Let's face it. Having safe, private, secure email communication might not seem easy. In fact, a lot of people will tell you that it is not really possible. Well... If you are trying to hide it from the NSA or any other big government spy organization that might be correct. But if you set your sights just a little lower you just might be able to have a an excellent solution that does not have to cost anything at all. And this can work for you even if you do not have any special technical skills. It can also work when emailing with people who likewise do not have any special technical skills. They, like you, just need to be willing to put in a little bit of effort to begin with and then sit back and let it work.
Actually, if you do it right you might even give the NSA a run for their money!
Interested? Read on.
Or: Check out my YouTube video on creating your own ProtonMail account: Create a ProtonMail Private, Secure Email Account
Also, if you would like to hear the ProtonMail vision and concept right from the ProtonMail CEO/Founder, Andy Yen, you might enjoy this TED video: Think your email's private? Think again
In A Nutshell
Here are the essential facts about getting safe, private, secure email with ProtonMail:
- Web-based and mobile app-based versions with great user interface.
- Encrypted with the best available encryption so only intended users can see the content.
- ProtonMail servers store only the encrypted messages so the service CANNOT release or expose readable content.
- Free if you select the basic plan. Paid plans with greater capabilities available at very reasonable cost.
- Very full featured.
- Able to exchange encrypted mail with any PGP-capable email system. (You can add PGP to most non-encrypted email systems.)
- Excellent customer support even for the free plan.
- Servers and all data located in Switzerland where privacy protections are the best in the world.
- Many special features such as messages that self-destruct after a timeout period that you set, address verification, and more.
- Access to ProtonVPN.
If you want to know more just read on.
If you are already convinced that you want to try it out click here to Set Up Your ProtonMail Account.
So what is with the odd name: ProtonMail? Is this atomic powered email or what? ProtonMail was created by a group of researchers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. So, yes, the people who created this know all about dazzling photons and making protons dance. This was also a group that understood the need for widely available strongly encrypted email that has the protection of a very strong set of privacy laws.
The fundamental driving purpose behind ProtonMail was protecting civil liberties online. It helps build an Internet that is private and secure. If you would like to know who is behind it you can meet them here at the ProtonMail About page. A very impressive group of people!
Safe, Private, Secure Email For You!
ProtonMail operates in Switzerland where privacy is protected better than it is in almost any other part of the world. They maintain their servers in Switzerland also. Swiss law applies. By keeping applicable law and server location out of the USA, the EU, and dodgey countries you would not want anything to do with they can offer protection few others can
An important thing that makes this really safe, private, secure email: No matter what hack might occur on their site or what legal action might occur ProtonMail cannot reveal the human readable content of your email. In practical terms it is impossible because the only thing they store is the unreadable encrypted copy. Your web browser or mobile app performs the encryption and decryption. So ProtonMail only has access to the unreadable encrypted version of your messages.
And Exceptional Quality
When mechanical watches were more common Swiss watches were and still are the best (think Rolex). Today, when email is so important, Swiss email is the best. Switzerland is known as a place where things get done right. The creation of safe, private, secure email is one of those things that they really got right!
And get this: Their primary data center is located 1 km (3280 ft) under the Swiss Alps. They don't take any chances with exposing or losing your data.
Here are some of the key features and why they matter.
Easy to Use Web Browser and Mobile Device Apps
When you need safe, private, secure email you want it to be easy to use and accessible on any device you have. ProtonMail works on any common web browser and is available as apps for Android and iOS (Apple).
They have put a lot of effort into creating a great user interface and user experience. You get all the things you expect in any email service: folders, labels, filtering, spam control, message searching, nice user interface, etc.
It is free if you would rather not pay for it
Looking for a really great free product? You just found one.
