Back when email entered limited use in the 1960s and 1970s, security wasn’t anyone’s top priority. Today, our security requirements are radically different, yet email hasn’t changed all that much. The internet email message format, as it’s defined by RFC 5322, specifies a syntax for text messages that are sent between computer users, but it doesn’t deal with encryption or any other means of preventing unauthorized access to personal information exchanged via email.
Over the years, many technical workarounds to ensure better privacy of email communication have been implemented by email providers, and several secure email services have emerged, offering high levels of privacy and security.
All best email service providers today have implemented transport level encryption using TLS, which is a cryptographic protocol that provides communications security over a computer network. Without TLS, the communication between email servers is transmitted as plain text, and anyone with relatively rudimentary knowledge of computer networks can intercept it and read it.
However, most secure email providers go a step further and offer full end-to-end encryption, meaning the data is encrypted and decrypted only at the endpoints. In practice, end-to-end encryption allows you to encrypt an email at your end and send it to someone using a secure email service without any possibility of the email being decrypted by the secure email service.
The most popular data encryption standard that allows anyone to send and receive end-to-end encrypted email messages is OpenPGP. If you’re wondering how to send a secure email using OpenPGP, we recommend you read this excellent tutorial from The Privacy Guide.
But you can also skip the reading because most free secure email providers make end-to-end encryption incredibly easy by hiding all the complicated technical stuff behind an intuitive user interface. In the next part of this article, we talk about 5 most secure email providers and the services they offer.
If you’re curious to know what is the most secure email provider today, our answer may disappoint you: there’s none. Secure email service providers generally keep quiet about their low-level security practices to make it harder for cybercriminals and professional hackers to breach their systems.
The only way how to reliably assess how secure an email provider is to look at its security history. We’ve selected 5 best secure email providers with flawless security track records that allow you to send secure email messages with ease while charging very little for their services.
ProtonMail was founded in 2014 at the CERN research facility by Andy Yen, Jason Stockman, and Wei Sun. This highly rated provider of secure email services is based in the Canton of Geneva, and its servers are located at two locations in Switzerland and protected by strict Swiss privacy laws, placing them outside the reach of both EU and US. All emails that come through ProtonMail are secured automatically with end-to-end encryption, which means that even ProtonMail can’t read them. To create a secure email account with ProtonMail, you’re not required to submit any personal information, and ProtonMail doesn’t even keep any IP logs which could be linked to your anonymous email account.
Headquartered in Canada, Hushmail was founded by Cliff Baltzley in 1999 as an encrypted proprietary web-based email service offering PGP-encrypted email using OpenPGP standards. Today, Hushmail serves both business customers and individual home email users. Hushmail has recently released an app for the iPhone. The app supports two-step verification, Touch ID, and multiple accounts and aliases, making it one of the most secure email clients for iOS.
Tutanota (Latin for the words “secure” and “message”) is an open-source end-to-end encrypted email service from Germany with over 2 million users. Tutanota automatically encrypts all your data on your device, ensuring that your mails, as well as your contacts, stay private. We like that Tutanota is licensed under GPL v3 and hosted on Github, so everyone can see the source code, review it, and even modified it for use in other projects.
CounterMail’s mission is to provide the most secure email services on the Internet, with excellent support and at no cost at all. CounterMail is known for its absolute transparency and automatic end-to-end encryption that relies on OpenPGP with 4096 bits encryption keys. Unlike many other providers of private email services, CounterMail’s servers are diskless, which means they don’t have any hard drives capable of storing users’ data. Instead, the servers start from a CD-ROM.
Mailfence is an encrypted email service that offers OpenPGP based end-to-end encryption and digital signatures. It was launched in 2013, with the first public beta version being made available in 2016. Mailfence benefits from the strength of Belgian privacy protection law, and the service promises that it doesn’t use any third-party advertising or marketing trackers. It’s also completely free from ads and supported by financial donations and money from premium plans, which include large storage space but the same level of security as the free plan.
Clean Email is an intuitive inbox cleaner that knows how to stop spam emails from occupying pression space in your inbox. You simply sign in with your free or paid email service, let Clean Email group your emails into convenient bundles using its privacy-conscientious algorithms that analyze only email headers and never the content itself, and then apply a number of different actions to easily remove, move, add labels to entire groups of emails
You can also tell Clean Email to apply certain actions automatically, which is a very effective way how to block unwanted emails or ensure that only the most important emails remain visible in your inbox. For example, you can mark certain emails as read, move them to your email archive, or delete them.
Even though email was not designed with security and privacy in mind, there are many secure email services that offer user-friendly implementations of end-to-end encryption. There’s also Clean Email, a sophisticated yet ease-to-use inbox cleaner that can protect your from spam and other unwanted messages with its extensive Automation features and help you keep your inbox organized with its intelligent email recognition algorithms.