Using Anonymous Remailers for Email Privacy

by Tracy Knauer •

Want to send email anonymously? Anonymous remailers provide a solution. Here’s an overview of how they work and where to access them.

You can gain some privacy in email by using a provider that doesn’t track you. But that’s different from hiding your identity from the recipient.

Anonymous remailers make it possible to obfuscate your identity when sending email. They work similarly to Tor in that they route your email through multiple nodes. That way, the email recipient can’t trace the message back to its origin.

If that sounds a little like what sites like Craigslist do when you send email to strangers, that’s because they use anonymous remailers so users can communicate without revealing their true identities.

Other anonymous remailers are designed to offer broader privacy protection. They provide a way to anonymize any email, not just ones from a particular site like Craigslist does.

There are three main types of anonymous remailers: cypherpunk, mixmailer and mixminion. They vary in the details of their design, but in general they offer the same features. Most remailer services support multiple types of remailers; as long as you familiarize yourself with the requirements of the service you want to use, you should be able to hide your identity effectively.

Anonymous Remailer Limitations

The main drawback of most anonymous remailers is that, because the recipient doesn’t know the sender’s identity, communication is one-way. In other words, you can’t reply to messages routed through an anonymous remailer.

There are exceptions. Certain remailers, known as nym servers, keep records of the nodes through which an email passes as it is anonymized. The remailers can then work backwards to allow the recipient to reply via the same channel.

However, this method requires the remailer service to keep a list of senders and receivers. Anyone who has access to such a list — which government authorities could demand using censorship laws — can identify the email users. For this reason, you shouldn’t use nym servers for remailing if you want to guarantee that no one can trace your messages back to their source.

Remailers have been around for more than a decade and many of the original services no longer work. But a few are still running, including the following:

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