An anonymous remailer is a server computer which receives messages with embedded instructions on where to send them next, and which forwards them without revealing where they originally came from.

There are Cypherpunk anonymous remailers, Mixmaster anonymous remailers, and anonymous servers, among others which differ in how they work, in the policies they adopt, and in the type of attack on anonymity of email they can (or are intended to) resist.

Remailing as discussed in this article applies to emails intended for particular recipients, not the general public. Anonymity in the latter case is more easily addressed by using any of several methods of anonymous publication.

There are several strategies which contribute to making the e-mail so handled (more, or less) anonymous. In general, different classes of anonymous remailers differ with regard to the choices their designers/operators have made. These choices can be influenced by the legal ramifications of operating specific types of remailers.

It must be understood that every data packet traveling on the Internet contains the node addresses (as raw IP bit strings) of both the sending and intended recipient nodes, and so no data packet can ever actually be anonymous at this level. However, if the IP source address is false, there will be no easy way to trace the originating node (and so the originating entity for the packet). In addition, all standards-based email messages contain defined fields in their headers in which the source and transmitting entities (and Internet nodes as well) are required to be included. However, since most users of email do not have very much technical expertise, the full headers are usually suppressed by mail reading software. Thus, many users have never seen one.

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