Emails provide identifiable two-way communication by design. Aside from the sender address, email has a lot more information that could be used to identify you. If you look at the full email header, you could find routing information. This might be enough to identify you, which might get you in trouble if you’re sending sensitive information. The proper way to do it is to send an anonymous email.
How to send an anonymous email without being tracked?
Sending private email means hiding your real IP address and using a secure email service provider. Most popular email platforms like Google or Yahoo are excellent in their simplicity and storage but are lacking in the privacy department.
If you expect to initiate a private conversation via email, there are quite a bit of things that you could do. Keep in mind, that most times, there’s no one fix solution. You’ll get the best combination of privacy and security if you try to combine several methods. Not only this will help you to stay secure when writing private emails but when you’re looking for weak points in your daily browsing.
1. Use an encrypted email service
Encrypted email will function just like a regular service with the bonus that end-to-end encryption makes it much safer. Such encryption covers your emails, inbox, and contact list. No one spying on your traffic will be able to read your emails, including even the service provider (in some cases). Different providers offer different features, but Tutanota, Secure Email, Guerilla Mail, and ProtonMail are guaranteed to be more private than Gmail or Yahoo.
2. Use a “burner” email
Similarly to how cheap prepaid phones are used in shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad, burner emails are temporarily used and then disposed of. They either expire after a fixed period or will enable you to send a message without registering an account that could be traced back to you. You can use their temporary “send only” account at AnonymouseMail.
Burner emails can help you to fight spam when registering on shady websites. The only drawback is that it can be very tricky to reset your account registered on a burner email in cases when you forget your password. The best course of action would be to use burner emails when you know that it’s little chance that you’ll need to use it in the future.
3. Hide your IP
Whichever method you choose to send an anonymous email, your IP may still be a liability. To hide it, you should use a no-logs VPN or Tor browser. A VPN will encrypt your connection and route it through an intermediary server, hiding your actual IP address. Tor will pass your connection through several network nodes, making you untraceable. There are even some VPNs that use these technologies in conjunction, like NordVPN’s Onion over VPN.
4. Remove the metadata from the files
If you’re sending a Word document, the metadata in the files could be your giveaway. It can contain your full name and other personal information that you don’t want to share. If it’s just documents that you want to send without being traced, you should take a screenshot and strip any EXIF data from it.
On Windows, there’s also a built-in tool for metadata removal called Document Inspector. This will help you to analyze what you’re including, giving you the ability to strip all the information from a file that you don’t want to be shared.
5. Create a new email account
If you must use services Gmail or Yahoo, you could create an email using false information. Choose a fake name, home address, date of birth, and don’t provide a phone number. Keep in mind, however, that even with these precautions, these services will still track your cyber movements. They are also required to provide this information to law enforcement agencies.
Importance of email security and anonymity
Using a standard email provider, in most cases you’ll get a decent service, but your privacy might be at risk. These services generate income from ads, and they need to know your browsing habits to tailor these ads for you. Plus, email metadata will expose your private IP address to anyone willing to look at the X-Originating-IP or Original-IP lines. This will enable hackers (or the receiver) to find your city, state, ZIP code, internet service provider, and more.
Most Anonymous Email Providers
If you want to send email anonymously, it always boils down to choosing a secure email provider. They can still keep a log with your name, IP, or location, so you need to pick one that will respect your anonymity and will not collect your data.
ProtonMail uses PGP encryption for your emails before they leave your device. They guarantee a no-logs policy, so even if law enforcement came knocking on the provider’s door, they wouldn’t have anything to show them. Keep in mind that once the email is sent, it won’t encrypt metadata, headers, or subject lines. There is a free and paid plan that increases the maximum amount of messages that you can send per day. The only downside is that they will likely ask you to provide a telephone number to confirm your account.
Tutanota can provide you with end-to-end encryption. If you need, you will be able to send encrypted messages even to non-Tutanota users. The encryption includes not only the inbox, but your contacts as well. You won’t need to provide any identifiable information when registering an account. Plus, it will strip your IP address from your emails. Their code is open source so everyone can examine it.
3. Secure Email
4. Guerilla Mail
Guerilla Mail, for over a decade, is one of the most private providers allowing users to send and receive anonymous emails. It’s possible to create a new or use scramble address feature to create a randomized address. The service even allows you to send email messages without an account.2
If you use Gmail as a webmail service, your external IP address and hostname will not be leaked. However, if you’ e using Thunderbird, or Outlook client to send Gmail emails using SMTP, then your IP address and hostname will be sent through along with your email. Keep in mind that during police investigation, Gmail would be forced to reveal your IP address and location.
It’s impossible to hide “From” addresses when sending emails. However, you can use a fake address to trick someone into thinking that it was someone else. You’ll still have to use a real domain name because non-existing domain names will get caught up in spam filters.
By design, Outlook always uses an email account associated with the sender. This means that it’s impossible to indicate other “From” that your used email account. If they don’t match, Outlook will return an error, and it will be impossible to send an email.
Gmail isn’t anonymous because Google tends to collect your data and serve you ads. However, it’s possible to keep some degree of privacy with the Gmail account by using a fake name, location, birth date when registering, and always using a VPN with it.
You can use a VPN or TOR to hide your originating IP address when sending an email to have it display the proxy server’s IP instead of your actual home IP address. This won’t reveal your IP to the public when sending emails.
A burner email account is a separate email account without important contacts that its user can quickly dispose of after several uses. It has the benefit of not being tied to real user’s names or its other accounts.