That said, I will mention that paid plans are available that offer things like more storage, more folders, more tags, custom domains, more messages per day, and so on. Even if you do not need the capabilities of the higher end plans the PLUS plan, which costs 4€ per month if you pay for a full year, is still a great deal and helps them keep offering and improving the product. (I am not trying to sell the product. I use it but have no other relationship with it except thinking that it is great.)
They Take Security Very, Very Seriously
I mentioned where they keep their primary servers. They do not use cloud servers that undesirables could more easily hack into or that would not have the same legal protections. They maintain all of their own servers and networking.
And they are just as serious about the deep encryption that protects your messages when they are out and about where the undesirables could get at them. When I say "safe, private, secure email" I mean it. They even have their own cryptographers, the mathematicians who are experts in transforming your messages into something absolutely no one who lacks the keys could make sense of. Only you and the people you want to communicate with have those keys. These folks actively engage in research to improve cryptography for all of us. Including those of us who do not have the least idea how it works!
ProtonMail is now a product of Proton Technologies AG which is a global leader in online security.
Redundant Infrastructure: Many Is Stronger Than One
What does that mean? It means that they have multiple data centers in Switzerland each of which has all the equipment and data needed to keep ProtonMail up and running. If one data center goes down the others will keep the service and the data available. Please note that this costs money!
Their Networking is a Mean Machine
Sticking tightly to the matter of providing safe, private, secure email very, very seriously they have created a network infrastructure that does their atomic sounding name justice: It just might stand up to an atomic attack! They own their own networking gear right up to the point where they connect to the main Swiss point of Internet presence in Zurich. This makes data interception at critical points very difficult for undesirables.
They run a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) which monitors their network constantly both for connection problems and hacking attempts.
They have invested in distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection. DDoS is when hackers attack a site by using thousands of slave computers to send an overwhelming volume of data to the site collapsing its network. ProtonMail is the only encrypted email provider capable of withstanding such attacks and remain operational. Real attack conditions of a severe degree proved that ProtonMail successfully withstands worst case conditions. Just as they have multiple data centers they also have multiple network connections to link to the Internet. More redundancy. More strength.
When it comes to offering safe, private, secure email they do not kid around!
PGP Capable. And Oh So Capable!
PGP stands for "Pretty Good Privacy". Don't let the name fool you. PGP is tremendously good privacy. They are just making a joke and have been for the past 20 years during which it has been under development. PGP is the software that encrypts your email and keeps it safe.
But there is another very important reason why PGP matters. If both you and the people you want to communicate with are using ProtonMail then your communications have about as much privacy as there is on the Internet. But what if a person you want to communicate with securely uses some other email service that is not encrypted? ProtonMail has to send email to that system unencrypted or the recipient cannot read it. It will do that but you lose the protection of encryption.
PGP to the rescue! The current versions of ProtonMail (web, Android, and iOS) support communication to other email systems using PGP encryption. That means that if someone using some other email system has set up PGP for it then the ProtonMail encrypted privacy extends to those other systems. This is a major advance and extends ProtonMail privacy to just about every email system out there. I will be publishing new articles about this and content to help people get PGP in place if they want it.
Despite the great ability to communicate with PGP capable correspondents, if you need to communicate securely particular people frequently it would be best for all of you to use ProtonMail and keep your messages within that very secure environment.
You can learn more about the PGP support here: Introducing Address Verification and Full PGP Support
Address Verification: Are You Really Talking to Who You Think You Are?
To really have safe, private, secure email you have to be able to be sure you are really talking to who you think you are. For most people this is not likely to be an issue. But some of the people who use ProtonMail such as journalists and activists are the objects of some very sophisticated attacks to compromise their privacy. One of these involves faking out entries in your contacts in such a way that the attacker can intercept emails sent to that contact. This could only happen if ProtonMail itself were compromised. That is very unlikely but these days almost nothing on the Internet is impossible. I won't bore you with technical details but if you are interested you can learn more here: Introducing Address Verification and Full PGP Support
In any event they have made it so easy to use that there is not much of any reason not to. Note that this as well as the encrypted contacts required to support it are only available in paid plans.
