RESEARCHERS at Concordia University claim that it is possible to trace an anonymous email back to its sender through pattern tracing.
The researchers, presumably bored with current ways of tracing emails that often involve meandering IP searches, said that their approach has high levels of accuracy and produces results that are good enough to use in a court of law.
"In the past few years, we've seen an alarming increase in the number of cybercrimes involving anonymous emails," said study co-author Benjamin Fung, a professor of information systems engineering at Concordia University. "These emails can transmit threats or child pornography, facilitate communications between criminals or carry viruses."
Fung and his team have developed a method for tracing emails which, rather than attempting a literal trace, apes speech recognitions and data mining to identify patterns in an email and, by noting recurring trends, attributes authorship.
"Let's say the anonymous email contains typos or grammatical mistakes, or is written entirely in lowercase letters," explained Fung. "We use those special characteristics to create a write-print. Using this method, we can even determine with a high degree of accuracy who wrote a given email, and infer the gender, nationality and education level of the author."
Fung and the team used a notorious dataset to access the accuracy of its technique, the Enron email collection. Using a sample of ten emails written by each of ten Enron employees, 100 in total, they were able to identify the authors accurately in eighty-odd cases.
"Our technique was designed to provide credible evidence that can be presented in a court of law," says Fung. "For evidence to be admissible, investigators need to explain how they have reached their conclusions. Our method allows them to do this." µ
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