You may have never heard of secure email service ProtonMail but if you have heard of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden then you are close. Born after the exit of Lavabit, the secure email service that Snowden used for his communications, ProtonMail has been operating in beta for almost two years from its founding country, Switzerland. The service was invite-only and accessible on the web with no mobile apps.
Starting yesterday, ProtonMail is now open to everyone and there are mobile applications as well. ProtonMail is now available on both Android and iOS.
Messages are stored on ProtonMail servers in encrypted format. They are also transmitted in encrypted format between our servers and user devices. Messages between ProtonMail users are also transmitted in encrypted form within our secure server network. Because data is encrypted at all steps, the risk of message interception is largely eliminated.
ProtonMail’s parent company, Proton Technologies AG, prides itself as the world’s largest provider of secure email services since it so far has half a million users, a number that is expected to rise with the opening up of the service to everyone and easy access on smartphones through its Android and iOS apps.
While users get a free email account, they are limited to just 500 megabytes storage space and 150 emails per day. To be able to get more storage space and send more emails daily, users will have to choose between the Plus and Visionary account upgrade options. Both offer users the ability to set up their own custom domains and more access to customer support. The Visionary option provides unlimited emails to users at $30 monthly with support for up to 50 email addresses making it more suitable for an enterprise setting.
The rise of secure communication systems has been fueled in part by revelations by Edward Snowden that the United States government had been collecting sensitive information about people all over the world through a mass surveillance program without the users’ knowledge or even approval. Email apps and services like ProtonMail are thus a response to this need. Recent happenings like the Apple vs FBI have fueled the encryption debate and strongly convinced more people of the need to switch to secure messaging applications starting with messengers like WhatsApp and Telegram.
Secure messenger apps like Signal and Threema have as a result seen increased usage while popular options like WhatsApp are even exploring further modes of encryption that will cover voice calls hence presenting law enforcers and authorities around the world with a hard time. Telegram, for instance, has been condemned several times since its Channels feature and secret chats are favourites of extremist groups like the Islamic State. Just a few days ago, another secure messenger app, Peerio, unveiled its mobile apps.