Lots of things have changed since I originally wrote this article in January 1995. Neither rahul.net nor anon.penet.fi are now running remailers. The brief examples given here for using the "cypherpunk"-style remailers are still applicable. Check the links at the bottom of this article for more up-to-date info; I'll be updating this page yet again within the next few days.
This is all out of date. Way, way, way out of date. It is here for-- and I can't emphasize this enough--historical interest only. Assume from the outset that any addresses or URLs in this article have long since evaporated, and can no longer be accessed.
When we communicate on the Internet we combine habits and assumptions that we've kept from older technologies with new situations that can challenge even seasoned users. E-mail is as fast and casual as a voice phone call, but can be kept like paper mail. A message can be broadcast around the world, not by a news organization, but by one person on Usenet. A person's address is one physical place, but can be accessed from anywhere in the world. An address is personal identity as much as location.
With all the strange new features of Internet communication, it can be easy to make a thoughtless error. Casual comments can be archived, and could come back to haunt you months from now. A message intended for one person could be passed along to hundreds. Longer messages can be cross-examined line by line. Above all, everything can be traced and monitored. E-mail and Usenet messages carry your name with them wherever they go.
The Internet offers free expression of ideas. It isn't run by any one government or corporation. It's not a perfect world, but somewhere out there there's a niche for virtually any point of view. You can send your opinions around the world in a matter of minutes, with your name plastered at the top. But would you necessarily want to? Is the boss watching? What about your spouse? The government? The aliens who abducted you last week--surely they've got Internet access?
It's easy to joke about paranoia, especially here in the U.S. where it's becoming the national pastime. There's a serious principle here, though: the flipside to our right of free speech is a right to privacy. You can have the right to say what you want in theory, but can you really exercise that right if you face retaliation for your views? Free speech isn't free anymore if it's controlled by the most powerful. And in the strange, new world of Internet communications, your free expressions can resurface later when you least want them to.
One way to get privacy on the Internet is through anonymity. There will be times when you don't want your name on an e-mail message or a Usenet post, and there is a way to use mail and Usenet anonymously--by using anonymous remailers.
An anonymous remailer is a program that runs on a computer somewhere on the Internet. When you send mail to the remailer address, the remailer takes your name and address off of the mail message and forwards the mail to its destination. The recipient gets mail that has no evidence of where it originally came from, at least not in the headers. You might give away your secret identity in the body of the message, but that would be your own fault.
Let's see how one works. There is a remailer at the address firstname.lastname@example.org. You want to send anonymous mail to email@example.com. You can use any e-mail program.
Send the mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. On the very first line of the message, put two colons together, with no spaces before them. On the second line, put: Anon-To: email@example.com. Then skip a line and say whatever you want. The body of the message should look like this:
Hey, guess who this is!
It's simple enough, but make sure you have the colons on the left-hand edge, and the second line exactly as I have it here. This will be read by the remailer program, not by a human.
The more paranoid among us can bounce a message through several different remailers. You can send this same message to firstname.lastname@example.org, but with this as the message body:
Hey, guess who this is! You'll never trace me now!
This message will go to rahul.net, then rahul.net will send the message to xs4all.nl in the Netherlands, then the Dutch remailer will send the message to "mypal". You can "daisy-chain" several remailers this way, to make tracing the message that much more difficult.
The remailers have several such clever features. The most important one to be aware of is the "cutmarks" feature. Many mail programs will tack a signature--your .sig file in unix--to all the mail that you send. On the last line before your .sig, the mail program will put a special marker, usually two dashes "--". Now, if you send out anonymous mail, but your signature gets attached to it automatically, that sort of defeats the purpose. The "cutmarks" feature will tell the remailer to delete anything after the cutmarks, in other words, to dump your signature. Let's send mail to email@example.com, with this message body:
Guess who this is! I lost my .sig file!
Be careful not to use two dashes anywhere else in your mail, or everything after that point will get deleted, too.
The king of all anonymous remailers is in Helsinki, Finland. If you've spent time reading Usenet, you've probably seen posts from anon.penet.fi. This remailer uses different software than the previous "Cypherpunk" remailers, and has different features. Anon.penet.fi assigns a numeric i.d. to each address it receives mail from. Other Internet users can reply to your secret number; anon.penet.fi will assign them an anonymous number, too, and forward the reply to you. This creates a double-blind situation where two people could have an ongoing exchange and never know who the other person was. You can use anon.penet.fi to post a message to Usenet as well. The message can be read by thousands of people, and anyone can send an anonymous reply to your secret Finnish identity.
Anon.penet.fi is the most prominent of all the remailers. It's also the most likely one to be the target of criticism, attempts at hacking, or general mischief. For this reason, anon.penet.fi now requires that you use a password on everything you send through there, and the system in general is picky about spelling, capitalization, and spacing. That having been said, here's a method you can use to set yourself up on anon.penet.fi.
First, you should send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll get back a nice help file automatically. Next, send mail to email@example.com. This will allocate your number--from now on you'll be something like firstname.lastname@example.org. After this, you must create a password for yourself. Send mail to email@example.com, with your password as the only thing in the body of the message--no spaces before or after, and put it on the first line. From now on, the first line in all your anon.penet.fi messages must be:
Now you can send e-mail to an individual, like so:
or you can post to a Usenet group like so:
In both cases, you must have the "password" line as the first line of the message body, then you must skip a line before starting the real message. Anon.penet.fi assumes that you use two dashes before your signature file, so it deletes anything that it finds after two dashes. For most people, this will delete your signature, but be careful not to put two dashes anywhere else in your message. There are more features to the anon.penet.fi system that are described in the help file, but these simple instructions will get you started. It's a busy system, so there may be occasional delays before your message gets out.
Most of these remailers are run by people who adhere to a loosely organized group called "Cypherpunks". They take their privacy seriously, encrypting and remailing even their most routine correspondence. Their idea is that a right that isn't constantly exercised can be that much easier to take away. These remailers are kept running at no cost to you and me (how could you charge someone who's anonymous?); the costs, time and risks involved are shouldered by individuals like "Julf" at anon.penet.fi, who are committed to their principles without regard to personal gain or reputation. Please keep this in mind before you try to use an anonymous remailer as a way of harassing or threatening someone. Try to remember that libel and copyright lawyers are a much bigger threat to the remailers than government spooks are. The remailer concept has been built on the selfless contributions of these average citizens. It's future is dependent on the good behavior of you and me.
There's plenty more info out on the Internet about these subjects, and here's where you can get it:
On the Web at:
Community Connexion in Berkeley, California. Try their anonymous remailer page--send anonymous mail right from your Web browser.
By e-mail to:
firstname.lastname@example.org (use the Subject: remailer-info)
email@example.com(requires use of PGP software--try the ftp site below for more info on PGP)
firstname.lastname@example.org (use the Subject: help)
ftp.csua.berkeley.edu (directory: /pub/cypherpunks); (lots of other valuable info here, too)
or in the Usenet groups alt.privacy.anon-server and alt.anonymous.
Now you can go out onto the Internet and speak your mind-- whatever your real name is. Let your ideas speak for themselves.
Two questions I'm asked all the time by readers of this article are:
--How can I send anonymous mail to a Usenet group?
--How can I read Usenet anonymously?
Here is a site that should have a list of mail-to-news gateways:
And here is a site with a list of open NNTP servers, in case you have a SLIP or PPP connection and are looking for more "flexibility" in your news reading and posting:
You can refer to my article on usenet-by-mail, as well.
Charles Gimon teaches an Intro to the PC class at the English Learning Center in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Back to my net writings.
Back to my home page.