Today I changed the way we use e-mail addresses for identification on-line.
Over time my e-mail address(es) has (have) become the carrier of a lot of important stuff. It’s not just a way to communicate with others, but also serves as generic user name on countless website accounts. And likely quite a few of those have had their security breached over time, or are unscrupulous (or even malicious) in their own right.
As part of a talk on privacy by Brenno de Winter (Dutch investigative journalist) that we went to this weekend (see previous posting), he mentioned using unique e-mail addresses (and pw’s of course) for every site you use. Or disposable e-mail addresses for sites you visit only once. That way when one site gets compromised there is no risk of your user credentials being used elsewhere, and if one site sells your email addresses on it is immediately apparent to you who did that.
I have been aware of this advice for a long time, but never saw an easy way to act on it:
Most disposable e-mail address (DEA) services offer a temporary e-mail address, usually enough to quickly confirm an e-mail address, after which it gets deleted automatically. This is useful for one time visits / registration at a website, but not for using unique addresses for services you use more often.
Some sites do not accept e-mail addresses that are clearly created by DEA type services
I own multiple domains, which I could theoretically use for unique mail addresses, but in practice that is much more unlikely. I would need to either create mail addresses before using them to register somewhere, through the domain’s administration panel, or use a catch-all that would simply accept any incoming mail on that domain, including tons of automatic spam flung out to randomly generated e-mail addresses.
What I actually need is:
The ability to create new e-mail addresses on the fly, simply by using them
The ability to both have more permanent unique addresses, as well as single use addresses
Using a domain that is not perceived as a DEA service and not easily associated to me (e.g. by visiting its website)
Using a domain that I control so I cannot get cut off from unique addresses connected to important user accounts
The ability to recognize any of these unique addresses in my regular inbox
Something that still filters out spam, while accepting any incoming address
So today I decided to investigate further and act on it.
I found 33mail.com, built by Andrew Clark (in Dublin/Ireland so under EU regulations), that allows you to create addresses on the fly, and then through a dashboard simply block the ones that get misused at some point. It also forwards to one of your actual e-mail addresses, including letting you (anonymously) reply from the unique address.
33mail.com allows you to connect any other domain to their service, so that instead of using email@example.com I can use something@myrandomdomain while still using 33mail. This is very useful as it helps to prevent being filtered out because of using a DEA service domain, and keeps the addresses under my control.
I registered two new domains, one for me, one for Elmine, and set up their MX DNS records to point to 33mail. So that firstname.lastname@example.org goes to 33mail. These domains are, apart from the records at the registrar, not otherwise easily associated to us.
I provided two unique email addresses for 33mail to forward to at two other domains I own and use.
I set up two auto-forwards for those addresses that 33mail forwards to, which makes it end up in one of my or Elmine’s regular inboxes. In our inbox we have filters that pick up on anything that comes from those forwarding addresses 33mail sends stuff to.
This is the solution I came up with:
This is not a free solution, but it is cheap. The registration of two domains, plus a service package so I can set my own DNS settings, with our regular hoster comes to 45 Euro or so. 33mail charges 8 or 9 Euros for a premium account, which is needed to add your own domain name to their service, and I created a premium account for each of us, as we will be using two seperate domain names. Total cost: 65 Euro/yr.
Here’s a drawing of the full set-up: