Have you wished you could send secret messages by email? Maybe you need to send some very confidential information to someone. How do you do that? As you know any kind of message sent over the internet can be intercepted and read, and security agencies like the NSA are said to do so, or have the capability to do so. Hackers can do that too. You are looking for a method of encryption which no one but the recipient can decipher.You’ll be glad to know that it can be done.

encrypted-emailEnter PGP and GPG. PGP which came earlier is a proprietary software and costs a fair amount of money, while GPG is the Open Source version and freely available. They work in exactly the same way. The problem is that the software needs to be running at both ends. How it works is that you generate a public-private key pair through the program. The public key, that can be used only for encryption is sent to the recipient. The private key, that can only decipher is kept on your machine, protected by a passphrase, a long password which ought to be more secure. Your friend on the other side also generates a public-private key pair and sends you his public key. The private keys are never exposed. When a message needs to be sent it is encrypted by the public key through your email program, and when it reaches the recipient it is decrypted with the private key. The system is supposed to be unbreakable. Unfortunately, there are many complexities in using these and the less tech-savvy people usually stay away from that route.

Now things are promising to get much easier. It has been announced that Yahoo and Google are collaborating to provide this service for all their users. The system, based on the OpenPGP standard will provide encryption that the companies cannot decipher themselves. Actually the need for this has grown over the years. The documents leaked by Edward Snowden that software companies are complicit in assisting NSA spying activities, has only increased thisperception. Till now mainly the open-source community has been clamoring for the sort of privacy that will not allow the government or hackers to intercept and read private email.

Earlier Google and Microsoft had promised to undertake research along these lines. Google claims to have 425 million Gmail users and Microsoft has 400 million using Hotmail and Outlook, while Yahoo claims to have 100 million Ymail users. The actions of the giants has probably forced Yahoo to take this step. The service which will be optional, will apparently be implemented through a plugin, and use the same key pair system. The difference, probably is that they will generate the keys for you, but you will have to store the keys on your computer. The main complexity is thus taken care of.

The thing that the companies will have to inform their users very explicitly is that only the contents of the message will be encrypted. The rest of the data such as who is sending it and who is receiving it will be in the clear. There are apparently ways of cloaking that too, but that is an esoteric art and the companies will not be doing it. Such information can be of use to spies.

So you are going to get the advantage of using the much vaunted PGP system, without the headache of using a technically dense program, but the key management will still be up to you. There is also the fact that with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo going for non-compliance with government requests, there may be some legal activity involved. However there is no doubt that we, the people have and will continue to have the right to privacy and if the hosting companies provide that they do no wrong. What do you think?

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