Experts: Nothing Is 100 Percent Secure

With good resources, anyone can monitor your computer activities, experts say.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 8:26 PM

Aug. 8, 2007 — -- You can install all the computer virus protection software you want, but if someone is determined to find out who you're e-mailing, technically they can, security experts say.

And that may be particularly true if that someone -- or something -- is the federal government.

"There's a lot you can do to make it hard," said Charles Miller, the principal security analyst at Independent Security Evaluators, a Maryland-based firm that successfully took over the iPhone a few weeks ago, prompting Apple to release a security patch last week. "If they have the resources of the federal government, they're going to be able to see [what you do] no matter what you do."

On Monday, President Bush signed into law an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which gives the government expanded rights to intercept phone calls and e-mails without warrants as long as the information being intercepted relates to foreign terror intelligence. Democrats and some civil liberties groups have said that the law goes too far.

"You cannot keep things absolutely safe," Pradeep Khosla, dean of Carnegie Mellon's college of engineering, told "The lesson to be learned here is everything can be hacked into -- it's just a matter of time."

To help consumers, Khosla and Carnegie Mellon have developed The site advises average users who may not necessarily be the focus of a government investigation how to deal with cybersecurity issues.

Khosla's best advice for people worried about security issues is this: "Be aware."

According to Miller, there are various technical roadblocks that someone can throw up for would-be hackers.

"If you're smart and you're paying attention to what you're doing you can probably be safe from [hacking]," he said.

There are a few ways your computer activity can be monitored. One, someone could monitor all the traffic leaving your house, such as e-mails and instant messages. The best way to combat this is with encryption, Miller said.

Encryption works when two people communicating have special keys, or passwords. Encrypted e-mail is "scrambled," and the only way for recipients to read it is if they have the "matching" key.

"Encrypt your e-mail. Encrypt your hard drive. Encrypt your instant messages," Miller said.

Encryption is available on e-mail and many instant messaging systems, including AOL Instant Messenger.