From hackers to businesses and governments that go overboard, many people are trying to spy on our communications. Free email providers surreptitiously use software to extract information from their emails and contacts and sell more and more targeted advertising.
If you are tired of this situation and want to protect your communications from prying eyes, it may be worth choosing a secure and encrypted email service.
ProtonMail was first launched in 2013 and was developed by CERN researchers. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the open source encrypted email provider left the beta in March 2016. ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption so that messages can only be seen by you and the recipient.
Although there are premium options, many of the users of the service have free accounts. It is reasonable, then, to consider how they can maintain the service without relying on targeted advertising. Fortunately, the company operates a Defense Fund that can maintain the service for up to one year without any other income.
All data is stored on the company's servers in Switzerland, a country well known for its firm stance on privacy and data protection. It is important to note that ProtonMail has open source parts of its service. The code is available on the ProtonMail GitHub so that anyone can see and verify the security of the platform.
Although emails to and from other ProtonMail users are encrypted from start to finish, if you communicate with unencrypted services such as Gmail, ProtonMail will scan these emails to protect against spam.
However, these messages are scanned into memory, which means they are not saved and are overwritten in no time. As soon as the email has been examined, it is encrypted. If all this talk about encryption is getting confusing, you might want to read about encryption terms that you should know.
ProtonMail also does not store any of your data once it is deleted. If you delete an email, it's really gone. The only exception is when the data has been stored in a backup, in which case it can take up to 14 days to be completely deleted. There is no need to send any personal information during the registration process. The company will even allow you to pay premium bills in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
ProtonMail's parent company, Proton Technologies AG, also develops ProtonVPN, a cross-platform VPN. Like the email service, ProtonVPN offers free and premium levels. Some premium ProtonMail accounts also come with access to the premium features of ProtonVPN. We have even included ProtonVPN as one of the best free and unlimited VPN services.
Tutanota was launched in 2011 by the German company Tutao GmbH. The name of the service comes from Latin for a secure message. Not surprisingly, Tutanota is a free encrypted email service. Its servers are also based in Germany, so they are subject to the rigorous Federal Data Protection Law of Germany.
While that sounds good in theory, it is also worth noting that the German Federal Intelligence Service collaborated with its American counterparts, the NSA, in its surveillance programs. Although this affects all data retained in Germany, there is no evidence that Tutanota has ever been complicit. However, for those who focus on privacy, it is worth considering.
Like ProtonMail, Tutanota uses end-to-end encryption to ensure the privacy of your emails. Where things differ slightly is in the way the service handles external emails. If you send a message to another email service such as Gmail, Tutanota sends a link to a temporary account where the recipient can view the message.
Tutanota is also open source, with the code available on the Tutanota Github page. All data stored in your inbox is encrypted, and only metadata such as sender, recipient and date can be viewed. However, their frequently asked questions indicate that they are also studying the possibility of encrypting metadata.
The company uses 2048-bit RSA and 128-bit AES encryption methods. However, they are not compatible with PGP, a feature that is often used to judge secure email providers.
That said, they believe that their encryption offers advantages over PGP, such as encrypting the subject line. There is also room for them to create more encrypted services in the future, such as the calendar available to everyone and planned cloud storage.
While you can open a free Tutanota account, they also offer payment options. A Premium account costs only € 12 per year and allows you to add an additional user, use up to five aliases and enable support for custom domains.
Mailfence is a secure and free email service from the creators of ContactOffice. Following Snowden's revelations documenting the US government's surveillance, ContactOffice felt that there was a need for an email service focused on privacy.
Its servers are in Belgium and, as in many European countries after the GDPR, the country has very strict privacy laws. These regulations generally favor the consumer more than the company, strengthening the protections. Unlike some countries – that is, the Five Eye nations – there is no evidence to suggest that Belgium has collaborated in the NSA surveillance programs.
One of the concerns when choosing a new digital service is whether it will remain operational in the coming years. ContactOffice started in 1999, so the company has proven its longevity. They also earn operating funds for Mailfence by licensing the software to companies. To do this, they need to keep their software private, so unfortunately, Mailfence is not open source.
Unlike the other services on this list, Mailfence is more than a secure email provider. An account also provides access to calendars, contacts and document storage.
Free accounts come with storage space for 500MB of emails, 500MB of documents and a calendar. The Entry and Pro accounts update this storage and add additional functions. By reinforcing your credentials focused on privacy, you can even choose to pay your bill using Bitcoin.
Unfortunately, there is no Mailfence mobile application. However, the company has stated that one has been in development since at least 2017.
If this breaks the agreement, you can send encrypted email through Android using OpenKeychain instead. However, for now, if you want to manage your Mailfence mail on your smartphone, you will have to pay for a premium account. This gives you access to Exchange ActiveSync, POP, IMAP and SMTPS.
Mailfence is encrypted from start to finish and is compatible with OpenPGP. You can generate a key on your computer that will be encrypted using 256-bit AES and stored on Mailfence servers. They also support two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to your account.
Defending its principles is admirable in itself, but together with ContactOffice donates 15 percent of the revenue from its Pro plans to pro-privacy organizations. Currently, donations go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the European Digital Rights Foundation (EDRi).
The safest email providers
Many free email providers do not take measures to protect your privacy, or even take steps to undermine it. Switch to an encrypted email account It is a change worth making. When choosing, it is essential to evaluate the provider on their encryption methods, how they finance the service and where the servers are located.
Of course, no online service is completely secure, regardless of provider ethics. There will always be hackers and surveillance agencies looking to expand their constantly growing databases. To increase your safety, don't forget the basics. That is why you may want to consider improving your cyber hygiene as well.