Send a message without revealing yourself.
This is a surprisingly common situation.
It’s also easy to get caught even if you take steps to stay hidden.
I’ll review some approaches and some risks.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Sending anonymous email
From a location other than your work or home, use a completely fake email account created for this purpose. While this doesn’t absolutely guarantee that you won’t be found out, it significantly increases the odds in your favor. Consider, though, whether your anonymous email will even be seen or read, and perhaps consider alternatives.
Sending an anonymous email
You’ve got a classic whistleblower problem. You’re someone working in an organization who needs to safely, securely — and most important of all, anonymously — inform someone about a problem at that organization. If you’re found out as the source, you risk retribution, termination, or worse.
Clearly, you should not do this from a computer at work.
Regardless of what “anonymizing” technologies you use, it’s likely your activity can still be traced if you’re at work. The organization could have many technologies in place, including but not limited to spyware, that allows them to identify which computer was used to send an email and potentially even who was at the computer at the time.
Your home is not anonymous
It is also clear that you should not use your personal email.
In fact, you shouldn’t do this on your home computer at all.
While email messages rarely include the IP address of their origination, there’s enough information in email headers you don’t normally see to allow email to be traced to the location it came from.
It’s not always easy, might require your ISP, and often requires law enforcement, but it’s possible that any email sent from your home could be traced. So what to do?
Hiding your email address
Probably the easiest thing to do is to hide your email address.
The right way to solve the problem is to set up a brand-new free email account, using Gmail, Outlook.com, or other popular free services. An interesting option is ProtonMail, which is billed as “secure email based in Switzerland”. Encryption is baked into ProtonMail, and that it originates in Switzerland may make some of the legal approaches to discovering who you are more difficult.
When you set up the account, use completely bogus information. Use none of your personal information; make sure the name is fake, the recovery information is fake, and everything else associated with that account is fake.
Home is where the danger lives
Once again, don’t set it up from home, because your home IP address could be associated with the account. That could allow you to be discovered, particularly if law enforcement gets involved.
Go to a library — or any place not your home or company — that has a public computer you can use without identifying yourself. Set up the account and send your email from there.
There’s still no guarantee
There’s still risk. All we’ve really done is stack the deck in favor of not being discovered.
For example, if you use a public computer at a library, it’s conceivable there are security cameras recording your presence. If they can tell your message was sent at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they could go back and look at security cameras to see you sitting at the computer.
But the bottom line remains:
- Use a different computer.
- Use a different account.
- Make sure all the account information is fake.
That’s the best you can do. What happens next depends on the specifics of the situation and how important those you’re trying to contact feel your information is.
Will they see the email?
I assume that the content of your message makes it clear you have something legitimate to say.
However, it’s important to understand they may not pay attention. They may get these all the time and ignore them out of hand, or they may assume that if you’re not willing to be identified, you lack legitimacy. They may even think it’s just another spam message.
There are many, many reasons your anonymous note may not have its intended effect.
My honest recommendation? Send a letter. A physical, put-it-in-the-mail, anonymous letter.1
This bypasses all the technology that could thwart your attempts to communicate or be used to trace back to you.
It’s also possible a physical letter might get more attention and stand a better chance of achieving the desired results.
Footnotes & References
1: Use a printer other than your own — again, perhaps one at the library — as there are rumors of printed pages being tagged with the ID of the printer that was used. And maybe take the letter to an out-of-town post office to mail it.