We reported back in August how secure email service Lavabit closed down its doors rather than comprise its customer’s privacy in the face of an NSA obtained National Security Letter. In order to not ‘to become complicit in crimes against the American people’ was Lavabit CEO Ladar Levinson’s rather memorable phrase. This announcement was quickly followed by news from Silent Circle that ‘we see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail’ (Silent Mail was Silent Circle’s secure email service).
Well, now the two companies are back, and have teamed up to announce plans to “bring the world a unique end-to-end encrypted protocol and architecture that is the ‘next-generation’ of private and secure email. What we call ‘Email 3.0.’ is an urgent replacement for today’s decades old email protocols (‘1.0’) and mail that is encrypted but still relies on vulnerable protocols leaking metadata (‘2.0’).”
This project by the ‘Dark Mail Alliance’ (currently the founders of Lavabit and Silent Mail), while still at the white paper stage, is remarkably ambitious. It involves a tool (based on SMTP and XMPP) that will assign a private key to a user (which can be shared across all his or her devices) and puts the public keys and email addresses on a public server, ready for pickup. Where this tool differs from similar ones in the past is that instead of being closed system, it could be deployed across just about any email platform (such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Hushmail), and will allow encrypted email to be sent from one service to another.
The main stumbling block for this project is likely to be getting the big players on board, especially as they make a great deal of income from reading and monetizing personal emails,
“I worry… about the big data processors. Google and Microsoft rely on data mining to make their profits. I worry more about them collectively because there (sic) is money on the line. I worry about that more than the nation states” said Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke.
The announcement however just might have come at the perfect time, as today it was reported that Google and Yahoo are ‘outraged’ at new revelations that the NSA has been secretly collecting information sent by fibre optic cable between Google and Yahoo data hubs ‘at will’,
‘We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform,’ said Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, which eerily echo Levinson’s words,
‘We think the world is ready to embrace a new system.’
Janke was keen to point that the new tool was not just for the big tech companies, but for smaller providers as well.