Wednesday, May 26, 2021

setup your own domain and "burner" email addresses

Ever since I purchased krist0ph3r.com 7 years ago, I have been figuring what best to do with what seemed like a frivolous purchase.

Having a handy link for this blog is nice, but the biggest use has actually been quite unanticipated: using "burner" email addresses for sites i sign up to. this means I can sign up to every site with a unique email address, and nobody knows it's the same human. which makes my online experience much safer and more private than the average internet user.

If you think this is something you want/need to do, this is my handy guide - takes about 10 minutes if you know what you're doing, maybe a little more if you sign up with a user-unfriendly domain service. for reference, it took me a couple of days to get right the first time, but has worked absolutely perfectly ever since - so perfectly, that i completely forgot how I did it when a friend asked me to replicate the setup for him!

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Buy your domain. It could be any domain (.com or the more interesting/quirky/local TLDs all will work). Just make sure you buy it from a provider that offers a basic control panel that allows you to setup custom DNS records. Nothing fancy, just custom MX and TXT records. Ask their sales team if you aren't sure. This is (at the time of writing) your only expense for the most basic setup. I've used namecheap.com (because it's cheap! but it's also probably the simplest interface to get the job done. Takes no more than 5 minutes here if you're a slow reader) but I have also used other providers that I can't remember any more, and all of them have worked well. Notably, godaddy.com works but is super user-unfriendly as I discovered while helping a friend do his setup yesterday. I haven't tried this with subdomains, so no idea if you can set that up - DNS does support subdomains but I haven't tried to even read up.
  2. Setup an email address to receive your emails. Could be any address on any provider, a new one or an existing one (in which case no setup required - but I don't recommend this). I use gmail, because it allows some interesting things (and used to allow more things than it currently supports, unfortunately they've been trying to monetize the platform so things aren't as easy/free any more). For the basic stuff, any email will do.
  3. Signup at improvmx.com - this is the site that makes the catch-all burner email setup possible. It's free at the time of writing, and has been free for at least 7 years now, with some premium features that you don't need to get this setup done. They need your domain, and the email you need to forward it to. Don't create aliases unless you need this - just one (*) will do the job.
  4. Use the step-by-step view at improvmx.com for guidance regarding the DNS setup. In short, it's two things: setting up 2 MX records (to route mails from your domain to improvmx's servers) and a TXT record so improvmx knows it's you. I had my domain without the TXT record all these years and it worked, so I'm assuming the TXT record bit has been added in the last few years. For completeness, these are the two MX records I needed setup:
    • Host: @  Value: mx1.improvmx.com Priority: 10
    • Host: @  Value: mx2.improvmx.com Priority: 20
  5. Wait a few minutes for DNS records to propagate (shouldn't take too long, but you never know - 30 minutes max). Send a test mail (send it from an unrelated email address to be sure it's working) and it should show up in your inbox! Improvmx is quick and reliable :)
All geeky happiness aside, this solution has one glaring deficiency: you can't easily send mail from your burner email addresses. Sending mail needs a SMTP server and while these used to be common a few years ago, they aren't any more (for a good reason - SMTP servers open to 3rd party domains are the easiest target to bounce spam mail off!). My own solution is to setup a SMTP server on my own machine, dynamic dns aka ddns (namecheap comes with ddns support and a "beta" client, not bad!), port forwarding on my router, and finally point my gmail to it. And only turn it on when I need to send a mail - because I don't want spammers to be taking advantage of my pc! This is definitely not for the faint-hearted/technologically challenged, and definitely not as easy as getting incoming mail setup. There are easier ways to do this, but these aren't free, so I haven't bothered trying them out.

Either way, that's it for now. I might write the SMTP/outgoing mail guide later, and I definitely need to write up the bit where you can point your domain and custom subdomains to your blog(s) - probably more for myself than anyone else.

Have fun and stay safe!

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