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How to Read Message Headers in Outlook

Phishing and other email scams are on the rise. One of the best ways to identify scam emailsis to examine the email header for detailed information about the sender. Here’s how to do that in Outlook.

Outlook itself provides a basic view of email headers. If that’s not enough, there’s a free add-in that breaks down the headers to give you a more human-friendly view. We’ll cover that as well.

Outlook’s Basic Header View

To get a basic view of the headers for an email, open the email in Outlook and click File > Properties.

Outlook's Properties button for an individual email.

In the Properties window that opens, the header is displayed in the “Internet Headers” text box at the bottom.

The email Properties window with the "Internet headers" box highlighted.

This text box isn’t very large, so we suggest you select all of the text and copy it into your text editor of choice to make it more visible.

However, the header information is one large block of text, which isn’t that easy to read, especially if you don’t read headers very often. To get a more useful view, there’s a free add-in you can use.

Using the Message Header Analyzer Add-in

If you’ve never installed an add-in to Outlook, we’ve written about the process before. The install process is a pretty simple one plus the add-ins are validated by Microsoft, so they’re safe to use.

And if you install the add-in to the desktop client, as we’re going to show you, the add-in will also automatically be added into the Outlook web app. This enables you to use it when you’re logged into Outlook in a browser, too.

To get started, open Outlook and click on Home > Get Add-Ins.

The Home tab with the "Get Add-ins"button highlighted.

In the search box in the top right, start typing “message header” and select the “Message Header Analyzer” add-in.

The add-ins search box, with the "Message Header Analyzer" result highlighted.

Click the Add button to install the add-in.

The "Message Header Analyzer" add-in with the Add button highlighted.

Once the add-in is installed, the Add button will change to say “Added.” Click the “X” in the top right to close the window.

"The Message Header Analyzer" add-in with the "close window" button highlighted.

When you have an email selected in Outlook, a “View Headers” button will now be visible in the menu bar.

The "View Headers" button in the Outlook ribbon.

Click this button to see the email headers for the selected email. The add-in has the following tabs:

  • Summary: Information (this is the default tab when you open the add-in).
  • Received: Information about where the message was received from, and when.
  • Antispam: Information from Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection anti-spam scan of the email.
  • Other: All of the other header elements broken down into individual blocks.
The "Message Header Analyzer" window with the different options highlighted.

Best of all, where there are suitable web pages that relate to an element, the Message Header Analyzer includes a link to that page. This includes links to the exact section in the email specification—such as Authentication-Results—and Microsoft’s information on the anti-spam elements they add to emails that go through Exchange.

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