Privacy is a biggie in the online realm, particularly in that most personal of areas – your email account. Sadly, when you’re signing up to the perk-filled services of Google and company you’re more or less giving them free reign to scan your emails (though the search giant has recently announced that it will stop this dodgy practice). Other companies like Outlook and Yahoo aren’t as bad but will still hand over data as soon as the US government cracks its whip.
Thankfully, there are quite a few secure email services that offer email privacy and encryption. We have reviewed and selected six of the best email services that should keep your data safe from hackers and the authorities.
Not the most well known super-secure email provider, but in a business where anonymity is key, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. At every point of the process, Runbox has safeguards in place to keep your information away from those who may want to snoop on it. Every time you send emails, they’re sent over a secure encrypted connection, and anything sent between your email and Runbox servers is encrypted as well. The data isn’t encrypted when it’s sitting on the servers, but it’s locked away in a vault in Norway where personal data is protected by the Constitution. (they take that stuff seriously over there!)
You can pay the annual price plan using Bitcoin (the cheapest subscription is $20 a year) for extra anonymity, there are two different kinds of two-factor authentication, and there are no external tracking cookies, meaning that Runbox isn’t in bed with advertisers to harvest your data.
At the time of writing, Runbox is working on integrating a PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption option, which will require both the sender and recipient to generate an encryption key to open emails.
Mailfence does the whole business of privacy a little differently from other services on this list. It uses OpenPGP public key encryption which offers end-to-end encryption based on a key that you share with the recipients of your emails. This whole feature is optional, of course, so you don’t have to go through the whole rigmarole for every mundane email you send.
Mailfence can’t see into or scan your emails because of their encryption. This service, which also offers calendar, cloud storage and collaboration features, was made in the wake of the Snowden revelations by a group of developers who are passionate about your rights to online privacy.
Finally, in what must surely be a dig at Google, when you go to the Mailfence website and are asked if you want “Secure and private email service,” you can click “No,” at which point you will be redirected to Gmail. I like these guys!
ProtonMail is one of the most highly-regarded apps on this list. Forbes called it “the only email system NSA can’t access” and with good reason. Their servers are located in Switzerland, which means the US government cannot forcibly shut them down or order them to produce information. In any case, the emails are encrypted end to end, which means it is impossible to intercept and decipher them. Also, ProtonMail does not log IP addresses, so you are truly anonymous by using this service.
Creating a ProtonMail account is free, though you can upgrade to a premium account to access more features.
Tutanota is a completely open-source and free email service which offers end-to-end encryption of emails, including the ability for non-Tutanota users to securely respond to encrypted emails. Once the intended recipient receives your encrypted email, they will not be able to view the subject, attachment or message unless they can produce a password (which both must have agreed upon previously) that will unlock the contents of your message. You can also choose not to encrypt your emails, but that defeats the purpose of using Tutanota.
For free accounts, you get 1 GB of storage and no aliases, but you can upgrade to premium for just €1/month to add up to five aliases and map your own domain to Tutanota. Mobile apps are also available for Android and iOS.
Posteo.de is a Berlin-based service which is also held in high regard when it comes to protecting the privacy of its users. Unlike the above two, Posteo.de is not free and comes with plans starting at €1/month for 2 GB storage capacity with POP3 and IMAP support. Importantly, two-factor authentication is available which prevents access to your account even if your password is compromised. Posteo.de does not request any personal information while signing up and even allows you to pay anonymously using bank transfer, cash or Paypal.
6. Kolab Now
Kolab Now is another open-source email service with its servers completely hosted and managed in Switzerland, just like ProtonMail, so your private data is never crawled. The service targets small and medium-sized enterprises, especially those who want to pass privileged information through email. Just like Posteo.de, Kolab Now makes money by charging its users directly and has two plans starting at $4.99 for an individual account. Other features include an integrated note-taking app, email tagging support, contacts and calender, shared folders and more.
Countermail is another top email service provider that offers several unique features. It uses OpenPGP’s encryption protocol with 4096 keys to protect your data and also offers end-to-end encryption. It also offers a secure USB key option that makes it impossible to access your account without your USB key inserted into a USB port. Countermail supports Linux, Mac OS X and Windows and also has IMAP support in case you want to use your own email client. You can try Countermail free of charge for a week, after which prices start at $6.33/month.
If you need a very high level of privacy in your email, all the above services have good reputations when it comes to protecting your data. Part of the reason they’re so great is that even if governments did want to snoop on you for whatever reason, and the companies did have to hand over information, it would be virtually impossible to break through their encryption systems.
This article was first published in Oct 2015 and was updated in October 2017.