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Tracing E-Mail

 
 
gollum
 
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 05:28 am
If I send an e-mail to an organization, is it possible for it to trace the e-mail and thus ascertain my identity?
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Type: Question • Score: 5 • Views: 1,801 • Replies: 12
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squinney
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 05:41 am
Sure. If they know how. Even e-mail sent from public computers can be traced to who sent it.

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MonaLeeza
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 06:19 am
Probably depends on whether they need to get the FBI involved or not.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 07:16 am
It also depends on the accuracy of the information provided to the service provider when the e-mail account was opened. I have opened many e-mail accounts over the years which have not provided real personal information. The one thing you have to be careful about is using an e-mail account provided by your ISP, who have real information about you, or using that account to set up another e-mail account. I haven't done this in years, though, and it's possible that one can no longer open an e-mail account with fictitious information.
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parados
 
  2  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 08:49 am
@gollum,
It is possible to be completely anonymous but you need to know how to do it. If you don't know how then they can trace you pretty easily. Even if you do know how, they can probably still find you if they want to expend enough resources. The only thing you can do is make it costly enough to restrict their desire to find out.

You might stand a chance if you do all the following -

1. Don't send it from a device you own.
2. Don't send it from a public device where it would be possible to track your movements to and from. (Think Tim McVeigh being caught on camera at a McDonalds. Most public places have cameras that can see and record you.)
3. Use at least 10 proxy servers chained together to restrict tracking. (Preferably ones overseas that have no legal contact with your country.)
4. Use an anonymous email website. (Again, overseas is best.)
5. Make sure you strip all information that could identify you from packets leaving your machine.
6. Encrypt all the packets between your machine and the first proxy server using a 256 bit encryption.


Of course there are still other things you can and probably should do like spoofing your MAC address.

If you do all those things they may still be able to ascertain your identity but if you move to a cave in Pakistan, you should be safe from retribution.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 08:52 am
@parados,
parados wrote:
If you do all those things they may still be able to ascertain your identity but if you move to a cave in Pakistan, you should be safe from retribution.


Well yeah . . . if you're a Sunni Muslim . . . if you're a Shi'ite, forget it . . .
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 09:01 am
If you know what you are doing, it is possible to write a email that is pretty near untraceable. The problem is, if you don't know what you are doing, there are all sorts of ways to leave information about your true identity that you don't know about.

There are two issues.

First is the information you, or the mail server on your network, puts into the mail message. The mail program you use might put some identifying information (it is probably trying to be helpful) as could the network server.

Second is the IP address that the email is sent from. When you send email, you need to upload the mail message somehow to another computer, that computer sends them message to yet another computer. Each server keeps a record of which IP address (a number that will identify you) it got the message from. Someone with resources could simply trace back the path.

By using something like Google mail with a random account will fix the first problem (if you don't give Google any real information about you), but Google will have a clear record of where you connect from (i.e. IP address) that it might give to someone that had a warrant.

You can get around this by some way to mask your IP address, onion routing is probably the best choice. But this is hard to do and the chance that someone new could screw this up (and be identified) are significant.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 09:05 am
@parados,
Someone who knows what they are doing could send it from their own computer completely safely. In truth, only steps 3, 5 and 6 are necessary... and there are good programs available that do steps 3 and 6.
parados
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 03:24 pm
@maxdancona,
Screwing up 1 and 2 provide the final proof if you screw up 3, 5 and 6.

And if you lack the technical skill and screw up 3, 5 and 6, you will probably screw up 1 and 2.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 24 Oct, 2010 06:45 pm
@parados,
I am trying to strike the balance between "oh it's easy" (which isn't true) and "it's damn near impossible" (which is also untrue).

It is possible to do. Someone with expertise can send email that is almost completely impossible to trace if they were careful doing. For a non-expert this is difficult, but if you took the time to learn it is possible to send untraceable email particularly if you have expert help. If you are smart enough to set up an onion router, you are most of the way there. A reasonably smart person could figure this out if they were willing to spend the time to read about how they work.

We also don't know how untraceable it needs to be. If you want to keep your ex-wife from knowing, it probably isn't that hard. If this is a legal matter that needs to ward off investigators armed with a subpoena, it is more difficult.
parados
 
  1  
Reply Mon 25 Oct, 2010 07:36 am
@maxdancona,
It is easy. One can just google "anonymous emailer" and use one of the many sites out there that allow you to do that. In most cases that would be more than enough.


BUT -

If the email causes resources to be spent to find the sender, they can probably be found if they go that simple route. As I said in my original post, it's a question of what is it worth to find them. I wouldn't suggest that political dissent in a totalitarian regime be sent that way and I would certainly suggest they pay attention to 1 and 2.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Mon 25 Oct, 2010 07:51 am
@parados,
I disagree with you. There are real political dissidents in countries like China and Iran who use onion routing. Going to public internet cafes has the obvious added danger of surveillance.

However, unless the original poster is a political dissident in a country with an intrusive government, this argument is probably not worth having.
0 Replies
 
IRFRANK
 
  2  
Reply Mon 25 Oct, 2010 06:02 pm
cut the letters out of the newspaper.

paste them on a sheet of plain white paper

wear rubber gloves

throw all the stuff away far from home

use the postal service

if you have to ask about the email, you probably can't pull it off
0 Replies
 
 

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