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How to Switch to an Encrypted Email Account

Email is the worst messaging option when it comes to privacy and security on the web

Published by Claire Broadley


When it comes to privacy and security, email is the worst messaging option on the web. In most cases, your message will not be encrypted, leaving you open to snooping and interception as your message travels from one server to another.

There are various ways to encrypt email, with varying levels of complexity. As internet users become more privacy-conscious, user-friendly solutions are emerging that make email encryption something of a no-brainer.

Tried and Tested Email Encryption

PGP email has been around for more than 25 years, but it has failed to make its way into the mainstream, possibly because exchanging keys prior to exchanging emails seems counter-intuitive for a generation used to convenience and speedy messaging. There’s also the rather obvious problem that most popular web-based email providers don’t support it.

One good alternative is Mailvelope, a browser extension that adds PGP security to practically any browser-based email service. You still have to exchange keys, but Mailvelope makes key exchange and generation pretty straightforward. The encryption and decryption is performed by Mailvelope, with the scrambled message is placed into the webmail window an sent in the usual way.

If this seems like too much hassle, there are a few other solutions for those who value email privacy.

Encrypted Email for Non-Techies

If you regularly email the same people, and you’d like to make sure that the messages between you are encrypted, there are very easy ways to make this happen.

Protonmail is one of the best free solutions. This email service, based in Switzerland, always encrypts messages sent between Protonmail users, so you and your contacts can enjoy entirely private conversations.

Like the Web itself, Protonmail was built by CERN scientists. It promises to encrypt all messages in your inbox while they are stored, and its staff have no access to the messages within it. Protonmail has a pleasing interface that’s intuitive enough for hassle-free daily use.

If you don’t regularly email the same people, but you’d like to secure messages anyway, Protonmail also allows you to send secure messages to any email address by sending a secure link to the message in the email body, rather than the message itself. The recipient needs to click the link to open the message.

You can also opt to have all of your sent Protonmail messages expire after a certain time.

There are other competitors in this space, like Hushmail and Tutanota. All three providers offer a relatively small amount of storage space on their free accounts, although Protonmail is notable for its ambition to launch its own Protonmail Docs and Drive services sometime in the future.

Email is Dead - Long Live Encryption

Email’s longevity is surprising, in some ways, but it’s difficult to imagine a simpler or cheaper way to send messages, and that’s probably why it’s endured even without enhanced privacy and security. PGP encryption has never really caught on among non-technical users in quite the same way.

But services that make security simpler could eventually change the way we think about email, pushing us to demand more from our providers and communicate privately without using a messenger program.