Remember the “You’ve got mail” alert from the ’90s? Well, watching the news today, it seems like a better alert would be “You’ve got completely insecure mail that anyone can hack into!”
Yep, that’s right. Chances are, just like former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, Sony Corporation, Vice President Mike Pence and even the new president of France, your inbox is at risk of being hacked.
Reports of big-name companies, politicians and celebrities falling victim to email hacks have become so common that it’s hard to keep up. Whether it’s exposing private conversations in hopes of influencing an election or gaining access to bank accounts, hackers seem to infiltrate email boxes around the world with ease.
This never-ending barrage of email hacking makes sense.
With over 200 billion emails sent and received by almost 3 billion people throughout the world each day, accessible anywhere at any time by almost anyone, email inboxes present a big target.
It’s fast, often free, and easy to use for everyone from a toddler to a grandparent. Ironically, the factors that make email so popular are the same ones that make it so insecure.
To make email secure, you need to do two things:
1. Keep others from accessing your email account
2. Encrypt, so that only the intended recipients can read the contents of an email that is sent to them.
Sounds simple, right?
The technology to accomplish these two security requirements actually already exists. Encryption tools like PGP (a free email encryption program) and two-factor authentication (forcing users to have both a password and their smartphone for logging in) have been around for years. Unfortunately, implementing them comes at the price of convenience, the very thing that makes email so useful in the first place. Sending secure email is simply a hassle that most of us are unwilling to face.
So that’s the challenge: finding the balance between security and ease-of-use.
When it comes to technology, this balancing act between security and usability is nothing new. More secure generally means less useable. We often take shortcuts whether on password recommendations or doing our own banking over an unsecured wireless network at a coffee shop. Assuming “it won’t happen to me,” most of us choose ease-of-use over risk mitigation and go on about our day.
But just because a risk is relatively rare does not mean it should be taken lightly. As we have seen over and over again, having your email hacked can have dire consequences.
Techies and entrepreneurs are hard at work looking for a better way.
The ultimate solution will be email that is both easy to use and secure.
Private companies and open-source communities are both coming up with innovative solutions that aim to make email hacking a thing of the past. Products like ProtonMail, Virtu, Tutanota, as well as organizations like Dark Mail Technical Alliance are introducing email security platforms that work with all the popular email services and email software.
The challenge to solving our global lack of email security will ultimately not be a technical one. The key will be how a solution is marketed. Just as Google became the standard search engine, and Facebook became the popular social media platform, we need a secure email technology protocol to go viral and become the standard we all use.
In the meantime, play it safe. Your privacy depends on it.