Amstrad's retro E-m@iler, email privacy and data loss

Filed Under: Data loss, Featured, Privacy

Amstrad E-m@ilerThere have been two recent occasions on which my computing life has been influenced by Lord Sugar, the business mogul who founded Amstrad and the star of BBC One's reality TV show "The Apprentice".

The first was on a visit to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, where I got to use an old Amstrad computer. It was running a Tetris clone called Blox created - as was proudly proclaimed on the game screen - by an upstart programmer called "G Cluley".

The second was this weekend, when the device you see in the picture showed up in a charity shop. This is the Amstrad E-m@iler Plus, a sort of executive phone/internet thing released by Amstrad in 2002.

Being a fan of old computers, especially oddball ones like the E-m@iler, I bought it.

The key feature of this phone was that it also had email and web capabilities, albeit delivered via a premium rate number that lined Lord Sugar's pockets with every email check. Users could configure the phone to automatically fetch their mail to be read on the attached LCD screen.

And, indeed, someone had used this E-mailer for e-mail. Someone I shall call "Colin" had set up two accounts on the device. How do I know this? Because Colin hadn't deleted these accounts before taking his phone to the charity shop.

As I said, the E-m@iler relies on a dial-up service which was discontinued earlier this year by its ultimate owners, BSkyB. That means that I couldn't, should I want to, fetch Colin's new email messages.

But there were messages already stored on the phone that I could have read.

Email messages on Amstrad E-m@iler

More surprisingly, the configuration screens let me see passwords assigned to Colin's accounts: has he used the same passwords on any other services?

Hopefully you're aware of 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. My new (or should I say Colin's old) E-m@iler shows that this goes for any device that stores or accesses your data, including phones both smart and retro.

Lord SugarI can just imagine the scene in Lord Sugar's office:

"Colin, you made a basic error. By failing to delete your accounts before giving away your phone, you put your e-mail messages and your passwords at risk. You compromised the privacy of your own and your company's data, and for that reason, you're fired."

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2 Responses to Amstrad's retro E-m@iler, email privacy and data loss

  1. David Day · 1468 days ago

    Unfortunately, it's the same drill all the time at computer "swap meets" and flea markets. Turned the box off a couple months back, and now that it's clean-the-closet time; out it goes. With all the apps, data, licenses, passwords, documents - whatever that was on the machine - intact. And not just individuals - small businesses do the same thing! You would be shocked at what shows up for $5 at the local thrift shop!

    In my company's building, the cleaning crew is known (seemingly invited to do so by the landlord) to "recycle" stuff that is being thrown out. Watching the old desktops get piled into the back of their van sure makes me curious just who's data is still in the box. (Lots of medical offices in this building.) We remove all HDDs, wipe them, and then open them up and wreck the platters when we dispose of systems.

    Whoever that was _should_ have been fired.

  2. Kerry · 1445 days ago

    Graham, I wonder if you could help me. My mother has still got her Amstrad em@iler and she wants to retrieve all the her telephone numbers, addresses etc. that she has stored on there but as the service is no longer available she can't seem to get into it. I haven't looked myself I have to say so it may be a simple thing to do but she can't seem to be able to retrieve them. Would you know how to do this?

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About the author

Graham Lee's business card says he's a "smartphone security boffin", so it must be true. He owns Fuzzy Aliens Limited, a security consultancy service for mobile app developers, has written a book on Mac application security and is often found speaking at iPhone developer conferences, helping developers get security right and taking the burden off the users. Graham's writes a blog about secure Mac programming. Follow him on Twitter at @iamleeg.