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3) The email gets sent to your SMTP server (this is system which accepts your email message and forwards along towards destination). At this point, message could, in theory, be read by someone tapping your phone (or cable) connection. It's not likely (unless you are a spy or something) but it's possible (and not all that hard).
If you are at work, well, email probably gets sent to your SMTP server through something called a proxy server (the computer which manages connections to internet). If so, a copy of email could be stored on proxy server. In theory, this could be examined by someone who had access to that server.
If you happen to send email from your companies own email system, it is highly likely (especially in larger companies) that email will be examined by context checking software. This is looking for curse words, sexual harassment, resumes and any other inappropriate content. Any emails found which violate company policy may be directly routed to personnel.
4) Okay, email gets delivered to SMTP server which it is stored, still as a simple plain text file, until it is sent to next SMTP server. You see, emails never go directly from your outbox to someone's inbox. They move from server to server until they find their way to their destination. Each server keeps a copy of email until it is forwarded to next one.
5) SMTP servers are computer programs and they can be programmed to do malicious or unusual things. For example, a law enforcement agency could, in theory, program an SMTP server to make a copy of any emails directed to a particular person, and send those copies to their office.
A hacker could, in theory, program an SMTP server (or examine messages coming across wire) to look for series of characters that looked like credit card numbers (they are pretty obvious). These email messages could be directed to hacker's own mailbox, thus giving him a steady supply of income.
6) At any of these SMTP servers, email could be examined by anyone who has access to email system. The internet "wire" could also be "tapped" and email message captured on fly (this is highly unlikely but it is possible).
7) Since software is simply a series of rules created by human beings, it is possible for an SMTP server to misunderstand how to route your email. Thus, a message could be sent to wrong recipient (this has happened to me a few times) or to wrong SMTP server.
8) There is no guarantee that person who receives a message is actually person who is intended recipient. Someone else could be using their email client, for example, or an SMTP server may have misdirected email to wrong inbox. In this case it works exactly like post office - mailperson puts mail in your mail slot, but he does not guarantee that you will be one who picks up mail.
And since most emails are just text, they can be read by whoever happens to receive them without any problems.
9) Naturally, once an email is receive it is stored on hard drive of recipient. They are usually stored in text files (for normal emails) or in Temporary Internet Folder (for web based emails).
10) Of course, once someone does receive an email he or she is free to forward that email onto just about anyone, starting whole process over again.
11) At any point in this entire scenario, email message can be backed up or archived. In this case, it can be recovered later and delivered to wrong person.
So please, next time you send those highly personal messages remember that they can be read by anyone. You have no way to know where these things wind up or how long they will last. The could pop up anywhere at anytime with a vengeance.
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at http://www.internet-tips.net - Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.