Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
We'll look at what sniffing is and ways to avoid it.
I recently heard of a scenario where an individual was able to "sniff" or listen in to the wireless network traffic within range and from that, determine the account name, server and passwords from everyone who happened to check email while he was looking.
And every time you use public internet facilities and hotspots, you may be at risk.
The simplest solution is to use webmail, making sure that it's on an "https", secure, connection. That's encrypted and safe from any sniffers that happen to see it.
Enter "SSH Tunneling".
Now, one of the requirements for SSH tunneling is that you have SSH (Secure SHell) access to your mail server. If you do not (and if you don't know, you probably don't), you can stop reading now. Check with your ISP if you like, to see if you can get it, but this technique relies on SSH being available on your server.
The good news is that once you have SSH access, there's no further server-side configuration.
In short, the technique works like this:
That's really all there is to it.
Let's walk through the details for Windows users.
Start by grabbing the free SSH client and tools called PuTTY. Get the ZIP file that contains all the tools, because we'll be using more than just the PuTTY client.
One of the tools is called "plink". In a command shell, run the following:
plink -v -L 110:mailserver:110 -L 25:mailserver:25 -2 you@mailserver -N -pw yourpassword
Leave plink running once it connects.
Now, in your email client (Outlook, Eudora, whatever), change both the POP3 and SMTP servers to "localhost".
Here's what happens now: when you reload your email client, it will attempt to, for example, fetch POP3 mail from "localhost, port 110". Plink is listening to port 110 on your local machine, encrypts the data and sends it to the ssh server running on the mail server. There, the ssh server decrypts the data, and forwards it on to port 110 on the mail server. Data coming back is handled similarly, as is the SMTP port 25 conversation we defined as well.
A couple of additional notes...
You can tunnel other protocols (like mySql, imap, etc...) by adding "-L port:server:port" parameters to the plink line.
You can perform the port forwarding in PuTTY itself, the interactive client if you like - there is a section in the options for that, and it can be saved with the profile for that connection.
Remember that while your email is configured to use "localhost" as the mail server, the tunnel must be running (the plink command must be active). If it is not, email will fail.
There's technically nothing wrong with using this all the time. Still, what I've done in Outlook is to clone a separate profile that I can select at Outlook startup. So when I'm at home using my own secure network, the connections are direct and unencrypted as before. When traveling, I start the tunnel, and select the profile that uses it.
Other SSH clients do support tunneling though not all. PuTTY is free, and works well for me.