Ask Leo: How easy is it to forge or alter email?

askleo

By Leo Notenboom

Hi, I received e-mails (printed out). I am being told by the person who is

said to have originally sent the e-mails that they are fabricated e-mails. In

other words, he claims that he sent an e-mail to someone and that person

modified the content to make it look like they were his words. Can this easily

be done. How can I tell if it’s been altered or if it is an original?

One of email’s “dirty little secrets” is the answer to your question: it’s
trivially easy to alter email as you describe.

In fact, if I understand the scenario you’re describing, it might even be
easier than that.

There are technologies to help ensure the integrity of messages, but
unfortunately they’re not something you can apply after-the-fact.

If I understand you correctly, you’ve been handed a print out – a piece of
paper – that contains an email message.

You, I or anyone can make a print out look like whatever we want. Just fire
up a word processor, text editor, or even a photo editor, and type in what you
want. If you have a message to start with, then copy/paste that in as a place
to start, but then sure … edit the heck out of it. There’s nothing to stop
you.

And once printed, there’s no easy way to prove that it was never a real
email.

Even without resorting to additional editing tools, some email programs will
actually let you edit the message you’ve received. You can go in, change
whatever words you’d like, and then save it, print it out or whatever. Again,
it’s not that obvious that the message has been altered, particularly once
printed.

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4 thoughts on “Ask Leo: How easy is it to forge or alter email?

  1. Your column does not do any solution to the matter. Ok, I have a digital certificate, now what?. If I print it out, that’s not going to be attached to the e-mail anyways…

  2. If you save your sent mail it is easy to prove that the mail has been altered because of the time and date signature as well as the IP of the machine that you sent it from.

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