152. Power Email
By Andrew D. Wright
Everyone knows basic email skills. Email can do a number of other things
If you're going to send something to more than a couple of close friends,
you should use BCC or blind carbon copy to do it. All email programs
support BCC though they usually hide it in a menu or drop down box when
you're writing an email.
Proper form is to put the addresses of the recipients in the BCC field,
each one separated by a comma, and put your own address in the To: field.
Everyone will get an email from you to you and none of their addresses
will show up in the email.
Getting an email with fifty peoples' addresses in it looks amateurish and
exposes all the recipients to having their addresses spammed should any
one of them have a compromised computer relaying info to spammers.
When you send an email, most email programs will offer an option to have a
return receipt sent back when the recipient reads the email. This can be
useful for important messages, though the recipient can choose not to
acknowledge receipt if they prefer. If they do return your receipt, you
would get an email back telling you that the message has been read.
One of the big differences between paper mail and email is proof of
identity. If you get a paper mail, it has been signed by someone and the
envelope has a postmark from where it was sent.
Email can do this too. For a postmark, email has full headers that are
usually hidden by your email program. When the full headers are shown, the
chain of machines the email went through to get to you is revealed.
For a signature, email messages can be digitally signed. A digital
signature on a message ensures that the message came from the person who
signed it and the contents have not been altered, which would break the
An email can be signed by a personal certificate, issued by a certificate
authority after verifying the identity of the applicant. Thawte is a major
certificate authority which gives out personal certificates for free.
Their site includes instructions for installing the certificate in your
You can also sign a message using personal encryption programs like PGP or
GPG, and your private key can be signed by people who know you with their
private encryption keys, forming a chain of trust ensuring that your key
is really yours.
Signing an email once you've set this up is easy - you select to sign a
message when you're writing it and put in your private key or private
certificate password. This password is something only you should know and
it should not be written down. Your digital signature is only as secure as
your private key or private certificate password. Without this password,
no one can fake your signature or alter any signed email from you in any
Another power email trick is to attach a vCard to your email. A vCard is
like a business card: you can include name, detailed contact information
and a fairly long list of other data, all in a compact format that is
easily imported to someone's mail program addressbook. Most mail programs
will have an option to create and edit a personal vCard and it can be
attached to any message you send out.
Businesses use vCards to make sure their clients have contact info close
at hand. Families can use it to include info like children's names and
birthdays in a handy, readily usable form.
Thawte Personal Certificate (free):
Mousepad on setting up GPG:
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Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
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click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 15 May 2009