Slide show: Best tools for email encryption

The products we reviewed show good signs that encryption has finally come of age.

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Email encryption

Recipients of encrypted email once had to share the same system as the sender. Today, products have a “zero knowledge encryption” feature, which means you can send an encrypted message to someone who isn’t on your chosen encryption service. Today’s products make sending and receiving messages easier, with advances like an Outlook or browser plug-in that gives you nearly one-button encryption. And the products we reviewed have features like setting expiration dates, being able to revoke unread messages or prevent them from being forwarded. (Read the full review.)

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AppRiver CipherPost Pro

Basically, you layer CipherPost Pro on top of your existing email infrastructure via a plug-in. It has mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows phones and BlackBerry 10s that offer the ability to send and receive encrypted messages, but not attachments. To correspond with people outside your email domain, send a message with a Web link, which recipients click on and register with the system. The heart of the product is a special “Delivery Slip” sidebar that appears on the page as you are composing your message. This is where controls are located to enable message-tracking options, and to add an extra security layer. These are all nice features. If you have to send large attachments, then CipherPost should be on your short list.

DataMotion SecureMail

DataMotion SecureMail

DataMotion has a very mature offering that makes use of a gateway to process mail. Getting it set up will require a couple of hours, and most of that is in understanding the many mail processing rules. Users need to append a [SECURE] tag in the subject line to trigger the encryption process. You can also set up rules that will encrypt messages containing sensitive information. DataMotion doesn’t have any limits on the size of the user’s inbox. However, it does place a limit of up to 500MB worth of messages that can be sent in a user’s Track Sent Folder. Features include the ability to see exactly when your recipient opened the message and the attachment.

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HP/Voltage SecureMail

Voltage was recently purchased by HP and rebranded. The technology is an email gateway, software that sits on either a Linux or Windows server or in the cloud and inserts the encryption process between mail client and server. There are numerous add-on modules that come as part of this ecosystem. You administer the gateway via a Web browser, and there are dozens of options to set, similar to the DataMotion product. Voltage has a zero download client, as it calls its software that can be used to exchange messages with someone not on their system. While parts of Voltage are showing their age, the overall experience is quite capable, and the add-ons for mobile and Outlook/Office are quite nifty.

Hushmail for Business

Hushmail for Business

Hushmail is the easiest of the products we tested to set up and use. There is no software to install on the client side; all mail is accessed via two ways: First, via a secure webmail client that connects to the Hush servers. This is the only way you can send encrypted email to someone who isn’t part of the Hush network. The second method is for users fond of their existing email clients and who are communicating with other Hush users. In this situation there is literally nothing for them to do: they make use of their existing client to send an encrypted message. Between the client and the Hush server, mail is encrypted using either SSL or TLS. Once it arrives on the server, it is then encrypted via PGP. Hush has a 20MB limit on attachment size, and this could be a deal breaker for some businesses.

ProtonMail

ProtonMail

Proton is one of the newer encrypted email services that have come along post-Snowden, with an emphasis on keeping your emails private. It makes a point of this by being based in Switzerland. However, the company is still building its product out and as a result it has a very simple Web UI for its client and admin tool. Proton uses double password protection. The first is used to authenticate the user. After that, encrypted data is sent to the user. The second password is a decryption key used to decrypt data on your device. Proton never sees that latter key so they do not have access to the decrypted data. On top of all this encryption, they also employ SSL connections so your data is encrypted across the Internet to and from their servers. There is no option for on-premises servers. While Proton is not really suitable for an enterprise deployment, it shows what the latest encryption products can deliver.

Tutao Tutanota

Tutao Tutanota

Of the products tested, Tutanota is the least reliable and least feature-laden. Tutanota uses a variety of clients to set up encrypted mail connections across your existing email infrastructure. There are no changes to your servers and you can continue using Outlook for sending unencrypted communications. We had some trouble with the installation, mainly because the software version has German instructions and installs the German version of .Net Framework. Once installed, though, the menus and commands are in English. Tutanota is based in Germany, which could be important for customers concerned about American email privacy. One of the distinguishing features is that its zero knowledge encryption process hides the message subject. Most of its competitors still send this information in the clear.

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Virtru Pro

Virtru has a nice balance of plug-ins and mobile apps that support its easy-to-use encryption operations across a variety of email circumstances. If you have installed the necessary plug-in, when you want to send something, there is a small toggle switch on the top of the compose screen. Turning that on will bring up a “send secure” button to encrypt your message. There are tool tips that appear as you hover over the various options with your mouse, a nice touch. These include the ability to add an unencrypted introductory message that will introduce your recipient to the context of the message that you are sending, and why you want to encrypt the remainder of the message. You can also set when your message will expire or disable any forwarding for additional security.

Virtru also supports zero knowledge encryption, although it adds a separate activation step when a new user receives the first encrypted message.