Meet the man who believes he’s come up with a foolproof way of keeping your emails safe from the prying eyes of governments and hackers.
The moment for Andy Yen came in 2013 when the story broke of the United States government’s massive surveillance of phone and internet communications, exposed by Edward Snowden.
Yen, a particle physicist at CERN, got together with a few of his colleagues at the Geneva nuclear research centre and started brainstorming ways of making email communication safe.
Watch Yen explain the idea behind their secure application, ProtonMail, which is hosted entirely in Switzerland.
Their solution to safeguard privacy is to use end-to-end encryption.
Compared to encryption using a server, end-to-end encryption ensures that the only people who can read a message are the sender and the recipient.
Compared with the most widely used type of encryption using a server, end-to-end encryption ensures that the only people who read a message are the sender and the receiver. This is possible because with end-to-end encryption, data is encrypted with separate keys that are not stored on the server but on the client’s device.
ProtonMail has worked at simplifying the complexity of a well-known technology like end-to-end encryption for the end user. Some feel that this also makes the email provider prone to security risks. For example, by giving the opportunity to users to log into their accounts directly from a browser on any computer. This means that, potentially, user’s data can be breached.
Yen says as he and his colleagues developed the project they began to realise that Switzerland had many advantages that they hadn’t thought of initially: neutrality meaning Switzerland can be a safe place to host data for people around the world. And he says Swiss privacy laws are quite strong.
Like ProtonMail, another company also domiciled in canton Geneva and doing similar work is Silent Circle. Their Blackphone 2 promises encrypted telephone calls and messaging.
Contact the author of this story on Twitter @carlopisani
How secure are your emails? Would you take extra steps to make your correspondence safer? Tell us what you think in the comments.