Google End-to-End E-Mail Encryption Challenges Industry
By Jennifer LeClaire / Mobile Tech Today. Updated June 04, 2014.
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.