Asian govts' e-mails may be vulnerable to PRISM

Asian govts' e-mails may be vulnerable to PRISM

Summary: Some officials in the region use e-mail services run by Yahoo or Gmail as their ministries lack proper IT infrastructure or due to personal preference, raising fears they may be monitored by the U.S. National Security Agency.

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Some governments officials around Asia have been sending sensitive information and policy documents through e-mail services run by U.S. Internet giants, raising concerns the data might be monitored and collected by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

While officials worldwide use personal e-mail addresses for personal matters, some in Asia use them for business as their ministries do not have a domain of their own or are inadequate for mobile use, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The concerns come after slides leaked from an NSA presentation last week, revealing a program called PRISM, which allegedly sifted user data from U.S. Web companies, and raised concerns of a close relationship between the companies and the NSA, though both sides have denied the claims.

A former Laotian government employee, told the newswire most official government agencies in ministries have their own Web sites but they were inconvenient because they break down, are slow and have "low qualified service".

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Timor Leste's Minister of Health Sergio Gama da Costa Lobo has a Yahoo e-mail address in his online curriculum vitae. (Source: www.moh.gov.tl)

In Indonesia, the official namecards of several directors at Indonesia's ministry of foreign affairs give only Yahoo or Gmail addresses. A researcher dealing with Indonesian security and police told Reuters they often communicate sensitive information using those e-mail services.

Gatot S. Dewa Broto, spokesperson for Indonesia's ministry of communications and informatics acknowledged officials have been aware public e-mail addresses were "prone to trespassing" but said it was hard to enforce the use of official e-mail accounts.

"Sometimes we have difficulties sending large e-mail with photos, file or video attachments, and are forced to use a public e-mail account. But we have reiterated that public e-mails should not be used for highly confidential matters," he said, adding he used Gmail "in emergencies".

At a recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific conference held in Bangkok, officials from 20 of 33 Asian countries represented included Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo addresses on their contact forms, the report noted.

Topics: Privacy, Government Asia, Networking, Security, IT Policies

Ellyne Phneah

About Ellyne Phneah

Elly grew up on the adrenaline of crime fiction and it spurred her interest in cybercrime, privacy and the terror on the dark side of IT. At ZDNet Asia, she has made it her mission to warn readers of upcoming security threats, while also covering other tech issues.

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