E-Mail Service Claims it Doesn’t Store Your Mail

There have been many news stories lately about companies misusing your data, including your e-mails. What’s more, these giant repositories of data are favorite targets for hackers. Even if you trust the big corporations, you are also betting on their security. Criptext claims they have (possibly) the most private e-mail service ever. It uses the open Signal protocol and stores private keys and encrypted mail only on your device. All the applications to access your mail are open source, so presumably, someone would eventually spot any backdoors or open holes.

At the moment the service is free and the company reports that even when a paid offering is ready, there will still be a free tier. Of course, you can send and receive normal e-mail, too. You can also use a passphrase you send to someone else (presumably not by e-mail) so they can read an encrypted message.

If you think about it for a minute, though, there is at least one catch. If they don’t store your messages or keys, then you need to be logged in for someone to send you mail! Apparently, if you are logged in but not connected to the Internet, the Criptext servers will store your e-mail until you return, although that only involves the sender using your public key — they still can’t read the mail on the server.

You can have multiple devices, though, so that may not be a big problem. Having multiple devices also serves as a backup since they don’t have copies of your mail. In fact, here’s an entry from their FAQ about that:

Q: I lost my device, can I recover my emails?
A: Yes, you can sync your emails with your other devices. If you lost all your devices, sucks to be you.

Currently, you can get clients for Android, iOS, Linux, and Mac. The Windows version is coming soon. Naturally, there is no web version.

There are other secure mail services such as Hushmail and Protonmail. However, these do store some of your data. There have been a few encrypted e-mail extensions for GMail although some quit working after the recent redesign from Google. FlowCrypt is one that still works.

Of course, some people think using visible encryption is a red flag that will draw attention on its own. That’s when you hide your encrypted data. Although the code is open source, there have been problems and backdoors with well-reviewed code in the past that are eventually found, but sometimes not for a long time.

28 thoughts on “E-Mail Service Claims it Doesn’t Store Your Mail

    1. Each individual message is boring and worthless to most people, but being able to store them indefinitely and search them for trends etc, that’s what makes it a bit scarier. Having dirt on a nobody isn’t worth a lot, but in time things change. When I think about it the bit that bothers me isn’t full on blackmail of one person, but if you give a lot of people a gentle nudge then you could probably change a lot in your favour.

      1. Not true.

        If the NSA capture your data they can also capture the keyexchange/shared generation forward secrecy is based on.

        And decrypt it all.

        But why would they? I mean they could always store it all because storage is cheap and hope to crack it in the future but they decades I would expect that to happen over (probably far longer…. I guess). Means the results would be useless…

          1. Yeah the USPS has a nice fat metadata file on everyone, I was surprised to see that you can now use that to an extent that if you sign up for “informed delivery” they will send you images of your snail-mail as it passes through their system.

  1. Mailbox.org is in my opinion the most reasonable of these encrypted email services. You just upload your public PGP key and it will encrypt all your emails as they come in.

    To be even more secure your friend can encrypt the email before they send it.

    That or pEp to automatically encrypt or sign emails. I think protonmail supports it natively.

    Tutanota.io is also great for one reason; the first tier premium account is 12EUR / year and includes catch all domains. i.e. anything @mycustomdomain.me will get to your inbox. Perfect for making new accounts on the fly and seeing where that spam is coming from. As well as easy inbox rules.

  2. If I were paranoid, I might think that a government agency that wants to be able read peoples’ emails, especially people who are attracted to encryption, would set up a service that promises free, end to end email encryption. And I’d add a paid tier to make the paranoid think that if you pay, it must be even safer. You know, sort of the like the VPN providers…

      1. In Australia, government authorities can legally demand that internet service providers “facilitate” access to end user devices such as a computer or phone “without” a warrant.

        Any fixed key encryption can be defeated. Single use rolling key would work but even that is defeated as it would have to exists on the device in raw format anyway.

    1. “Open whisper systems”, “Signal”, and any other supposedly secure app are all rooted by default since they run on cellphones. How could anyone believe a phone is secure with its black box bootloader, radios, and locked down OS… This applies to “supposedly private” Apple just as much as Android.

      1. Rather depends if you’ve ever looked at the primary bootloader, first/second/tertiary bootloader stages, separation between apps and radio cores, GPU drivers, DSP drivers etc. You might be surprised at the effort that some vendors put into these areas. OTOH you won’t be surprised at the lack of effort from certain other vendors.

  3. I really doubt anything is truly secure, locks only keep honest people out. When your phone is ‘updating’, is updating your firmware, or updating the usage log at the home office? Not to mention, even powered-down, those thing really use up your battery. I’ve got cameras that use the same type/size, sit around unused for months, still got a full charge. The cell phone, which I don’t have service for, just use it for other things through the WiFi or bluetooth, needs to be charge every couple of weeks. Got to be doing something shady, while it’s suppose to be sleeping deep.

    1. Depends on the hardware design. Just one pull-up resistor in wrong place….
      I do remember eee pc 701 (or 901) which ran through the battery even when powered off (it took less than a week to discharge the battery to zero).
      I still remember cell phones that had working alarm clock, even when powered down. And so on.
      And those days, especially for smartphones, no one really cares about how long it keeps the battery charged when not working.

      PS. I strongly suspect battery management/protection circuit is to blame here. Or badly designed circuit that powers clock/calendar part of the chip.

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