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Govt cyber snoop impossible

Gift Phiri

IT is practically impossible for government to snoop on e-mail content of Zimbabwe Internet users who do not use local domains, the Zimbabwe Independent established this week.

While the Zimbabwe govern-ment may force local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as M-Web, TelcoNet, AfricaOnline, Zimbabwe Online, Ecoweb and e-world to open locally registered domains to inspection, it is impossible for it to monitor individual e-mail messages for Internet users that go via foreign domains.

IT consultants who spoke to the Independent said domain names ending with co.zw, org.zw, and ac.zw are the only ones that government can interfere with.

All e-mails with foreign domains such as net, com, co.za, and co.uk cannot be accessed because the e-mail servers are either in Johannesburg, Los Angeles, New York or London and are owned by big corporations such as Yahoo! or Hotmail – both Microsoft products.

“So as long as you use international e-mails to send sensitive information, there is no way government can open them, unless of course you give them your password,” said Robert Ndlovu, an IT expert who has worked for two ISPs in Zimbabwe before relocating to the US.

The Zimbabwean government, through telephony company Tel*One, last week proposed new contracts for all ISPs in the country which would compel them to block e-mail content or report malicious messages that are deemed to be politically sensitive. This included “anti-national” sentiments.

Ndlovu said hacking of multi-million servers at Yahoo! or Hotmail calls for the highest code crackers in the world and it is virtually impossible because of the encryption that is now being used.

“Even the FBI would have problems cracking your Yahoo! password unless it’s made of less than four letters and it’s a common word like ‘frank’,” said Ndlovu.

Another IT expert who requested anonymity said the government could buy software that could detect any sensitive information since most of the e-mail messages are routed through Tel*One. He however concurred that it would be close to impossible to eavesdrop on e-mails with foreign domains.

“The encryption codes for Yahoo!, Hotmail, Webmail and so forth are advanced and tampering with them calls for advanced computer wizardry,” said the IT expert. “I wouldn’t think government would be able to hack the systems.”

By yesterday some computer companies were offering to host local ISPs to evade the new regulations in the event that they are effected.

“Fellow Zimbabwean business-es, we are here to help you keep government from reading your e-mail,” Tom Nyandoro, an executive with GTN Technologies, wrote to ISPs this week.

“We have an offshore secure e-mail solution GTN Mail that has servers based in the USA and we take seriously your privacy and security.”

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