Computer Networks Network Security Research Paper

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Concealing Email Senders

As the Internet and computer technical revolution of the last two to three decades has unfolded, the depth and breadth in which people obscure the source of emails has grown and grown. Some may paint with a broad brush and presume that obfuscation of an email's sender is always pernicious and unethical. While this can be true, it is not true across the board and there are situations where such concealment is a good idea (if not standard industry procedure). This report will cover the good and the bad.

DoNotReply Addresses

Many businesses use "donotreply" addresses as the "return" address for many emails (usually automated ones) so as to keep a clear demarcation between the automated email addresses and system and the email addresses that are monitored. For example, if Amazon's main customer service mail is -- , one can bet that will NOT be the return address on their marketing and other emails (e.g. order feedback, tracking info, etc.). If it were, that email box would be flooded with a lot of crap. Indeed, Amazon relies much more heavily on web forms on their website as opposed to the straight email route and this process serves them well. An alternate method is a strict disclaimer in the email that says that any replies directly to the email will not read or otherwise replied to. The problem with that method is that some people don't read that print on the email. As such, it's common for retailers, other businesses and colleges to take a blended approach to address both fronts.

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TOPIC: Research Paper on Computer Networks Network Security Assignment

A story hit the news cycle within the last few weeks of a listserv being configured improperly thus allowing people to hit "Reply All" and thus emailing EVERYONE that had received the email. The term assigned to thus buffoonery was "Reply-acolypse." Since the institution in question was a college, there was predictably a lot of pointless and mundane emails that people kept lobbing back and forth. In that case, concealing where the email came from (at least the direct address) and/or intentionally hiding the email address of other recipients (through blind carbon copying) would be a good idea. The main reason for this is not because it's an ethical compulsion but because some computer users just have no common sense (or decency sometimes) and one sometimes just has to protect people from themselves so that a few bad apples do not cause the entire system to run amok. It is akin to employers shutting down access to YouTube and Facebook. Some people may only check their social media and video streaming sites on their lunch break, but the huge hits that ensue to overall internet/data bandwidth availability and productivity take a huge hit if the carrot is not yanked away, so to speak.

Anonymous Emails & Pseudonyms

There are a number of different reasons why emails are sent without the true name of the sender and many are legitimate. For example, someone that creates a dummy account on Yahoo to report a crime or a unethical act to a business owner is not really doing anything wrong. Similarly (but much more unethical) are men or women that use fake names/emails to engage in illicit behavior online. As long as everyone is consenting and no one is being hurt, that's not a big deal either, at least from a legal perspective.

What is entirely different are phishing attacks (next section) or any other emails that utilize social engineering or other methods to gain information to which the requestor is not (and should not) be entitled to. For example, a vicious ex-husband could put his ex-wife in the hospital and could send an email posing as the sister of the victim to find out where the ex-wife is. Any hospital that releases the information about where a domestic assault victim is (or is not) is clearly out of their mind and devoid of common sense. However, it does work and it's very easy to do either from an ISP or from an Internet email service like Yahoo or Gmail.

Phishing Attacks

If there is one archetypical example of email sender concealment that is never kosher or acceptable, it is phishing attacks. These attacks take on a number of different forms. The two main ones would be a message (in and of itself) that lures someone to order something or check out a video. The links and attachments on these emails are often tied to very nefarious pieces of information including malware (e.g. key-loggers, etc.) and viruses that can cripple, or just annoy, the computer user who is foolish enough to click on the links or attachments.

The other major form of phishing email are emails that are made to look identical to those emails of sites like PayPal, Amazon, or other heavily used sites. Other common targets are banks like Bank of America, Chase Bank and so on. Many of these institutions go out of their way to say that when they send a warning or message, that people should manually navigate to the site to address it and that they should never do so from the email itself. This is good practice. Many internet browsers nowadays will scream out a warning if a site is not legitimate, but some do slip through the cracks. As such, it is always wise for these retailers and other businesses to be vigilant and to encourage their customers to do the same. Any process or procedure that can implicitly encourage someone to be ensnared in a trap (e.g. clicking on the link in an email rather than manual site navigating) should be avoided like the plague.

Business Models

Because of all the forms and iterations that email sender concealment can take on, businesses need to put their foot down and define what is acceptable, what is not, what is required, what is optional and so forth. For example, businesses should generally not permit people to use pseudonyms. A lone exception would be an email address saying "Customer Service" instead of a person's name so that there is no confusion when multiple people get involved in the same issue on that same address. There should be no instances where "Bob Smith" is using the name "John Thomas" intentionally as a means to obscure identity because there is generally no need for such skullduggery.

Internet service providers and other information service businesses that have email as part of their offerings and frameworks have their own burdens. If an ISP, for example, notes that a paying customer is using their ISP as a spam node and it's clear the emails are being sent under no names or fake names and/or the motive is to phish or otherwise steal from people, that person needs to be shut down immediately. ISP's that see this stuff going on and do nothing are complicit. It should never be about money when it involves these miscreants, it's about protecting other users and preventing negative impacts to well-behaved customers.

One tool that ISP's and network administrators can have in their arsenal is sender validation. These system tools and techniques allow the veracity and authenticity of an email to be verified as it comes from its actual source. If there is something amiss with the header or any other characteristic of the email, it can either be flagged as spam and a warning issued to the recipient or the email can be blocked so that it is not delivered. If trust of the end-users is a concern, the latter is probably the best way to go. However, this tactic and broader email filtering methods need to be used with caution because they can end up ensnaring and blocking emails that are entirely legitimate.

For the purposes of this report, unless the system (or a sharp-eyed network admin) notices something amiss about an email (its contents, its links, its attachments, or its header), the email should probably be allowed through. Obfuscation of the sending party should not be automatic grounds for blocking but it is absolutely a huge red flag. When speaking of business operations, concealing the sender of an email should never really be happening unless there is a systemic or behavioral need for it. A wide array of separate tools as well as features built into email server software suites like Microsoft Exchange can be used to prevent malfeasance but the person wielding these tools needs to do so in an informed day.

Network Ramifications

There are great implications to network engineers and internet service providers when discussing emails with concealed senders. The main dimensions that have to be looked at are phishing/identity theft situations, harassment (especially via anonymous means) or anything else that is a drag to the network. For example, even if a "spammer" runs a legal and legitimate business, they can be a huge drag to their nearby neighbors and to the ISP/network provider itself if that person weighs down the network the sheer amount… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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