Statement on Harvard incident, to clear up some facts about Guerrilla Mail
This is a response to the recent media reports about a student attending Harvard who used Guerrilla Mail and Tor (https://www.torproject.org/) to issue a bomb hoax in order to get out of a final exam. The story spread world-wide with a lot of miss-information about Guerrilla Mail and what it does.
We want to clear up some facts about Guerrilla Mail. The purpose of Guerrilla Mail is not for anonymous email accounts or to hide your identity for nefarious activity, as suggested by the recent articles in the media.
Selected articles –
- Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304173704579264852907520822
- Breaking news on Fox news http://video.foxnews.com/v/2947762175001/harvard-university-student-used-bomb-threat-to-dodge-exam/
- CNN http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/18/justice/massachusetts-harvard-hoax/
- Forbes article http://www.forbes.com/sites/runasandvik/2013/12/18/harvard-student-receives-f-for-tor-failure-while-sending-anonymous-bomb-threat/
- Copy of the affidavit
False: “Guerrilla mail provides anonymous email accounts”
True: Guerrilla Mail is an anti-spam solution
Guerrilla Mail is an anti-spam solution and is used to prevent spam. It provides disposable email addresses for receiving email. How does it work? Say if you stumbled on an interesting website which asks for your registration, but you don’t trust it with regular your email address. You can get a disposable address form Guerrilla Mail without any signup or registration. Any future spam will go to the disposable address, instead of your regular address.
Originally, Guerrilla Mail allowed you only to receive email. The sending feature has been added recently due to popular demand. Sometimes users may be required to send an occasional email, reply, or perhaps forward an email from their disposable address. We make it clear on the compose page that the originating IP will be added to the headers.
Nowhere on this website it says that we provide anonymous email accounts. Actually, Guerrilla Mail does not have a concept of accounts and it does not function as a regular email service. Moreover, any user can access any other user’s email if they know or can guess the address. For example, you can access the inbox for firstname.lastname@example.org here: https://www.guerrillamail.com/inbox/test – there is usually email waiting there since ‘test’ is a common name.
In summary, it’s really important that the confusion is cleared up. Guerrilla Mail is not an anonymous email service, but an ant-spam solution.
Guerrilla Mail does a lot of good for the Internet
Guerrilla Mail receives over 50 gigabytes of email daily, most of these messages are spam that would otherwise land in someone’s inbox. Since 2006, guerrilla mail has received over 1.1 billion emails, and that number is projected to grow to 2 billion by the end of 2014. The service is free and runs on a shoe-string budget, just a one-person side-project.
Disclosing an IP address
Guerrilla Mail makes it clear to the users that the originating IP address will be added to the headers of outgoing email. It’s stated on the compose form, as well as the ToS. This is how the internet works, and it is perfectly normal. The internet cannot function without this. For example, when every time you visit a website, you always have to give out your IP address so that the remote server can send text, pictures and video back to you. Additionally, it’s standard practice for other web-based email services providers to insert a “x-originating-ip” header in to emails as this helps to identify the source of spam and discourage serious abuse.
Note that an IP address by itself does not identify individuals, it usually identifies networks such as companies, institutions and internet services providers. Often, IP addresses are shared between hundreds or even thousands of people. Although, it can still be used to narrow down the search to get a rough idea of the source.
Hiding your IP address is beyond the scope of service that Guerrilla Mail can provide – it can only hide your email address to protect from spam. (However, if you need to hide your IP, one can achieve this by using a VPN, a proxy server or onion routing software such as Tor).
It has been a very unfortunate incident
Having read the story and the possible penalties the student could face, there could be a lot of sympathy for this student. A bomb hoax is a very desperate act to commit in order to get out of an exam, and this could indicate that the poor student was under a lot of stress and pressure to succeed. Harvard is one of the most prestigious universities, and the competition there would be immense. If you are under stress or generally feeling unwell, please think through the situation properly before taking drastic action.
Our policy for information disclosure to help with law enforcement
Guerrilla Mail has had no contact with law enforcement officials thus far, but will co-operate if required. However, email is kept on Guerrilla Mail for only 1 hour, logs are automatically deleted within 24 hours, so the offending emails have long been deleted by the automated systems from our server, so there is little information that can be provided besides what is already known by the receiver. Guerrilla Mail also cryptographically signs all outgoing messages, so whoever has the copy of the original messages can validate their authenticity using DKIM (http://www.dkim.org/).