by September 8, 2013 0 comments

The comprehensive nature of electronic surveillance facilitated by projects such as PRISM has raised many doubts about how confidential our electronic communications are, including e-mail.

[ Read what Prasanto K Roy, Editorial Advisor, PCQuest, has to say about PRISM ]

Such electronic surveillance programs that lead to disclosure of the users’ data have generated many a conversation amongst users who are naturally worried about their privacy.

[ Read about `Ground Zero Summit 2013′ where a wide range of security-focused discussions took place ]

Necessity is the mother of invention, and this situation is an epitome of the proverb. Secure webmail providers such as Scramble.IO came up, in direct recognition of the need to keep e-mail private. Scramble.IO is being developed on GitHub in an open-source manner.


[ Read about the rise of code-sharing websites such as GitHub ]

On a technical note, there exist some inherent limitations with the protocols used in e-mail as we know it today, such as POP,SMTP, etc. This was cited to be one of the reasons behind the closure of Silent Circle(an encrypted communications’ provider)’s email service last month, as described in their blog.

There have been solutions more than a decade old that try to address the privacy issue, such as PGP(Pretty Good Privacy). Free and open source variants such as GnuPG (Gnu Privacy Guard, or GPG in short) have been developed, which allow use of the cryptography for commercial purposes too. However, PGP is not easy to set up for the average user, which is why it  makes sense to use a webmail service provider that makes use of key pairs, since the browser-based end-user experience is much more convenient for most consumers. However, it’s use requires setting up PGP at both ends of the communication, and this is a limitation currently faced by the above-mentioned Scramble.IO too. The developer of Scramble.IO also notes that most current use of PGP is focused merely on concealing the plaintext of the body of the e-mail. Many other important things usually go unencrypted, such as the subject line of the message. It is shortcomings such as these which are claimed to be addressed by Scramble.IO.

Mac OS X users making use of the built-in Mail application can try making use of free and open source add-ons such as GPGMail, which make the process of setting up PGP pretty simple so that users can easily get started without having to bother much with cryptographic jargon. A new version of the same was launched on July 27, 2013 and can be obtained from .

What do you think? Can totally encrypted e-mail communications become a reality soon? And if it does, will it turn out to be another headache like satellite phones for  law enforcement/intelligence agencies, given the difficulty to intercept communications? Discuss in the comments box below!

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