Pandemic Communications

Communications permeate all facets of life and influence it for worse or for better. In the current COVID-19 pandemic era which all of us have suddenly found ourselves unwillingly thrust into, communications (especially electronic) are now more paramount than ever. Citizens in the Untied States and other western countries are seeing their personal rights to assemble temporarily suspended due to these extraordinary circumstances, among other infringements that will be up to the history books to decide.

Additionally, many individuals whose jobs afford them the opportunity to work from home are now doing so, while leveraging technology to stay synchronized with their disparate colleagues. Unfortunately for the many individuals who have been affected with jobs on on hold, essentially hanging in the balance, or let go entirely are also faced with having to leverage emails more frequently.

Email is a very useful method of communication and file sharing which is perfectly suited during shelter-in-place orders such as what most of the world is experiencing right now.

Useful Email, Inherently Unsecure

As great of a communications tool that email is, many people unfortunately have been using personal email accounts over the last two-plus decades without a second thought as to its dangers, of which, there are many.

Thankfully, as time has passed privacy advocates have risen to the challenge of solving the many problems inherent with basic free email services resulting in a growing list of options for all of us!

ProtonMail and Tutanota are the two leaders providing free and paid secure email accounts right now. This post will discuss their many features and benefits while seeking to answer a growing question. ProtonMail vs Tutanota, which is better?

Additionally, it’s understood that many people are fully entrenched with their legacy Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook (previously Hotmail) email accounts to name a few. This post will also seek to answer the question is Gmail secure when used with Apple Mail or Thunderbird email clients?

Legacy Email Providers

You may be wondering why the term “legacy” is being used when speaking of Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook (not the email client) email accounts? NETPRAETOR believes the future of personal email accounts rests with the likes of ProtonMail and Tutanota as will be discussed later in this post.

For now please understand that when “legacy” is used in this post it means an email provider who does not offer end-to-end encrypted email capabilities for emails in transit. Essentially, your emails in transit are either sent in the clear (unencrypted) or (if encrypted) a third-party can decrypt the contents of your email.

It also signifies an email provider that does not provide end-to-end encrypted security for emails at rest. Meaning employees from any of the aforementioned companies can fully access the content of your emails sitting in your inbox, sent folder, junk folder, or trash folder for their own internal purposes or in response to third-party requests.

Is Gmail Secure When Used With Apple Mail or Thunderbird?

Don’t get me wrong, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook Mail (again, not the email client) are fully featured and reliable email accounts. I actually still use Gmail and Outlook Mail in limited capacities with a full understanding of their insecure weaknesses. When I do I also happen to use them both with Apple Mail and Thunderbird depending on the platform being used.

Using a legacy email such as Gmail with the Apple Mail client or the Thunderbird mail client is one of the few advantages (trading security for convenience) they have over the new generation of secure email providers like ProtonMail and Tutanota.

That final advantage of the legacy providers is fading fast as both ProtonMail and Tutanota create innovative ways to integrate their email accounts with well established email clients like Apple Mail and Thunderbird while not having to trade security for convenience.

The question of is Gmail secure for example, when accessing through Apple Mail or Thunderbird is not completely black and white. From the NETPRAETOR perspective the short answer is no due to all the legacy attributes as noted above.

However, for an intermediate to advanced technology aficionado there are creative ways to achieve end-to-end encrypted Gmail’s. I will provide a how-to guide in a later post taking you step-by-step on obtaining an S/MIME encryption certificate from a company like Sectigo, pairing it to your Gmail account and loading it to either Outlook or Thunderbird. That process achieves two things.

I. All future emails you send can be digitally signed, thus providing assurance to recipients that your emails are authentic.

II. If a recipient of one of your digitally signed emails has their own S/MIME encryption certificate loaded into their own email client, you can then begin end-to-end encrypted email correspondence.

To go through this process for secure Gmail is cumbersome at best and you can see why it would take a technology aficionado to have the patience or desire to go through all the necessary steps to implement it.

ProtonMail vs Tutanota

With respect to ProtonMail vs Tutanota its refreshing to see security by design and not as an afterthought. What takes about an hour or more to achieve in securing a Gmail account with an S/MIME certificate loaded into Outlook or Thunderbird, takes less than 5 minutes to setup either a ProtonMail account or Tutanota account.

Both ProtonMail and Tutanota each deserve their own post in order to go over each of their unique nuances and will happen at later dates. However to answer the question of which is better ProtonMail vs Tutanota, the thumbs up would have to go to ProtonMail.

With both ProtonMail and Tutanota you’re going to get the capability for secure emails encrypted in-transit and encrypted at-rest. Employees from either company can’t access client emails even if they wanted to. Where ProtonMail takes a slight lead over Tutanota is when it comes to some of their bundled products that come with paid packages. For example, ProtonMail has also rolled out a full featured no-logs VPN as discussed in my previous post on VPN’s.

In summary, legacy email accounts still serve a purpose and there is no need for an exodus from them. However if you’re looking to use newfound free-time to enhance the security of your communications which have just become an ever more critical cornerstone of our lives due to being stuck indoors while under austere social distancing measures, you can’t go wrong with either ProtonMail or Tutanota.

What do you think? Are there any other email providers you would recommend or do you believe Tutanota deserves the thumbs up over ProtonMail?

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