TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Keeping E-Mail Private

Keeping E-Mail Private

Lisa Minter (
Tue, 28 Dec 2004 12:36:27 EST

by Michael Fitzgerald - ExtremeTech

Surfing anonymously is one thing. But wouldn't sending e-mail
anonymously be an online version of mash notes?

The quick answer is no. There are plenty of ways to protect your
identity when sending e-mail while still making sure that the person
who gets your e-mail knows it's from you. And there's good reason to
figure out how to do so. Unless you do something to shield your
e-mail, "it's basically a postcard," says Chris Wysopal, director of
development at Symantec Corporation. In other words, anyone at any ISP
can see the headers to your e-mail, which says who you are and who
it's going to, and can read it if they so choose. So can a hacker who
has compromised the ISP.

Wysopal recommends using encryption software such as PGP, which
effectively seals the envelope, though the headers; the to and from
addresses are still readable. But encryption continues to be a
challenge for most of us. That isn't so much because it's complicated;
it's much simpler than it once was; but because you can exchange
encrypted e-mail only with someone who uses the same software.

A simpler method, and one that also will shield your address, is to
use a re-mailer service such as Hushmail. These services strip off the
original address and put on a new one. It's like a forwarding service
in the real world, and it makes sure that unwelcome eyes can't see
your e-mail, know you sent it or who's getting it. You can read of
free services in PC Mag's 'Hiding Your Identity'.

Re-mailers range from easy to use to very difficult, as noted on
privacy advocate and author Andre Bacard's site dedicated to the
topic. They also can vary the level of anonymity (so yes, you could
send e-mash notes).

While it might seem simpler still to just set up a Webmail account
with a fake name, that's not as anonymous as you might think. For one
thing, if you use it from your home computer, and you don't use proxy
switching software to hide your IP address, it won't be hard for
someone to connect the IP address with the Webmail system.

Naturally, you could go to the public library or another publicly
available Internet site and use machines there. That does eliminate
the IP address problem. But even there, you have to remember that
unless you clear the browser cache and take other steps to erase your
tracks, the next user can figure out a lot of things about you.

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