How risky is email?
These days when you use your email in creating a new account with a legitimate website, there’s little chance that the site will sell your email address to spammers.
But unless the site gives you a way to opt out when creating the account, you’ll likely get emails from the company. Still, the site will likely give you a way afterward to opt out of receiving future promotional emails from the company, even if this takes some days to process. Sometimes the procedure is as simple as clicking on a link. Sometimes it’s more involved.
You can avoid all this by creating disposable email addresses. You can do this manually with web email services such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook by simply creating new email accounts. “Disposable email addressing,” or DEA, does this automatically, says Shaun Murphy, CEO and inventor of SNDR, in an email interview. SNDR is a new app under development that’s designed to let you do text, email, social media, and file sharing within a single interface, all with encryption to protect your privacy.
But you don’t need to use SNDR to do DEA. As Murphy explains, the simplest method is called “poor man’s DEA.” It’s simpler than setting up your own domain or using a dedicated disposable email service.
Poor man’s DEA centers on using “plus addressing.” All of the emails you receive still go to the same email inbox that you’ve been using, and you don’t have to use anything other than the web browser or email program you’re currently using.
In a nutshell, the way it works is that you append a plus sign to the first part of your email address, your username, and whatever new, disposable name you choose, such as the name of the specific shopping site you’re registering with. Say your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. At a shopping website you’re registering with, you could type in this email address: email@example.com. Google’s mail service, Gmail, is set up to recognize that this is the same as firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will deliver it there.
Afterward, you can use Gmail, or a specialized email program such as Mozilla Thunderbird, to create a folder, filter, or rule to recognize emails sent to email@example.com and to automatically move them into a folder of your choosing or even delete them. You’ll still be getting emails from the shopping site, but you’ll be controlling how you get them.
Murphy points out that buying your own domain and hosting your own email server is a more secure option because with poor man’s DEA a human or program could remove the plus addressing component. But buying a domain obviously costs, and it requires more technical know-how. With your own domain, you can use any number of email aliases, which are then routed to a common inbox.
Using a dedicated disposable email service, according to Murphy, also isn’t completely secure because people at the service’s website could view your emails, and if they’re bad guys, they could even lock you out of your account by resetting your password. It’s not clear what the chances are of this happening.
Poor man’s DEA is a good middle ground. Along with controlling your email, you can more easily identify the source of spam and recover if any website you register with has its users’ emails and passwords hacked.
Another benefit, says Murphy, is the reduction of the risk of “doxing,” which happens when hackers piece together bits of information they uncover about people and publish it. This is a problem especially with public figures such as politicians, business leaders, and celebrities.
The recent security breach at Ashley Madison, a website for those looking to cheat in their romantic relationships, is an example of doxing. It’s clear that some people were publically shamed. It’s likely that others were privately blackmailed so they wouldn’t be identified.
Gmail and Outlook make poor man’s DEA easy. With Yahoo Mail it’s a tad more complicated. You use a minus sign instead of plus sign, and you have to set up the disposable email address at the Yahoo Mail site before using it at a website you’re registering with.
You can read more about this at these web pages: 2 hidden ways to get more from your Gmail address; and Disposable addresses in Yahoo Mail.
When using disposable email addresses, and especially when not, it’s important to use strong passwords, with “pass phrases”—short phrases or sentences—even better.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.