Strictly between ourselves ...

So does it matter if your e-mail is read by someone else? Like all these things, it depends. It depends on the e-mail and it depends on who's reading it. If you're asking a friend to come in and feed your cat while you're away for two weeks, give out your address and burglar alarm codes then you should be concerned about who reads it. But it probably doesn't matter if it's read by someone else in your office, they already know you're going on holiday. If you're writing to a fellow director about the need to make staff cuts, you'll probably want to keep this between the two of you. At the end of the day, the best test is to ask 'if I were putting this down on paper, would I use a Post-It!, a postcard or put it in an envelope?'. And 'would I seal the envelope?'.

The BBC had a show 'E-Mails You Wish You Hadn't Sent'. By and large the embarrasing information revealed in the e-mails was disclosed by carelessness : printing it off or copying to an indiscrete person. And clearly this could just have easily happened with a written note. But then there are cases of e-mails being delivered to the wrong addressee, either by mis-typing or picking the wrong entry from the address book. And leaving your computer unprotected when you go to lunch, e.g. no password protection on the screen saver. Interestingly, the cases of e-mails intercepted in transit are not widely reported. They're probably much more common but, because of the volume of information involved, far less likely to be acted on. And gossip that's of interest to the person at the next desk doesn't really interest the hacker in Korea.

Realistically, the more underhand the method used to gain access to an e-mail, the less likely anyone is to tell you about it. But they may well act on it just the same. So if you print out an embarrasing letter and leave it in the printer for everyone to see, you can expect to hear about it pretty soon. If someone has a backdoor into your server, they'll probably wait for something much more juicy than a drunken night out.