Normal email messages are sent in plain text. That means that such messages are easily intercepted and read by hackers, government spies, corporations, and others. Of course, it is easy to block such espionage by using encryption. However, very few email users ever do that.
The lack of email encryption is sad as it is so easy to implement. My belief is that everyone should use encrypted email all the time for all messages. Admittedly, I do not do that myself, at least not yet. But if more people had the capability to send and receive encrypted email, I would use encryption all the time.
If you are willing to use a new email address or perhaps an additional email address that you use only when you want to send and receive private messages, you can find several services to choose from. One of the more popular encrypted email services is ProtonMail, a secure email provider based in Switzerland.
NOTE: ProtonMail is incorporated in Switzerland and all the company’s servers are also located in Switzerland. Using email servers in Switzerland is an excellent idea because of the strong privacy laws in that country. Unlike the U.S., the U.K., China, the Arab states, or many other countries, Swiss privacy laws prohibit anyone, an individual or a corporation, from divulging the contents of communications without the permission of both the sender and the recipient(s). Even the Swiss government is not allowed to read email messages of individuals or corporations without permission. Of course, if another country issues a court order asking for the contents of an email message, such an order will be ignored by the Swiss government and by all corporations in Switzerland.
ProtonMail encrypts messages sent to other ProtonMail addresses in such a manner that the messages cannot even be decoded by the ProtonMail employees. However, when email is composed when using a free ProtonMail account and sent to any other email service, the message is sent in normal plain text, not encrypted. In short, ProtonMail can protect your civil liberties in online communications.
In contrast, when email is composed by using a ProtonMail account and sent to another ProtonMail account, the message is encrypted and is fully secure at all times. (There is an option for paid users to send encrypted, fully secure email messages to Non-ProtonMail accounts. However, free users may only send fully secure email messages to other ProtonMail users.)
Details describing the security of ProtonMail may be found at: https://protonmail.com/security-details.
In addition, messages sent by non-ProtonMail services to a ProtonMail address are sent in plain text through the internet, making them vulnerable to being read by hackers, government spies, corporations, and others. Once the message is received at the ProtonMail servers, it is encrypted and stored in the user’s in-box. Encryption is always a good thing but the fact that the message is sent through the internet in plain text isn’t a very secure practice, regardless of how it is eventually stored.
In short, if you want to send email to anyone else containing business secrets, financial information, medical data, Social Security Number(s), or anything else that you do not want shared with others, you need to either send the message from a ProtonMail address to someone else using a ProtonMail account or use a paid ProtonMail account to send the message to anyone who is not using ProtonMail. Such messages will not be decrypted by hackers, government spies, corporations, ProtonMail employees, or others.
If you use a free ProtonMail account, never, ever send any email messages to a non-ProtonMail address unless you are comfortable with the idea that hackers, government spies, Facebook, Google, and many others will intercept your message(s) and use the information for nefarious purposes. If you want privacy and security, either use a free ProtonMail to send email messages ONLY TO OTHER ProtonMail users or else use a paid ProtonMail account to send secure messages to anyone else.
NOTE: Other encrypted email providers also may offer the same or similar services. However, ProtonMail is probably the best-known such service.
ProtonMail can be used with any modern web browser, meaning it is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, Linux, UNIX, and other operating systems. In addition, ProtonMail apps are available for Android and Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, and Pod touch) devices. All of the apps maintain privacy and do not store messages in plain text. Even if you lose your Android or iOS device, or if it is stolen, nobody else can read your stored ProtonMail messages unless they know your passwords.
ProtonMail is available in several versions. I would suggest that you first sign up for a FREE account and use that for a bit to see if the service fits your needs. Even the free accounts include all the security features already described. However, free accounts are limited to sending 150 messages per day (that should be enough for most individual users!), small amounts of message storage, and more.
The Plus Service costs 4.00 Euros per month (billed as 48.00 Euros/Year). For those who prefer to think in terms of U.S. dollars, at today’s exchange rates that is $4.53 per month, (billed as $54.36 per year). The Plus service adds:
- 5 gigabytes of storage space
- Send up to 1000 messages per day
- Labels, Custom Filters, and Folders
- The ability to send encrypted messages to external recipients (This is a very attractive option! Encrypted messages to non-ProtonMail recipients will expire in 28 days unless a shorter expiration time is set.)
- Use your own domain (ex: email@example.com)
- Up to 5 email aliases
- Priority Customer Support
In addition, there are even higher-level services designed for business users and for “Visionary Supporters.” For further details about the different levels of accounts, look at: https://protonmail.com/signup.
Again, I would suggest you will prefer to first sign up for a FREE account and use that for a bit to see if the service fits the needs of that person. In order to have complete security, you also need to make sure your intended correspondents also have free or paid-for ProtonMail accounts or else you need to have a Plus Service account that includes the ability to send encrypted messages to external recipients.
You can learn more about ProtonMail or even sign up for the service at https://protonmail.com.
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Categories: Email Security, Online Privacy & Security
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