Anonymous email authors can now be identified !

Note from Winnerscience: Hi friends, have you ever received an anonymous email. The answer would be definitely yes. Now you can identify the anonymous email author. Thanks to the researchers at the Concordia University.  Let us discuss how:

Researchers at the Concordia University has developed an effective  technique to determine the authorship of anonymous emails and their research showed that the method has a high level of accuracy and it can provide presentable evidence in courts of law.

This new technique is featured in a study published in the journal Digital Investigation (The Journal of Digital Investigation is published by Elsevier and available at It covers cutting edge developments in digital forensics and incident response from around the globe. This widely referenced publication helps digital investigators remain current on new technologies, useful tools, relevant research, investigative techniques, and methods for handling security breaches. Practitioners in corporate, criminal and military settings use this journal to share their knowledge and experiences, including current challenges. It has impact factor of 0.7).

Investigators examined the collection of over 200,000 real-life emails from 158 employees of the Enron Corporation. Using a sample of 10 emails written by each of 10 subjects – 100 emails in all – they were able to identify authorship with an accuracy of 80 percent to 90 percent.

This research co-author Benjamin Fung, a professor of Information Systems Engineering at Concordia University says “In the past few years, we’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of cybercrimes involving anonymous emails and these emails can transmit threats or child pornography, facilitate communications between criminals or carry viruses.” This identification technique was developed in collaboration with Mourad Debbabi, a Concordia expert in cyber forensics, and PhD student Farkhund Iqbal. “Our different backgrounds allowed us to apply data mining techniques to real-life problems in cyber forensics,” says Fung. “This is an excellent illustration of how effective interdisciplinary research can be.”

Fung further says, “Our technique was designed to provide credible evidence that can be presented in a court of law and for evidence to be admissible, investigators need to explain how they have reached their conclusions. Our method allows them to do this.”

While investigation agencies can often use the internet protocol (IP) address to locate the place where an email originated, they may find many people at that address but they need a reliable, effective way to determine which of several suspects has written the emails under investigation. Fung and his colleagues developed a novel method of authorship attribution to meet this need, based on techniques used in speech recognition and data mining. Their approach relies on the identification of frequent patterns – unique combinations of features that recur in a suspect’s emails.

To determine whether a suspect has authored the target email, they first identify the patterns found in emails written by the subject. Then, they filter out any of these patterns which are also found in the emails of other suspects. The remaining frequent patterns are unique to the author of the emails being analyzed. They constitute the suspect’s ‘write-print,’ a distinctive identifier like a fingerprint. “Let’s say the anonymous email contains typos or grammatical mistakes, or is written entirely in lowercase letters,” says 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.”

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The above news is edited by the winnerscience staff and it is originally provided by the Concordia University.

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