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Google End-to-End E-Mail Encryption Challenges Industry

Google End-to-End E-Mail Encryption Challenges Industry
June 4, 2014 11:02AM

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End-to-End, a Chrome add-on from Google, adds another layer of security to e-mail. "End-to-end encryption means data leaving your browser will be encrypted until the message's intended recipient decrypts it, and that similarly encrypted messages sent to you will remain that way until you decrypt them," said Google's Stephan Somogyi.

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Google is flying in the face of the National Security Agency with a new Chrome browser add-on. The idea is to make your e-mail more secure -- and to provoke other e-mail providers to take similar measures.

Dubbed End-to-End, the Google Chrome extension promises to help users encrypt, decrypt, digitally sign and verify signed messages within the browser using OpenPGP, an open standard supported by many existing encryption tools.

This is not the first security move Google has made. Gmail supported HTTPS when it first launched. Gmail also uses an encrypted connection when you check or send e-mail in your web browser. What's more, Google warns people in both Gmail and Chrome if its systems detect bad actors are targeting Gmail users. Now, Google is adding another layer of security with End-to-End. The extension is in its alpha version.

"End-to-end encryption means data leaving your browser will be encrypted until the message's intended recipient decrypts it," Stephan Somogyi, product manager, Security and Privacy, wrote in a blog post, "and that similarly encrypted messages sent to you will remain that way until you decrypt them in your browser."

An Extra Layer of Security

While end-to-end encryption tools like PGP and GnuPG have been around for a long time, Somogyi said they require a lot of technical know-how and manual effort to use. Google is trying to make this kind of encryption easier by releasing code for a new Chrome extension that uses OpenPGP.

Once Google's e-mail gurus feel the extension is ready for prime time, the company will make it available in the Chrome Web Store. That, Somogyi said, means anyone will be able to use it to send and receive end-to-end encrypted e-mails through their existing Web-based e-mail provider.

"We recognize that this sort of encryption will probably only be used for very sensitive messages or by those who need added protection," he said. "But we hope that the End-to-End extension will make it quicker and easier for people to get that extra layer of security should they need it."

Shaming E-mail Providers

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the new Google security schemes. He told us Google is being intentional about its strategy with End-to-End.

"The fallout from the NSA scandal has heightened public awareness of privacy and security issues, and Google is trying to be on the right side of that debate," Sterling said. "The 'public shaming' of companies without e-mail encryption puts pressure on them to take action or risk losing users by being seen as weak on security."

Google will not be able to shame at least one e-mail provider -- at least not anymore. After pointing out that 1 percent of Gmail messages sent to Comcast.net addresses remained encrypted, the telecom giant announced it is testing use of encryption. Google also called out France's Orange service. So far, no word from Orange on encryption plans.

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Eric:

Posted: 2014-06-18 @ 7:58pm PT
It sounds nice but it has zero protection against the backdoors that Google open to 3rd parties.

Encryption always sounds cool, but after learning the fact that the company that created the encryption gave the keys to 3rd parties, it's worth nothing.

The problem is not the NSA's unlimited backdoors to Google/Facebook/Microsoft's etc. They are the good guys. The problem is one bad apple, that is naturally working there -or in one of their so many sub contractors, and decide to leak the information not to the Guardian or the NYT, but to the Chinese Mafia or The Russian Mafia or The Wall street Mafia, for example.

Once you open the door for the sun, you open it to the mosquitos too. And when it come to humans, so many humans that have access, the only law that is working it's Murphy's Law.

Some Presidents break the laws (I did not have sex with that woman). Some Lawmakers break the laws (the busters changes the rules). Some Popes and their team break the laws (they just expressed how much they love kids, in God's clothes...). some cops break the laws. What makes anybody believe that system administrators are all 100% and not only 99% are angels and not as human as some President or Pope or Michael Jackson/OJS?

Shekhar N. Shenoy:

Posted: 2014-06-14 @ 10:08pm PT
Great news, Google! Just when we thought you wouldn't do it as your algorithms would not be able to read keywords in encrypted emails for targetted ads. Wouldn't your ad stream dry up?

Philip Varghese Ariel:

Posted: 2014-06-06 @ 8:53am PT
Google is flying! This is really Amazing! LOL
Keep up the good work Google for the service of your users!
Yet another amazing feature from the portals of Google the Giant!!
Keep Going Google
Keep Flying Google :-)
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wzis:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:22pm PT
good work, it makes the email encryption/decryption much easier to use and standardized.

wzis:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:16pm PT
This is good move: the PGP/GPG have been there for long time, but without provider's support in there email system, that are very hard to use.

thinkfast:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:35am PT
> "E-mai encryption is not a provider problem, it's a user problem."

I strongly disagree. It is a provider problem when Google does it and the competition cannot do likewise. Besides, Google does not like anyone having control of its business, not anyone including the NSA.

concerned:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:31am PT
A good call, albeit belated one. Still, it's hard to say whether the intention of getting other providers on board will catch on, given the apathetic culture of typical large corporations.

Joe:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:10am PT
That it true. However providers are in the position to make encryption easier and user friendly. The average user can barely keep track of there passwords let alone setup PGP in Outlook (which costs money by the way).

LazyUser:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:09am PT
Why should you have to take something as fundamental as information security into your own hands? Bake encryption into browsers and everyone will use it. It's about time someone made it so simple and reliable that it could reasonably be the default option.

IWorkfora3letteragency:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 6:05am PT
But I'm guessing Google will continue to scan all email, even if encrypted, continue to send targeted ad mail, and continue to store all email sent through their servers and continue to allow government agencies relatively unfettered access to all user's email. I use hushmail, encrypt, and password protect.

Jeff:

Posted: 2014-06-05 @ 5:49am PT
It is not so much a "user" problem, as it is a "client" problem. Encryption that requires users to configure clients on each device they access their email from was cumbersome. But if Google can provide the service easier and more intuitively through its cloud architecture, then it has a chance for much broader adoption.

ProblemBetweenDisplayAndA:

Posted: 2014-06-04 @ 3:30pm PT
Seriously, PGP has been around since the early nineties. Configuring it is not that difficult on Outlook, Thunderbird, and other mail clients. The problem is a network problem: if your correspondents do not install and configure one of the PGP implementations that exist for virtually all platforms, they will just write back to you stating that they can't read the gibberish. You are left with two options: don't communicate with them, or do it in the clear. E-mai encryption is not a provider problem, is a user problem.



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