Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports on new software called 'Vanish,' developed by computer scientists at the University of Washington, which makes sensitive electronic messages 'self destruct' after a certain period of time. The researchers say they have struck upon a unique approach that relies on 'shattering' an encryption key that is held by neither party in an e-mail exchange, but is widely scattered across a peer-to-peer file sharing system. 'Our goal was really to come up with a system where, through a property of nature, the message, or the data, disappears,' says Amit Levy, who helped create Vanish. It has been released as a free, open-source tool that works with Firefox. To use Vanish, both the sender and the recipient must have installed the tool. The sender then highlights any sensitive text entered into the browser and presses the 'Vanish' button. The tool encrypts the information with a key unknown even to the sender. That text can be read, for a limited time only, when the recipient highlights the text and presses the 'Vanish' button to unscramble it. After eight hours, the message will be impossible to unscramble and will remain gibberish forever. Tadayoshi Kohno says Vanish makes it possible to control the 'lifetime' of any type of data stored in the cloud, including information on Facebook, Google documents or blogs."