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privacy of my former email address



Dear Colleagues,

I have a question concerning privacy. I have a suspicion that my former mailbox is still being checked by someone, though it had been formally deleted. Most probably they use sendmail and rhel (or its clone) on it, let's name the server 'cheaters.com'

So, I do the following things:
1. I send a test email to my former address [email protected] and get no reply at all
2. After a few minutes I send another email and get the following reply with title "Returned mail: see transcript for details":

The original message was received at Thu, 24 Oct 2013 09:21:36 +0200 from xxxx.xxx [my current mail server]
----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors ----- address1
(reason: 550 5.1.1 User unknown)
(expanded from: < [email protected]>)
----- Transcript of session follows ----- 550 5.1.1 address1... User unknown

3. Then I send an email to that server with username which for sure has never existed, let's say [email protected] and get the following message with title "Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender":

This is the mail system at host [my current mail server].
I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be delivered to one or more recipients. It's attached below.
For further assistance, please send mail to postmaster.
If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the attached returned message.
The mail system
< [email protected] >: host [my former mail server]] said:
550 5.1.1 <[email protected] >... User unknown (in reply to RCPT
TO command)

So, I'm wondering why there's no automatic reply to my first test message and why when I send the second one it says "The original message was received". Is it possible that my former employer could somehow read the messages sent to my former address?

Thanks in advance

Just going off the end of your post where you say "my former employer" I would say it is likely they can if they wanted to. That is of course going off the assumption that they have their own mail server that hosted the address your concerned about.

I work in IT for a newspaper currently, and we run our own mail server. When someone no longer works here we forward their e-mail and then after a time deactivate the account, but because I have access to the server there is nothing stopping me from not turning off the account and checking it as I please. I can even turn old accounts back on if I felt like it. That is the nature of running a server.

Also as a side note, some spam filters log messages. As a result you can go into spam filter and look at messages going to different users. So really best to always think of e-mail like post cards being sent to open boxes. E-mail is very very far from a secure communication.

As for your bounce messages. I'm not an expert so just speculating, but I suspect the difference has to do with the past existence of the account. Like for example, here we use a spam appliance that e-mail goes through before going to the e-mail server. If an e-mail comes in for a non-valid address the spam filter bounces it back. If though it is an address it remembers used to be good then it might pass it on to the server resulting in a different bounce message after the mail server figures out the account is no longer active.

Really though, to sum it up, if your old employer owns the server then they can do just about anything. It is not really possible to tell from outside if they are reading e-mail going to your old address.

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