back to article Secure email bods ProtonMail open signup floodgates to world+dog

Secure email service ProtonMail has come out of beta and re-opened free registration to all for the first time in almost two years. Applications to join the invite-only service had been backed up almost since the day it launched, as the free encrypted mail service quickly reached its upper capacity of users and struggled to …

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Devil

"Appe App store"

Applications for Monkeys?

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Happy

Choose the 'Appy App store, where every app will make you smile.

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Coat

'Appy apps...

From 'Appy Valley, not Silicon Valley! Eeee!

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Anonymous Coward

I wonder when there will be problems about authorities demanding access.

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ProtonMail already responds to appropriate law-enforcement requests to hand over client's emails but since they're encrypted (and ProtonMail has no way of decrypting them) I doubt they're of much use...

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Once they've got the e-mail I suppose it's back to https://xkcd.com/538/...

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ZSn

@ AegisPrime

However in the UK since you have to hand over your encryption keys when ordered to by a court it may be possible that it is irrelevant. I presume that armed with the key and the encrypted messages then that would be enough to decrypt them.

The premise that the information is help inviolable is misleading I think. The keys are supplied in a web browser and JavaScript is used for the key handling - a notoriously insecure combination. The keys are then used on the servers, which could be hacked. Let's face it - the NSA would view protonmail as a prime target for hacking, and they do have the skills to achieve it. I doubt that the protonmail personnel are paranoid enough about security (I hope that I am wrong there). Ultimately the only secure keys are the ones that you alone possess and if you are in the UK you have to give those up on pain of imprisonment.

If it sounds as if I am negative then that's not the case. Protonmail make a decent fist of this in a reasonable jurisdiction, however I doubt that it will protect you properly if the NSA/GCHQ are interested in you.

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Black Helicopters

It's not irrelevant - you do have a *choice* after all. Admittedly, going to jail for not handing over encryption keys probably wouldn't be much fun but I'm thinking sooner or later somebody innocent will *have to* in order to get this ridiculous law repealed.

Anyway - the question I answered was about authorities taking an interest in ProtonMail and they already have - apparently PM is actually recommended in ISIS circles (https://protonmail.com/blog/privacy-encryption-and-terrorism) - but the only data ProtonMail can give law enforcement is encrypted (unlike say Lavabit).

Regarding security - well, anything's possible but PM is open source so the code can be audited and after that (supposedly) state-sponsored DDoS attack I suspect security is foremost on their mind (although if you read their blog you'll appreciate that it always has been).

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Anonymous Coward

If it sounds as if I am negative then that's not the case. Protonmail make a decent fist of this in a reasonable jurisdiction, however I doubt that it will protect you properly if the NSA/GCHQ are interested in you.

ProtonMail cannot say anything else because they're a tech company, not a law firm. Very few tech companies have a view of the laws that govern their customers, so I would not blame ProtonMail for that other than that they ought to know one thing:

They cannot protect their customers from local law - because that's how law works.

If you're a UK user of ProtonMail, they can protect you against surveillance (well, to a degree, it depends on how the mobile apps works because there's more to privacy than just security) but if you are served with a warrant as UK user you only have one choice: comply. This also applies to UK companies using their email.

What ProtonMail has done right is to create a proper Swiss based company (with some residual leverage risk due to the involvement of a US passport holder) - few people know Swiss privacy laws (235.1 and 235.11) enough to realise that foreign ownership of a Swiss company means that the data they hold is NOT under Swiss privacy law, but under the laws of the country of origin. There are at least 2 "privacy service" companies I know that have that exposure, unbeknownst to their customers.

The final question ProtonMail has to address is the trickiest one to solve of all: how to prevent criminals from flocking to their services, because that WILL happen, especially if you try to hit the volume market. I spent considerable time working with law enforcement and even Europol on this because like it or not, bad people DO exist and although I fully support Apple in its current battle, I also understand the need of proper law enforcement (defined as "people why genuinely try to do a job", not power grabbing political idiots) to be able to put bad guys away.

That last one will always be a balance. Swiss laws are very prescriptive in how they protect your privacy even during an investigation (which is the best way to prevent legal abuse), but I think that if there is something that DOES make it through that filter you ought to pay attention as a company. If you don't have access to the data the answer is simple, but you may have to take that user account down to minimise the risk to all other users. There are no easy answers to the criminal issue.

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'Tis surely only a matter of time

I spent considerable time working with law enforcement and even Europol on this because like it or not, bad people DO exist and although I fully support Apple in its current battle, I also understand the need of proper law enforcement (defined as "people why genuinely try to do a job", not power grabbing political idiots) to be able to put bad guys away. … Anonymous Coward

Hi, AC,

It is surely a fact, and prime fiction virtual terrain to spin in any number of teasing and tempting and terrifying directions, that power grabbing political idiots are a main cause of why certain classes of seriously smarter bad people may exist, as law enforcement [we are just following orders from hidden Orders] is utilised to enforce the will of power grabbing political idiots ‽ .

When such is truthfully so, do the problems facing systems and law enforcement grow towards an exponential rate whilst discovery and implementation of solutions falls rapidly towards zero …… and the very real and present danger to established systems using law enforcement as their command and control tool, is that as the base of “crimes” to be investigated and prosecuted expands, does the realisation start to dawn that the established system[s] that law enforcement is servering and servicing, are corrupt and perverted …….. and the true enemy lies within and is playing law enforcement as the idiot fool with blunt tools.

How close are established systems today to that law enforcement realisation? Miles away? Or is it just around the next bend?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 'Tis surely only a matter of time

Hi amanfromMars, long time no hear :)

How close are established systems today to that law enforcement realisation? Miles away? Or is it just around the next bend?

