Don’t let the NSA, the googles, the yahoos and the MSNs take you for a ride and deny you the right to privacy about your information by offering you carrots of free service. Do you know all popular free web mail service scan all e-mails before they reach their intended recipients to extract key words to serve the sender and the recipients advertisements? In addition to this NSA has back doors from these service providers and your ISP. Most of us use e-mail thinking it is private. But the data travels across many servers making it easy to extract sensitive data easily without anyone’s knowledge. Do you want to do business with a realtor that uses a gmail or yahoo account when you have to send your financial data and real estate documents to him? The free web mail service providers have forced you into believing that they all respect your privacy and always protect your data but the recent NSA revelations have proved beyond doubt that this is not the case. An average e-mail user have no idea how many people have access to their data which can be potentially used against them at some point in their life time whether it is for political gains or insurance decisions, credit decisions, hiring decisions or damaging your web reputation. The US constitution guarantees you the right to privacy, but do you think these companies and the Govt. really care about your privacy?
The only true secure option is to use your own mail server with e-mail encryption. But this is quite far fetched with so many of us using free web mail services. But with a few simple steps and slight change in your e-mail habits you can continue to use your free web e-mail service to protect your privacy by encrypting your e-mail so that the web mail servers will not be able to decrypt your message. Don’t let them tell you that only bad guys have things to hide.. As an individual you have every right to protect your privacy when you communicate with your friends, family and business associates. Until now you were at the mercy of the servers that facilitate the information exchange on the internet that has become so critical in everybody’s daily life. Privacy technologies like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and the free Open GPGP have existed for quite some time. But the adoption and usage has been low because of the lack of easy to use tools and adoption by everyone you want to communicate with.
PGP technology is based on public and private Keys. When you send an encrypted e-mail to your friend, you use their public key to encrypt the mail data which only they can decrypt using their private key. Similarly when your friend wants to send you an e-mail, they will use your public key to encrypt the mail which only you can decrypt using your private key. So in order to use mail encryption it is important both the parties have public and private keys. Public keys can be published on public servers or send to your friend by e-mail. Private key is something you safeguard with a pass phrase and keep it on your computer. The more you convince and show the benefits of using mail encryption amongst your circle of friends, family and business associates, the more everyone benefits. So take the first step, start using e-mail encryption by creating a public and private key easily using free GPG tools and encourage the people around you to do the same.. It will take some time for everyone in your circle to adopt this, but you can take the first step and ask them to follow suite for a more private and secure e-mail communication.
If you have teenage kids, talk to them about e-mail privacy and show them how they can easily communicate with their friends in privacy and even away from your prying eyes.. may be that will get them started 🙂 The idea is to create a culture of digital privacy and security when they are young that they will carry well into their adulthood that will help protect privacy and freedom for all. When more people are comfortable using e-mail encryption and publish their public keys even business will provide services built with encryption and offer secure communication when contacting via e-mail.
There are 4 things you will need to do to start sending encrypted e-mails:
- Install open GPG tools ((Windows, Mac OS and Linux versions available)
- Install a mail client that supports open GPG – (a good one is Mozilla Thunderbird)
- Install the Open PGP plugin or add-on for your mail client. In case of Mozilla Thunderbird it is – Enigmail
- Convince your friend and associate to do the same so that you can exchange encrypted e-mails
Here is an excellent description on setting up to how use e-mail encryption using freely available tools and by switching to use a mail client installed on your desktop OS instead of using your internet browser to access your web mail.
You may be wondering what about my mobile device. There are a couple of apps for iOS that will complement your usage of Thunderbird/Enigmail/GPGP mail client on your desktop OS. The two iOS Apps are – iPGMail and OpenGp . Though they are not free, but the nominal cost of the app is well worth the investment if you believe in securing your e-mail communication on the internet. For Android there is Gnu Privacy Guard on Google Play. Hopefully more choice will be available once more people start using this technology.
You can get Pexus public Keys from public key server – http://pgp.mit.edu/ search for firstname.lastname@example.org to retrieve public key for our corporate mail box, import it into your mail client and use it to send us an encrypted e-mail if you have any comment or find this article useful.