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How do you set up a secret, nameless email address that contains no obvious connection to you, without the hassle of setting up your own servers?
This goes beyond encryption. Anyone can do that with web-based email like Gmail by using a browser extension like Mailvelope. For desktop email clients, either GnuPG (Privacy Guard) or EnigMail is a must. Web-based ProtonMail promises end-to-end encryption with zero access to the data by the company behind it, plus it has apps for iOS and Android.
But those tools don’t necessarily hide who sent the message. Secure email services will. Here are the services you should use to create that truly nameless, unidentifiable email address.
First Step: Browse Anonymously
Your web browser is tracking you. It’s that simple. Cookies may not know your name, but they know where you’ve been and what you’ve done and they’re willing to share. It’s mostly about serving you targeted ads, but that’s not much consolation for those looking to surf in private.
Your browser’s incognito/private mode can only do so much—sites are still going to record your IP address, for example. And incognito mode doesn’t matter if you sign into online accounts.
If you want to browse the web anonymously (and use that private time to set up an email), you need a VPN service and the Tor Browser, a security-laden, Mozilla-based browser from the Tor Project. It’s all about keeping you anonymous by making all the traffic you send on the internet jump through so many servers that those who would track you can’t figure out where you really are. It’ll take longer to load a website using Tor, but that’s the price of vigilance.
The free Tor Browser is available in multiple languages for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. It’s self-contained and portable, meaning on a desktop it will run off a USB flash drive if you don’t want to install it directly. Even Facebook has a Tor-secure address to protect users’ locations, which allows them access in places where the social network is illegal or blocked.
Tor is not perfect and won’t keep you 100% anonymous. The criminals behind the Silk Road, among others, believed that and got caught. However, it’s a lot more secure than openly surfing.
Second Step: Anonymous Email
You can set up a relatively anonymous Gmail account, provided you don’t give Google your real name, location, birthday, or anything else the search giant asks for when you sign up (while using a VPN and the Tor Browser, naturally).
You will eventually have to provide Google some other identifying method of contact, such as a third-party email address or a phone number. With a phone, you could use a burner or temporary number. An app like Hushed or Burner works, or buy a pre-paid cell phone and fib throughly when asked for any personal info. (Just know that even the most “secure” burner has its limits when it comes to keeping you truly anonymous.)
There are anonymous email services you can use, so why use Gmail at all? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says it’s smart to use a different email provider from your personal account if you crave anonymity. That way you’re less likely to get complacent and make a mistake.
Note that you also should use an email service that supports secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption. That’s the basic encryption used on a web connection to prevent casual snooping, like when you’re shopping at Amazon. You’ll know it’s encrypted when you see HTTPS in the URL (instead of just HTTP) and a lock symbol in the address or status bar.
Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook.com all support HTTPS; Google’s Chrome browser flags all non-HTTPS sites as insecure. The HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Android also ensures that websites default to using the protocol. (It’s built into the Tor Browser.)
That’s great for web surfing, but neither HTTPS nor VPN keeps you hidden when emailing. You know that. Pseudonyms in email (like [email protected]) aren’t enough, either. Just one login without using Tor means your real IP address is recorded. That’s enough for you to be found; just ask General Petraeus.
The point is, once you’ve gone this far, there’s no reason to go back. Utilize a truly anonymous web-based mail service. Here are some to try.
Anonymous Email Alias Generators
Guerrilla Mail provides ephemeral messaging—disposable, temporary email you can send and receive—and it’s all free. Technically, the address you create will exist forever, even if you never use it again. Any messages received, accessible at guerrillamail.com, only last one hour. You get a totally scrambled email address that’s easily copied to the clipboard. You can attach a file if it’s less than 150MB in size, or use it to send someone your excess Bitcoin. There’s an option to use your own domain name as well, but that’s not really keeping you under the radar. Coupled with the Tor browser, Guerilla Mail makes you practically invisible.
TrashMail.com isn’t just a site, it’s also a browser extension for Google Chrome and Firefox, so you don’t even have to visit the site. Create a new, disposable email from a number of domain options, and TrashMail.com will forward messages to your regular email address for the lifespan of the new TrashMail address, as determined by you. The only limit is how many forwards you get; to go unlimited, pay $20.99 a year. The site provides a full address manager interface so create as many addresses as you like.