It think it's crucial to avoid the black and white trend that people in the digital world tend to migrate to (in a way logical as that is binary). It is not a problem with one solution because it involves many variables, some of which boil down to a judgement call when the occasion presents itself. There are no absolutes other than one: you either plan to comply with the law, or you will not be running a sustainable business.

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Re: 'Tis surely only a matter of time

And are all armed military force commanders and intelligence community heads equally so easily led by fools and power grabbing political idiots as to do their bidding which will out them as puppets to muppets, and both as masters of nothing at all worthwhile?

Be honest now and don't fool yourself with a dodgy answer.

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No Grand Exceptions to Spoil Great Game Rules with Regulations

There are no absolutes other than one: you either plan to comply with the law, or you will not be running a sustainable business. .... Anonymous Coward

I would happily agree, AC, that there are no absolutes.

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Anonymous Coward

You could just refuse.

Sure, you'd spend two years in prison, but after three months* of inactivity, the account and data gets destroyed, and the address doesn't get recycled for new users.

*unless this has been increased since the discussion about it.

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ProtonMail won't run without Google Play services...

:(

I think I see a potential security issue.

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ZSn

Price

One thing about protonmail is that the value for money is not great. I may be unfair but my alumni e-mail is £1 per month with quite good support if something goes wrong/ I need a unusual configuration changes. For the protonmail the cheapest paid service is $/€/CHF 4 per month, about three times the cost.

If it were about the same price I would definitely pay, however it's not great value for money when they don't even provide a windows phone app and can only use the webpage for getting my messages. Admittedly I'm one of a vanishingly small set of people who use both windows phone and protonmail!

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Happy

Re: Price

" Admittedly I'm one of a vanishingly small set of people who use both windows phone and protonmail!"

Vanishing due to the logical syllogism of the combination...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Price

One thing about protonmail is that the value for money is not great. I may be unfair but my alumni e-mail is £1 per month with quite good support if something goes wrong/ I need a unusual configuration changes. For the protonmail the cheapest paid service is $/€/CHF 4 per month, about three times the cost.

LOL. So you want a dead secure email service that even tells warrant bearing Swiss police that they cannot get at your data, but you're not prepared to pay a frankly silly amount for it?

I have news for you: they're cheap. Granted, this is only a *technically* secure service, but it's still a mile better than some people running a Linux box in Switzerland with standard TLS enabled IMAP/SMTP.

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ZSn

Re: Price

"LOL. So you want a dead secure email service that even tells warrant bearing Swiss police that they cannot get at your data, but you're not prepared to pay a frankly silly amount for it?"

Actually warrant bearing UK police can get at the encrypted data and put you in prison if you don't supply the key. A frankly silly amount is the *cheapest* version, the recommended version that does not have a (admittedly high) limit on the amount of messages you can send in a day is $/€/CHF 24 per month.

The point I'm making is that it is *not* a technically secure E-mail service. For a discussion of the security of Javascript Cryptography see:

https://www.nccgroup.trust/us/about-us/newsroom-and-events/blog/2011/august/javascript-cryptography-considered-harmful/

There are more secure services out there, this is compromise between usability and security, but it won't keep out the big boys if they really want in...

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Re: Price

Does RIPA apply to data from a third party?

I have seen it used previously when items are seized directly from someone like a USB stick but a third party unattributed email account might present issues.

One for the legal bods to weigh in on but I don't think it's as straightforward as with directly seized items.

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Re: Price

A counterpoint: https://www.conceptblossom.com/blog/javascript-cryptography-not-harmful-counter-argument

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Price

Actually warrant bearing UK police can get at the encrypted data and put you in prison if you don't supply the key

You did notice I said "SWISS" police, no? It will indeed not do much in the UK under RIPA, but that wasn't the point I was making - my observation was that I think it's a bit rich to expect a service to offer a reasonable quality for free.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Price

There are more secure services out there, this is compromise between usability and security, but it won't keep out the big boys if they really want in...

Ah, but that IS possible. The problem is making that possible without immediately be landed with every criminal on the planet. There are ways to deal with that, but it's not easy (nor is that 100% possible, you can only reduce the possibility, not prevent it altogether).

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Re: Price

Does RIPA apply to data from a third party?

AFAIK you can only be ordered to produce that which you have control over. If it's not your data and there is no evidence that you may have access to it, a warrant cannot compel you to start hacking your way in (which is pretty much what the FBI vs Apple case is about, btw).

I am uncertain if you can be compelled to access data that isn't yours, even if you have been granted access (for instance, for emergencies). Given that it's the UK you probably can be :(.

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ZSn

Re: PriceA counterpoint

@ AegisPrime

w.r.t. a counterpoint, if you read the counterpoint carefully it doesn't actually refute the 'Javascript Cryptography Considered Harmful' essay. It's main point is that it solves the Third Party Doctrine problem. While that is a valid point, especially in the context of data on American systems, it misses the mark on JavaScript cryptography problems.

Ultimately any data that leaves your system unencrypted is at risk. If there is good comsec, then maybe it will make it to the intended recipient in confidence. However, my point is that it is startlingly difficult to do that when your adversaries are people like a national security agency.

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Re: Price @ZSn

" ... this is compromise between usability and security ..."

Probably true, but it still isn't usable enough for my wife or mum to use - and I doubt my employer will accede to a request to send all my emails via ProtonMail. I'm not being snarky here - the point I am making is that there are so many areas in which encrypted mail will not be possible that it becomes pointless for most people.

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