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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Encrypted Services Developed by US Universities to Protect against NSA

After the American spooks effectively closed Lavabit email service back in 2013, a really secure email system, unhackable by the surveillance agencies, has remained a holy grail for many. Now fresh experts from Harvard and MIT have created a new system dubbed ProtonMail. They claim that their new email service will be even more secure than Lavabit and 100% unhackable by the National Security Agency or other spy agencies.


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Lavabit became popular after being promoted by Edward Snowden, who used to leak all the secrets in the world via Lavabit mailbox. However, soon the US authorities put an undue burden on the company and were forcing its founder, Ladar Levison, to hand over the SSL encryption keys. Unlike all other companies who did pass their users’ identities under the government’s request, Levison preferred to refuse and shut down his service. Litigation is still ongoing, where lavabit founder complains that the authorities violate a Fourth Amendment right which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

New service, ProtonMail, is based around using special codes or keys. In fact, such system is known as PGP and has been around for almost twenty years. The problem was that it was too complicated to gain widespread adoption. As for ProtonMail, not only does it offer end-to-end encryption, but is also based in Switzerland. The latter means that the service will not have to comply with US courts’ request to hand over user information. Even if a Swiss court ordered information to be revealed, the email service could only hand over piles of encrypted information because it doesn’t have an encryption key and never sees the user’s password.

ProtonMail launched as a public beta a week ago. Before, it was online for two weeks as an invitation-only private beta. Now anyone is offered to use ProtonMail to a limited extent for free. Harvard and MIT students also add that “power users” will be charged $5 per month to use the service.

According to Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, the service aims to be as user-friendly as the major commercial services, but will differ by its extra security. He explained that multiple users from China, Iran, Russia, and other countries worldwide have already shown in the past months that ProtonMail became an important tool for their freedom of speech. The team of developers is therefore happy to finally be able to provide their services to the whole world.

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