The problem with securing email is that it needs to be encrypted end-to-end to avoid it being intercepted while traveling through intermediary networks, and the recipient also needs to have the same encryption system. These systems, although free, are often hard to setup, and trying to convince the other party of the importance to do so may be futile. The way email protocols work, also facilitate data leakages, due to the nature of the email sitting on a server waiting to be retrieved. However, if you still need to use email communications for sensitive data, or simply want to keep your emails private, there’s a fair selection of privacy advocates offering encrypted secure email services free of cost.
The one that stuck out the most over all other secure email services is ProtonMail. When the leaked documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden first surfaced, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, discussed their concerned over NSA surveillance and other programs alike. A group of physicists and engineers collectively put their massive computing capabilities to work at creating and secure email service like no other.
ProtonMail was born and it quickly gained notoriety among the privacy community with its bold stance against government surveillance. They kept full control of all their mail servers in Switzerland to avoid any forced shut downs or requirements to provide any server data to U.S. or other foreign surveillance organizations. Forbes has called ProtonMail “the only email system the NSA can’t access” but what makes them better than most other encrypted email providers? Even Gmail now offers some level of end-to-end encryption.
ProtonMail had a huge response to their Beta launch and are currently at full server capacity and expansion is underway. You can still head to their website and reserve your own @protonmail.ch address and invitations will be sent out as soon as server capacity allows. *Update* – The service is now available for all to signup!
- ProtonMail offers full end-to-end email encryption, from start to destination. The encryption happens at the user’s level, making it impossible for ProtonMail to have ever seen the original content. The email is already encrypted when it reaches their Switzerland servers and the recipient’s email password is the only key to that email.
- Unlike most other secure email providers, ProtonMail does not require any kind of setup, allowing just about anyone to easily use the website on their browser on all devices thanks to a clean responsive design.
- ProtonMail does not have the keys to decrypt any of the emails sent across their network, unlike services like Gmail, who do have the power to decrypt email messages. If authorities would request keys, they would not even have that possibility, only retaining encrypted data on the servers.
- Strategically based in Switzerland, ProtonMail will decline any third party requests from overseas organizations or governments. Local government values privacy and has a very low wiretapping and data seizure track record, used explicitly to prevent crime.
- ProtonMail has refused offers from various investors to keep their integrity intact. Instead, they have opted for crowd funding methods to keep them afloat, allowing their user base community to donate to the cause, while keeping conflict of interest investors at bay. This decision has proven to be fruitful as they have recently surpassed 200% of their latest campaign goal amount.
- ProtonMail will be offered free of cost, but with limited storage. As an additional revenue stream, users will be able to pay $5 for 1Gig of inbox storage. The funds are essentially for expansion and maintenance of the infrastructure.
That’s a whole lot of support for one email service provider, what about everyone else? Well, there are many other encrypted email services available, but with recent revelations about XKeyscore, it is known that using these providers from any country, where privacy law enforcement is weak or strong, remains very risky. Many accusations stemming from as early as 2007 claim that some of the most popular providers such as HushMail failed to provide adequate protection against the NSA. We cannot confirm or deny these claims, but due to the nature of how emails work, it is hard to fully vouch for any secure email service. Instead, we have compiled a list of free and paid providers and tools available that you can have a look at.
ProtonMail – Recommended
TorGuard.net – High Encryption secure VPN service to match with encrypted email.
GnuPG – Implementation of OpenPGP for any email service, requires advanced setup.
Remember to use email on extremely sensitive data only if necessary, but if we talk in more realistic terms, the majority of us don’t have anything to hide. It comes back to the simple principal that no one else should be reading your emails but you. Think of how creepy it would be if the mail man read your mail back when hand written letters prevailed and email was not even a term yet. The act of opening someone else’s mail is not only frowned upon, it is criminal. Why should it be any different with our emails? The safety issues are also very uncertain and complex, as collected data mining can allow for a collection of data to be used on a sparse time lime.