electronic mail

electronic mail

electronic mail or e-mail, the electronic transmission of messages, letters, and documents. In its broadest sense electronic mail includes point-to-point services such as telegraph and facsimile (fax) systems. It is commonly thought of, however, in terms of computer-based message systems where the electronic text file that is received can be edited, replied to, excerpted, or even pasted into another electronic document that can be used or manipulated by a word processor, desktop publishing system, or other computer program. Users of such systems, called store-and-forward or mailbox systems, can broadcast messages to multiple recipients, read and discard messages, file and retrieve messages, or forward messages to other users. Extensions to e-mail allow the user to add graphics and sound to messages, and files can be attached to e-mails. Computer-based messaging can take place on a single computer, a computer network, or across gateways linking different computer networks (as through the Internet). With the increasing use of e-mail, unsolicited commercial e-mail, known as spam, has become a significant problem. E-mail, especially through attachments, has also become a means for disseminating computer viruses and other malicious programs.

See D. Angell and B. Heslop, The Elements of E-Mail Style: Communicate Effectively Via Electronic Mail (1994); N. A. Cox, ed., Handbook of Electronic Messaging (1998); J. Tunstall, Better, Faster Email: Getting the Most Out of Email (1999).

Privacy Enhanced Mail (PEM), is an early IETF proposal for securing email using public key cryptography. Although PEM became an IETF proposed standard it was never widely deployed or used.

One reason for the lack of deployment was that the PEM protocol depended on prior deployment of a hierarchical public key infrastructure (PKI) with a single root. Deployment of such a PKI proved impossible as the operational cost and legal liability of the root and 'policy' CAs became understood.

In addition to being an obstacle to deployment the single rooted hierarchy was rejected by some commentators as an unacceptable imposition of central authority. This led Phil Zimmermann to propose the Web of Trust as the PKI infrastructure for PGP.

Attempts to deploy PEM were finally abandoned in response to the need to extend the protocol to support MIME leading to the development of MOSS (never widely implemented; now abandoned) and S/MIME (shares de facto standard status with PGP).

See also

RFC 1421: Privacy Enhancement for Internet Electronic Mail: Part I: Message Encryption and Authentication Procedures RFC 1422: Privacy Enhancement for Internet Electronic Mail: Part II: Certificate-Based Key Management RFC 1423: Privacy Enhancement for Internet Electronic Mail: Part III: Algorithms, Modes, and Identifiers RFC 1424: Privacy Enhancement for Internet Electronic Mail: Part IV: Key Certification and Related Services

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