Securing Your Digital Communications

Treating Your Emails Like Letters

Almost anyone with internet access has a personal and a professional email address through which hundreds of emails are exchanged weekly. With the ubiquity of email in the online ecosystem, it is important that we ensure our emails are kept private. One of the most common email providers is Google through their Gmail service. Gmail provides a host of features that are enticing and highly valuable.

Between their ability to provide near unlimited storage and additional access to the Google suite of external tools, it’s the go-to email provider for many people. However, with every Google service there is a catch. Google is only able to provide comprehensive products for free because they use and sell the data they collect from you in exchange for that access.

I am under no illusion that deleting your Gmail and starting over with a more secure service is unfeasible. However, I do believe a steady transition from one service to another with little interruption is possible. I’ve found the biggest pushback I receive when discussing email transitions with friends is adding an email address they must check in addition to the numerous addresses they already use personally and for work. To help alleviate that concern, I will discuss how I personally transitioned my primary email address from my Gmail to a secure email provided by Protonmail.

Now, recognizing that your new email address is not yet your primary one, Protonmail includes a feature that sends an email to your current primary email address informing you of new mail in your Protonmail inbox. With this feature, there is no longer a need to check your Protonmail inbox without first being notified that there is new mail. The next step in my move to Protonmail was using my new Protonmail email address for any new website or app sign-ups and, when asked, providing it to my friends and family.

Another step I took moving to Protonmail was updating my email for various services already connected to my old email address. In order to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed with that transition, I began changing my email address for services that had reached out to me to update unrelated account or billing information. I found that between periodic updates of old accounts and new signups I moved seamlessly to my Protonmail completely within a few months.

To experience truly private email, both parties should have an encrypted email service. If only the sender or receiver has an encrypted email, the unencrypted party risks exposing themselves and the other party to third-party data mining. That is why I believe it is important to encourage those in our circle of friends and family to give encrypted email a chance. The more email we send between encrypted accounts, the safer we keep our communications.

Collaboration Tools and Team Meetings

What we classify as a team meeting is often narrowed to a work setting. I would argue that team meetings can extend to our personal lives as well. When you hold a family meeting or gather with a group of close friends, you are gathering that “team” to discuss both mundane and important topics. Now, for the purposes of our digital privacy, group discussions are often done in group chats found in messaging apps and on feature-rich services like Discord and Slack. Between Discord and Slack, Discord’s audience is often geared towards gaming and general forum discussions while Slack is often used in a work environment.

Discussions over Discord or Slack are often times dealing with either sensitive personal information or sensitive work information.  End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is an important tool used in the protection of messages on any service. Neither Slack nor Discord provide E2EE and thus the level of security provided by these services is severely lacking. A secure alternative to Discord and Slack is Element. Element provides E2EE as well as integration with external tools commonly used by Slack and Discord.

Tools:

Email:

Collaboration Tools:

Protonmail: Protonmail is a feature-rich encrypted email service based out of Switzerland. The Protonmail interface is very familiar and easy to navigate. Emails sent from your Protonmail account can be customized to provide various levels of security. You can encrypt any email sent to a non-Protonmail account to protect your message on the receiver’s end. You can also customize an email to auto-delete after a period of time. A free Protonmail account has a 500mb storage limit that can be upgraded if need be for a small fee. Protonmail is open source and thus their application’s code can be scrutinized and examined and their commitment to consumer privacy can be verified.

Element: Element is a intuitive, free collaboration application. Transitioning from Slack to Element is relatively seamless with Element’s Slack integration which allows you to communicate on Slack through the Element application. Element is built on Matrix. Matrix is an open source secure messaging protocol that uses end-to-end encryption. Additionally, Matrix is decentralized, meaning there is no single point of control over communications and thus secure from third-party censorship. Element also allows those more technically inclined to easily host Element on their own server for added security.

 

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