVtech’s Interosa and Authentica’s MailVault products are more adept at stopping rogue recipients. Interosa, for example, forces recipients to display all of their messages in a special window that limits the ability to manipulate or print the contents. Of course, the receiver could make like a spy and photograph the screen. But perhaps you shouldn’t be sending an e-mail to someone with those inclinations. Common sense is the best guide. The advantage of these new systems is that if the expiration date is set for, say, five or 10 days, then the messages will be unreadable long before they could be discovered and used in litigation. That’s where the real value lies. However, these purges should occur in the normal course of business. Otherwise, it could appear that a company is destroying evidence. Authentica is the only developer actually shipping a product. Both Disappearing Inc. and QVtech have been testing versions and are planning commercial releases this summer. Authentica’s prices range between $20 to $200 per person, depending on the number of users; Disappearing Inc. plans to charge $4 a month per person; and QVtech’s prices vary depending on the number of key servers and users. Authentica also offers products that control access to document files and even Web pages. Another important Authentica feature is watermarking — messages can contain a watermark bearing the recipient’s identity. If a sensitive document is leaked, the watermark identifies the culprit. Finally, companies such as 1on1Mail, at http://www.1on1mail.com/; HushMail, at http://www.hushmail.com/; and ZipLip, at http://www.ziplip.com/, play host to an entire self-destructing mail system. Users must go to their sites to send and receive encrypted mail, but the sites don’t offer advanced security features. On the other hand, HushMail is free. Somehow that doesn’t seem to comfort me. To learn more about these e-mail security products on steroids, go to: www.authentica.com, www.disappearinginc.com and www.qvtech.com.

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