An open-source tool for creating unlimited email aliases, AnonAddy doesn’t store any messages. It lets you make as many as 20 shared domain alias (like @johndoe.anonaddy.com), or an unlimited amount of standard aliases using “anonaddy.com” for the address. But you get a lot more if you pay for the plans that start at $1 per month, like support for your own custom domain name. It also offers extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Brave, and Vivaldi browsers.
To get a MailDrop address, you don’t need to sign up, create a password, or pay a dime. The messages it accepts are limited: text or HTML that’s less than 500KB in size; only 10 at a time; and messages are cleared our regularly. But it supports extra aliases using a period in the name, so [email protected] can be used at one site while [email protected] works on another, both using the same account. But it’s not that secure. Remember, you don’t even need a password, so neither does anyone else who wants to sign into your MailDrop. And all connections are logged.
Fully Private Email Services
With servers in Switzerland (a country that appreciates secrecy), ProtonMail provides fully encrypted messages. Anyone can get a free account that holds 500MB of data and up to 150 messages per day, or pay 4 Euros per month to get advanced features like five addresses each with 5GB storage for up to 1,000 messages per day, and support for ephemeral messages that disappear after a set time period.
Encryption is one thing, but anonymity comes via ProtonMail’s specific support for Tor via an onion site it set up at protonirockerxow.onion. It provides full instructions on how to set up Tor on your desktop or mobile phone. Having anonymous users is so important to ProtonMail, it doesn’t require any personal info when you sign up. It even supports two-factor authentication and doesn’t make logs of IP addresses used for access.
Germany-based Tutanota is so secure, it even encrypts subject lines and contacts. A free plan for private use comes with 1GB of storage, but you can upgrade for 12 to 60 Euros per year, depending on your needs. Premium features include aliases, inbox rules, support, more storage, custom domains, logos (on the high-end version), and more. It’s limited to the Tutanota domain, but there are apps for iOS and Android.
Recommended by the EFF and others, Hushmail’s entire claim to fame is that it’s easy to use, doesn’t include advertising, and has built-in encryption between members.
Of course, to get all that, you have to pay, starting at $49.98 per year for 10GB of online storage; there’s a free 14-day trial for personal use. Access it on the web or iOS. Businesses can use Hushmail starting at $3.99 per user per month for nonprofits, going up to $5.99 for small businesses and $9.99 for legal and HIPAA-compliant healthcare entities. There’s a one-time $9.99 setup fee for everyone.
Note that Hushmail has turned over records to the feds before, well over a decade ago, and its terms of service state you can’t use it for “illegal activity,” so it’s not going to fight court orders. But at least it’s upfront about it.
TorGuard is a global VPN service, which goes for around $9.99 per month to start. The service provides a separate PrivateMail service, which is $8.95 per month with 10GB of encrypted storage. All accounts get secure OpenPGP encryption of mail, no ads, and 24/7 help; try it free for seven days. There’s also an Android and iOS app for mobile users, but all the data is synced across devices. The anonymous part not only keeps your identity secret, it also supports anonymous payments with cryptocurrency, some of which can be used to pay for your PrivateMail account.
Belgium-based Mailfence started as a collaboration suite for organizations in 1999, and it still offers a 500MB free plan to anyone who needs it, complete with encrypted email and two-factor authentication logins. You can jump up to 5GB storage with 10 aliases for 2.50 Euros per month, or go Pro for €7.50 and get 20GB, 50 aliases, and more—like full mobile and Exchange support. Businesses and nonprofits can get a customized interface.
For $39, Blur provides a service unlike anything else. This browser add-on is a password manager that lets you go about your online business without revealing anything about yourself. While almost every site/service online needs your email address to function—most use it as a username—Blur lets you create an unlimited number of anonymous, masked email addresses (and one anonymous phone number and masked credit card). Use them anywhere and everywhere. All the messages sent to the various anon emails will funnel to your regular email address. The only company in the know about who you are, really, is Abine. Read our full review.
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