A Mac developer was surprised to discover both emails and stored passwords on a second-hand Amstrad E-m@iler Plus he picked up at a charity store.
The E-m@iler Plus was a quirky phone with internet and email capabilities launched by Lord Alan Sugar's Amstrad in 2002. The low-cost technology relied on a premium-rate number to fetch and send emails at a time when unmetered dial-up technology was already widespread and computers were falling in price. It was a commercial flop, mainly because very few people used the E-m@iler for email.
Graham Lee was therefore surprised to find stored emails and passwords on an E-m@iler Plus he bought at a charity shop. The user, whom Lee outs as Colin, failed to delete the two accounts he had set up before flogging his phone. The dial-up service the E-m@iler relies on was discontinued by the service's eventual owner, BSkyB, earlier this year.
That meant Lee couldn't download new emails, even if he had been inclined to do so, but he could still browse through old messages stored on the device. Worse still, he could access the passwords used by Colin via the device's configuration screen. If Colin had used the same passwords elsewhere on the net, a more than plausible scenario, these accounts would be exposed to a heightened risk of attack as a result of the security snafu. The whole incident, as Lee concludes, illustrates the "need to ensure there's no sensitive information stored on old computers before you dispose of them, particularly if you're going to sell them on to other users".
Lee told El Reg he had picked up the E-m@iler Plus – which he describes as an "oddball" old computer – for £7 at the Helen & Douglas House charity shop in Oxford. "It still works as a phone, but the e-mail/surf features are no longer supported," he added.
More details on the data disposal gaffe – including obfuscated screenshots from the device – can be found in a blog post on Sophos's Security Naked Security blog here. Lee worked at Sophos prior to founding software start-up Fuzzy Aliens. ®
One from the archives
El Reg's review of the E-m@iler Plus, described by former staffer Tim Richardson as a "phone with a small screen bolted on and a funny little keypad", can be found here. Richardson liked the device's looks and quirks, but found issue with its pricing strategy.