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Why Secure Email Is a Pain & For Normal Folk...Not Needed

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Most of us use email every day and we send all kinds of things via this route. As a result, our mailboxes contain by far the largest volume and variety of sensitive data that we hold.

Our emails are vulnerable because without any encryption, our emails travel in ‘plaintext’ (much like this text on this page) over the internet. These messages can fairly easily be intercepted as it bounces around in cyberspace. To counter this, many ‘experts’ recommend we use a secure email application. These programs encrypt our messages before sending them, and then all the way to the recipient’s inbox, so it protects the entire journey. So even if it were intercepted it would be complete gibberish to whomever tries to read it.

Is this really necessary?

These kinds of applications can be a real ball-ache so if this really required for the everyday family? In short, no – I think it is overkill for the everyday family. The hassle is causes far outweighs the risk it offsets, and here’s why…

1. It’s a Massive Inconvenience!

To use a secure email program, you’ll need to convince your corresponding party to download the same secure email application as you (or they will have to use a browser-based portal to open your messages). No matter what you say, this is a hassle and no one is realistically going to try and convince everyone they email to use a secure email application!

2. Just Don’t Use Email.

You can always just not use email at all! Use either of the following to send your sensitive information;

  • A secure mobile app (WhatsApp or Signal are good choices, Signal being the more secure option). Both apps employ end-to-end encryption so should suffice for our day-to-day purposes. If you do want to use Whatsapp over Signal, just be conscious that Whatsapp is now owned by Facebook and as of August 2016 started extracting data of Whatsapp users (phone numbers and usage data) with Facebook. Signal won’t do this as they are fervently pro-privacy.
  • A simple text message. It is far less likely someone will intercept your SMS txt messages as they use a data network (not a WiFi network).

Whichever you choose, a secure mobile app or a simple txt message, by using these we should be able to significantly lessen the need to share anything sensitive via email at all.

3. Encrypt Attachments, Not Emails.

Often the sensitive parts of our emails are often the attachments we append to them (e.g. invoices, payment details, etc.). In the rare circumstances where you absolutely must use email to send the sensitive information, to prevent having to download and setup a secure email account, just protecting the attachment itself with encryption and then sharing over bog-standard email. You can do this by using either a WinZip type application to package the file up and encrypt it or use a purchased encryption program.

So, the good news is that by using WhatsApp/Signal, a simple txt message or encrypting the files individually, most of us will likely negate the need to have a secure email account at all. As such, the vast majority of us won’t need a secure email application. Secure email is definitely still a good choice for high net worth businessmen, celebrities, politicians and the likes but for you and me, it’s overkill.

For the minority that do for whatever reason need to use a secure email service, I’d recommend one called ‘ProtonMail’. It was originally developed in Switzerland by scientists, engineers, and developers at CERN (where the large hadron collider sits) who all shared a vision of protecting our privacy online. Forbes calls it “the only email system NSA can’t access” and for good reason. ProtonMail use end-to-end encryption and doesn’t log your IP address so you can be truly anonymous, and any email sent from ProtonMail can be made to expire automatically up to 4 weeks ahead of time (James Bond style!). It is accessible through the TOR network and recommends two factor authentication. To top that, they also base themselves in Switzerland which means foreign governments cannot shut them down or force them to hand over their customer’s information.

Hopefully that’s one less thing you need to worry about!

 

Jonny

Founder of www.SimpleCyberLife.com. Cyber security expert, public speaker and entrepreneur.

www.jonnypelter.com

jonny@simplecyberlife.com

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