Governments of several Asian countries have admitted using email services of Yahoo and Google for sensitive communication, now they fear their correspondence might have been intercepted.
Concerns about possible eavesdropping have been raised after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed information about the secret PRISM programme to the Guardian.
To illustrate the situation in the Asian region, it was reported that at a recent conference of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, officials from 20 of 33 participating Asian countries included Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo addresses as their preferred contacts. Official business cards of several directors at Indonesia's ministry of foreign affairs, reportedly give only Yahoo or Gmail addresses.
"Government employees in Asia-Pacific countries often ask to send e-mails to Gmail or Yahoo, because their official e-mail rejects large or encrypted attachments”, said Marek Bialoglowy, Jakarta-based security consultant and chief technology officer at ITSEC Asia. He admitted that this way, highly sensitive information could be easily accessible to anyone who might manage to crack a shared password or works for a secret surveillance programme.
The bad quality of governmental domains in the region or their complete absence is supposed to be the main culprit forcing officials to turn to services of Internet giants that offer better parameters.
Gatot S. Dewa Broto, spokesman for Indonesia's Ministry of Communications and Informatics, acknowledged that officials had long been aware that public e-mail addresses were ‘prone to trespassing’ but said it was hard to enforce use of official e-mail accounts.
"Sometimes we have difficulties sending large e-mails with photos, files or video attachments, and are forced to use a public e-mail account. But we have reiterated that public e-mail should not be used for highly confidential matters," he said, adding that he used Gmail "in emergencies."
Indian government has said they don’t have any concerns about eavesdropping as they use their web-based communications to relay sensitive data and only turn to public services when communicating with journalists and the outside world.
Singapore and Japan have chosen a considerably stricter approach. Singapore’s senior officials are obliged to access the Internet and internal communication from entirely separate computers. Spokesmen of Japan’s foreign and defence ministries maintained that transmitting work-related information through web-based e-mail services was strictly prohibited.
"There has been a long-established rule within the foreign ministry against using such services as Gmail and Yahoo mail for work, and as a matter of fact we are not using them," said Masaru Sato, director of the foreign ministry's international press division.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Wednesday that the government of Japan intends to review and reinforce information security, irrespective of what has happened in the USA.