ProtonVPN is not exactly a feature of ProtonMail but you get access to it if you want it when you set up your account. You can also activate it in an existing account.
A VPN sends all of your Internet data through an encrypted (protected) tunnel until it reaches a ProtonVPN-owned server in one of 20 countries where the data finally enters the public Internet. So, what does that do for you? It makes it very, very much more difficult for undesirables to spy on your Internet activity. This can be really crucial if you do things like connecting a laptop or mobile device to public wifi. Watch out! There are lots of undesirables monitoring public wifi and hacking unprotected connections. You should ALWAYS protect such connections with a VPN and ProtonVPN is great way to do that. And don't forget to protect your connection at home too.
The free version has performance limitations, in particular speed, but is the only free VPN that I recommend for use based on security quality. My primary recommendation, if you decide to go with ProtonVPN, is for the 8€ per month (paid annually) plan which provides all the key features and is a good fit for anyone who does not require VPN for more than 5 devices.
Great Customer Support
Free products often get little or no customer support. Although customer support for the free version is listed as "limited" it is far better than what you can expect for most free products. A very extensive set of frequently asked question articles will resolve most of your problems. If that does not do it you have access to a customer support system. And if you go for a paid plan your support will be superb.
Set Up Your ProtonMail Account
Let's set up your ProtonMail account.
Some of you are familiar enough with working through an online account setup yourself. The process that ProtonMail has set up is very easy to accomplish. If you want to just go ahead and do it you can get started with safe, private, secure email here: ProtonMail Account Creation.
Also, you can check out my video on creating your own ProtonMail account: Create a ProtonMail Private, Secure Email Account
I will offer the following comments to the process:
- They initially offer you the Plus plan which costs 4.00 € per month. If you want to try the free plan first just click on it right above the PLUS plan and click SELECT FREE PLAN.
- You can upgrade to a more advanced plan any time.
- The free plan is a great way to either maintain a limited email account just for private communications or take a test drive of ProtonMail and decide if you want to go for the full featured PLUS plan.
Entering Account Info
- On the Create Your Account page enter the username you would like. As soon as you type it in the page will let you know if that name is available or not.
- Be sure to select a high quality password you can remember or use a password manager to create and store an impossible to remember jumble of letters, digits, and punctuation marks. (My favored approach!)
- Enter a recovery email address. This is optional and requires you to have another email account that might not be secure. Don't worry! ProtonMail will send no private information to it. Mostly you will get notifications that you have received messages when you do not check the account regularly. This address is essential if you lose your password!
Proving You Are Human
- After thew system generates the keys it will ask you if you are human. You can prove it by receiving an email or SMS message or by making a donation. After all, bots never donate money to anyone, right?
- If getting the verification code via email enter the email address where you want to receive it.
- When you want to get the code via SMS enter the phone number where you want to receive it. Clearly this must be a number that can receive SMS messages.
- If you get the code via donation the system will credit the amount donated to your account. You can use it, for example, for an account upgrade. You can donate with credit card or PayPal.
- When you receive your verification code enter it into the "Verification code" field and complete the setup.
- The setup process will finish and page offers the opportunity to change your display name. That is the name that shows in the "From" part of your messages. You can change this anytime later on also.
- You can follow ProtonMail on social media and download the app for Android or Apple. Click FINISH and you are done.
- Once finished you are logged into your new account and are offered a short tutorial giving a series of tips to help you use ProtonMail.
I hope that you found this article interesting and useful. If you want to have safe, private, secure email at no cost or a very reasonable cost ProtonMail can be great deal for you. It is not so easy to maintain your privacy on line this days. A product like this is a great help in accomplishing this objective. I strongly recommend it.
You will see more articles related to ProtonMail on the site in the near future.
I would love to hear from you about any thoughts or experiences you have with ProtonMail or other products similar to it. Please post a comment below.