Tech, Now + Beyond

The next big thing in cybersecurity is here and it’s free

Protonmail, which allows for secure, end-to-end encrypted email, has officially launched. And, yes, it's free.

A lot of our personal information is available in the digital world. There may be more information about us than we know about that’s available online and with constant threats of being hacked, privacy is a major concern.

Another threat to personal information privacy is government surveillance. Though they lay claim to protecting their nation against terrorism, the creators of secure email application Protonmail don’t think national security should come at the cost of cybersecurity.

Encrypted messaging systems Protonmail provides end-to-end encryption services to users. That means not even Protonmail can read your emails and share it with third parties — like advertising companies, or federal agencies who might legally force a tech company to turn over a user’s communications. Protonmail doesn’t require you to provide personal information to create an account and send emails, nor does it log IP address that might be linked to your account.

Perhaps best of all, it’s set up and designed to look like the normal, user-friendly email inbox of 2016, so longtime Gmail users can switch over seamlessly without having to learn to navigate a whole new email system.

The Swiss-based company has been around since 2014 after a successful crowdfunding campaign, but only just moved out of beta stage. When it was invite-only, they had more than one million users, with thousands of requests to join daily. Now, it’s free to users worldwide.

With so much of your personal data being stored in warehouses online — browsing history, contents of communication, who you’ve been communicating with, geolocation, financial and identity information —  we need to be as vigilant online as we are offline.

With landmark cases such as the FBI versus Apple controversy, in which the FBI has demanded that Apple build software that will let them circumvent the security measures of an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, issues of government surveillance, international cybersecurity and individual privacy has risen to the surface once more.

And encrypted messaging app Telegram is reaping the benefits of a new, cybersecurity-aware user base. After launching in 2013 and with apps being available on iOS, Android and Windows, Telegram is determined about protecting online privacy. Their type of messaging service is a fusion of sms and email. Features include groups of up to 5000 members, channels for large audiences, and options for sending different types of files. Their service is easy to use, fast and protected. Like Protonmail, Telegram is available free to its now 100 million monthly users, a number the company announced proudly as the Apple-FBI headlines blared. (That’s still less than Whatsapp, but their user base is rising rapidly — especially among followers of the so-called Islamic State.)

Much of the new popularity of encrypted messaging services are no doubt a result of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden‘s massive leaks in 2013, when he revealed the seemingly limitless extent of government surveillance and ignited a movement among tech and web companies to add extra security features.

One of the main reasons that governments enact strong surveillance measures is to protect its country and citizens from terrorist attacks. But does this infringe upon an individual’s right to privacy? Services such as Protonmail seem to think so, calling invasion of citizens’ privacy a full-out “crypto war.”

Even with news that ISIS had listed Protonmail as one of its email providers, and with Telegram also being a popular tool for recruitment for ISIS due to its anonymity and secure messaging features, we must keep in mind that undermining everyone else’s online security is not the way to go about defeating them. They will find other services to use, but our cybersecurity will deteriorate if we can’t find a happy medium.