When email was first created, there were limited encryption standards in place to secure messages, and messages were transmitted in plain text. However, over the years, cybercriminals demonstrated how easily this standard enabled the theft of information, and the business models of many email service providers has resulted in the contents of messages being scanned for data that can profile users to more accurately target ads.
Fortunately, there are many ways of protecting email messages. Not all of these methods are equally secure. Some methods actually leave messages vulnerable to attack as a result of either weak encryption standards or by leaving messages unencrypted at points along their journeys. Email encryption can be done manually or by a secure email service. Secure email services each have unique offerings and may charge for these. They perform the encryption process in the background so that users do not have to worry about doing it manually. This article will look at the methods for email encryption as well as take an in-depth look at Proton Mail—one of the market leading email service providers offering privacy and security for email communications.
There are two main protocols currently in use for email encryption:
TLS is used to encrypt data being sent from one server to another. Almost all websites and email providers use TLS so that web traffic and email messages cannot be read while in transit. Before TLS protocols were introduced, cybercriminals could intercept, read, and even modify data as it moved between servers. This presents a problem when email messages contain sensitive information.
TLS is ubiquitous now. Regular email providers like Microsoft and Google use TLS to secure emails as they move from sender to recipient, and this prevents tampering while messages are in transit; however, messages remain unencrypted while stored on servers, which means they can be read by anyone who has access to the servers.
Although most regular email service providers do not charge for their services, the companies offering them still have to make a profit, which they often do by mining your messages for data which they can sell to advertisers and more accurately target ads.
End-to-end encryption ensures that email messages are encrypted by the sender and can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. The servers that send, receive, and store the messages only see encrypted data, so the messages are secure from prying eyes at all times.
Messages are secured by the use of public and private keys. The sender encrypts his message to the recipient with the recipient’s public key, and the recipient decrypts the message with her private key. Users are the only ones who have access to their private keys.
Encrypting emails and managing public and private keys can be difficult. Secure email service providers abstract away the complexity for users. Proton Mail, Tutanota, Mailfence, and Startmail are some of the biggest providers in the market today.
Proton Mail is an encrypted email service based in Switzerland that is designed to be private and secure. Proton Mail naturally uses TLS, but it also stores messages in zero-access encrypted form using public key cryptography. Proton Mail cannot give your messages to a government entity, sneaky employees cannot read your private messages, and hackers that manage to get into Proton Mail’s servers will be disappointed. When you communicate with another Proton Mail user, the connection is end-to-end encrypted.
Proton Mail has a no-cost starter account, and if you upgrade to one of their paid tiers, you can unlock additional functionality. With the free version, you get the following:
You can expect all of the typical functionality you would get from a regular mail provider as well as extra features such as these:
Easy Switch is a tool that safely transfers emails and folders from an external email account to Proton Mail. It can import emails from any email service provider that uses IMAP, and for users who are coming from Google, it can import contacts and calendars, too.
Folders and labels
Folders are containers for emails, while labels are simple tags that can be added to messages to make them easier to find or to apply filters to.
Short domain addresses
The domain name protonmail.com is long enough that some people find it difficult to spell out. Users can use pm.me instead of protonmail.com when sharing their email address with others. Since 2022, Proton Mail has also provided proton.me as a domain name for addresses.
Two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security. If enabled, users will be prompted to enter a 6-digit 2FA code when logging in to their accounts.
Encrypt for outside
Messages sent to email accounts outside of Proton Mail are not encrypted. To keep these messages private, users can select the Encrypt for Outside feature. The recipient will then receive a password-protected message which they can only unlock with the password that you have shared or will share with them.
Proton Mail Bridge
Bridge allows Proton Mail’s end-to-end encryption to work with popular email apps such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Apple Mail. Bridge runs in the background and seamlessly encrypts and decrypts email as it enters and leaves a user’s computer.
The web interface’s default language can be set to any one of 26 available languages.
The auto-reply feature allows an account to automatically send replies to incoming messages. Anyone who tries to send a message will be replied to with a custom automatic response.
Proton Mail is a great option for regular encrypted communications with friends, business partners, and others who want protection from snooping and hacking. It is one of the most popular secure email services on the market, with a no-cost starter account and an easy-to-use interface. How do other providers compare? At a base level, the following providers all offer end-to-end encryption, and they each slightly differentiate their services in the following ways:
No one wants their private email messages leaked to the world from compromised email servers, and there is little benefit in giving a messenger the ability to read your private messages instead of just delivering them for you. Encrypted email services have developed into fully-fledged email software suites that are simple, intuitive, and often free. For those who value privacy, it is now easier than ever before to make the switch.
About Ashley Buckwell: Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.