Security

Encrypted email provider ProtonMail opens to public, adds Android and iOS apps

Almost two years after it launched in beta, ProtonMail's highly-encrypted email service is now open to the public, along with two new mobile apps for Android and iOS.

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Image: iStockphoto/milo827

ProtonMail, the Swiss provider of an end-to-end encrypted email service, announced Thursday that it was exiting beta and opening registrations to the general public. Additionally, the company announced free mobile apps for both Android and iOS.

Encryption is, without a doubt, leading conversations around information security. Following the Snowden revelations, and the more recent war between Apple and the FBI, ProtonMail couldn't have picked a more turbulent environment in which to go public. However, that could work in their favor, as increased questions about privacy have driven more people to seek encryption solutions.

SEE: Internet and Email usage policy template (Tech Pro Research)

In fact, that seems to be exactly why the company is choosing to come out of beta at this time. A blog post announcing the launch, announced: "In light of recent challenges against encryption and privacy, ProtonMail has decided to open the service for public registration so anyone that wants an encrypted email account can obtain one immediately."

ProtonMail was founded by scientists who met at CERN and MIT. The service launched in beta in May 2014, and was originally only available via a web interface. It has been operating on an invite-only basis since its launch, and ProtonMail currently claims over 1 million users.

As noted, ProtonMail offers end-to-end encryption in its email service, which basically protects the data of a message while it is in transit between two devices, so it cannot be accessed by a third party. In its blog post, ProtonMail noted that the government, or even ProtonMail itself, can't access customer emails.

"Strong encryption and privacy are a social and economic necessity, not only does this technology protect activists and dissidents, it is also key to securing the world's digital infrastructure," wrote ProtonMail co-founder Andy Yen. "This is why, all things considered, strong encryption is absolutely necessary for the greater good."

However, the company has also had its fair share of challenges along the way. Back in November 2015, ProtonMail was hit with a massive DDoS attack that threatened to sink the company. It took days of fighting, but the attack was eventually mitigated.

SEE: Exclusive: Inside the ProtonMail siege: how two small companies fought off one of Europe's largest DDoS attacks (TechRepublic)

Encryption, and encrypted email, is nothing new, but the technology received a surge of interest following the leak of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden. When it was revealed that Snowden had been using the encrypted email service Lavabit to communicate, the company was eventually crippled by a tenuous legal battle.

While ProtonMail is one of the most well-known providers of encrypted email, other companies such as Tutanota and Posteo.de also offer similar services. Back in the summer of 2014, even Google started working on an end-to-end encryption tool, releasing the source code for a Chrome extension called End-to-End.

Additionally, ephemeral messaging apps have also seen a huge jump in popularity as well, even among professional business users who value their privacy.

In the war for privacy in the digital age, it's clear that the first battle over encrypted communication has already begun.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. ProtonMail, provider of an encrypted email service, has launched publicly and added mobile apps for iOS and Android. Companies and individuals in need of a more private solution can now get the service without an invite.
  2. ProtonMail is choosing to launch in "light of recent challenges against encryption and privacy," which means that the company is adding fuel to the fire around the current encryption debate sparked by Apple and the FBI.
  3. Encryption, especially encrypted communication, is one of the first major battles to be fought around privacy, and there will likely be many new startups and, perhaps, legacy providers, who follow ProtonMail's lead in providing encrypted email.

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About

Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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