ProtonMail is a new secure email
service created by scientists from CERN and MIT
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service started being developed in 2013 by a group of CERN scientists who wanted
a more secure and private internet, in part as a response to the Edward Snowden
leaks. "We began thinking about this problem long before the Snowden leaks, but
the leaks were what drove us to take action, as they truly demonstrated how
much online privacy had eroded," company co-founder
Andy Yen told Gizmag.
company is advised by the MIT Venture Mentoring Service and is developed, in
part at MIT. Earlier this year, ProtonMail was a
semi-finalist in the 2014 MIT 100K Startup Launch competition. The initial
team, however, was formed via a CERN Facebook group made-up of scientists from
CERN that, in some way, wanted to help improve society.
group held "hackathons" to work on the idea, and much time was spent identifying
the problems with existing means encrypting email and trying to find solutions.
"What we quickly found out was that existing solutions were much too complicated
to be used by the general public and this led us on the path towards creating an
easy-to-use solution," explained Yen.
of the other difficulties the group encountered was getting web browsers to
manage the encryption process. The team found that its approach to the
encryption of data required a lot of processing power and that web browsers
tended not to be "high performance" enough to carry it out. As such, a great
deal of work was undertaken to ensure that the encryption process could be made
to work on all types of devices, and on older browsers.
ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption. "End-to-end
encryption basically means the user's data is encrypted before it leaves their
computer and can only be decrypted by the recipient," says Yen. "With this
system, the ProtonMail servers never have access to unencrypted user data and
cannot actually read any of our users' emails."
ProtonMail touts a number of other features that are
used to improve its security. The company is incorporated in Switzerland and has
all of its servers based there too, allowing its users to benefit from that
country's strict privacy laws. IP addresses are not logged and no personal
information is required in order to sign up for an account. For paid accounts,
users can pay with Bitcoin, and even cash.
term "NSA proof" has been used widely elsewhere to describe ProtonMail, but it's
a term that Yen is not keen on. "We don't like the term because our goal is not
to guard against only the NSA," he points out. "There are many other
organizations we also want to protect against. People often ask us if ProtonMail
is 100 percent secure, and our answer is that it is impossible to have 100
percent security. What ProtonMail does is makes mass surveillance by
organizations, such as the NSA, so difficult that it is no longer practical."
Source: Gizmag URL: