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missing recipient in email header

Posted on 2003-03-06
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Last Modified: 2011-04-14
I just encountered a strange scenario that I hope someone can explain.  My friend received an email that was meant for her and supposed to go to her email folder (through email rules in Outlook Express 6) but ended up in the standard inbox (where everything goes that doesn't fit the rule).  I looked at the email header and noticed that the "TO:" entry was missing.  That explained why the mail went to the inbox instead of hers -- there was nothing to key on.  However, I'm stumped as to how she even received the email in the first place.  There is no recipient listed at all.  There is a CC entry with some unrelated, unknown email address (listed in the email source code).  But, her email isn't listed anywhere in the email header/source at all.  How did she receive it??
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Question by:firehawk
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10 Comments
 
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Accepted Solution

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war1 earned 300 total points
ID: 8085210
Your friend may have received the email through BCC function.  This is a hidden way of sending copies to recipients.
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Author Comment

by:firehawk
ID: 8092021
But, doesn't BCC still list her as a recipient in the header?  Where did that other (unknown) email address come from?
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Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 8094713
BCC entries will *not* show, that is the main purpose of BCC. The unknown address is probably someone the sender thought needed a copy; CC recipients will show.

Was this a serious communication or a SPAM mail?

Regards
/RID
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by:firehawk
ID: 8095549
rid,

Thanks for the input.  However, you are mistaken about one detail.  BCC doesn't list the recipient in the email message, but it does list the recipient in the source code of the email.  I just proved that with a test.  A message was sent to me as BCC.  I checked the email "To:" box and it says "Undisclosed-Recipient:;".  I checked the email source code and it also lists "To: <Undisclosed-Recipient:;>"  But, the email source code also has an entry called "for" and it just happens to list my email address in that location.  So, the recipient (me) was listed.  Now, it's true I can't see other BCC recipients -- but I do see myself listed.  In other words, the BCC message to me DID list my email address in the source code.  My fried had no listing for "To:" or "for" at all.
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Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 8095643
Hmm... I am prepared to stand corrected; I have been wondering about this a bit. I'm not sure, however, about what you mean with "source code". Are you referring to the complete headers or something else?

Regards
/RID
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Author Comment

by:firehawk
ID: 8096050
rid,

Inside Outlook Express (not sure about other email clients), right click on an email message, select Properties, click Details, click Message Source.  There you will see the information I refer to.
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Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 8096791
That is equivalent to "Show all headers" or similar in another mail client.

I can find my address in one or two places in messages I  think use the BCC method. It may be under a heading called "Received:" which gives the (purported) originating server and also, sometimes, the entry "for <myaddie@domain.com>" followed by a timestamp. It seems to show at all times after the heading "X-Original-Recipient" or "X-RCPT-TO".

The "To:" field may contain anything. It may be my address or "undisclosed-recipients@domain.com" or some other address.

Different mail servers set different headers and some may be manipulated by sender, e.g. the "From:" field, which may be totally misleading.

Can you find the X-Original-Recipient thing and look for an address?

Cheers
/RID
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Author Comment

by:firehawk
ID: 8097536
rid,

So, your email client also lists you in the destination someplace in the BCC email message source.  My friends email message source DOES list the senders email address, mail servers, time, etc. just like yours.  However, hers does NOT list her email address anyplace in the source at all.  I don't see how the email could have been delivered to her without her address buried someplace in the message source.  It's sort of like when the mailman can't deliver a letter to your house if there's no delivery address on the letter.  How did the email servers send that message to my friend?  It's almost like my friend's email client (Outlook Express) stripped off her email address.  But, I'm not aware of any email client doing that to the message source (or headers).  Even if the sender had a virus affecting the sender, my friends email address must still have been buried somewhere in the headers or the email servers couldn't possibly have delivered it to her.  Also, My friend has no virus.  But, even if she did, I've never heard of a virus stripping off only the receiving address in received emails.  So, I'm stumped as to how the email servers knew to send this particular message to my friend (which was a private conversation meant only for her).  Interestingly, other emails from that sender DO contain my friends email address in the headers for regular, CC, and BCC emails.  Only this one email is different.
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LVL 31

Expert Comment

by:rid
ID: 8098528
Since I haven't got an OE client to investigate, I have to ask if you can see the "X-Original-Recipient" - heading in the message headers. If no address there, I can only admit defeat. I had a good book that dealt extensively with e-mail protocol and such, but it seems to have acquired feet and used them, so I cannot dig into the matter just now. I'll be back if I get any good ideas.

Cheers
/RID
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Author Comment

by:firehawk
ID: 8099099
rid,

I will get a copy of her email and post the message source.
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