Science and Tech


Google Plans Heavy-Duty Email Encryption Add-On

Google has announced an early version of an email encryption tool called End-to-End for users who need a more secure email experience with Chrome.
Posted at 4:15 PM, Jun 04, 2014

Google is planning an optional extension for its Chrome browser for those who want a little more security for their email.

Google's End-to-End tool will give users the option to encrypt their email using the OpenPGP encryption standard — making it more secure while it sits in inboxes and outboxes.

PGP is a bit like a safe — contents of an encrypted message are scrambled and unscrambled on either end of a transmission using encryption keys.

The only parties that would be able to read such a message are the sender, when they encrypt it with their public key, and the recipient, when they decrypt the message with their private key. (Computer icon via The Noun Project / Edward Boatman)

Together with HTTPS — the security layer you see in your browser on sensitive sites like banks or, you know, Gmail — PGP makes email as a whole more secure. PGP encrypts and decrypts on either end; HTTPS secures the transmission itself.

This is a potentially large market Google's looking at. The company says the total percentage of email encrypted in transit to and from Gmail servers today sits at around 50 percent.

The issue is making this heavy-duty encryption accessible. Google says End-to-End will eventually work like any other Chrome extension, though whether you'll need it might depend on whether you're swapping cookie recipes or launch codes. The company says it's "intended for users who need additional security beyond what we already provide."

And Google reminds us End-to-End isn't ready for prime time yet. It's released the source code on its repository and invited developers and cryptographers to examine it for vulnerabilities before it reaches a consumer-ready version.

As for why now — CNET invites us to take a guess. "Although the tech titan didn't specifically cite the ongoing revelations of government spying from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it's been clear over the past year since Snowden came forward that government spying has driven the development of these tools."

Which isn't to say Google the company will get a direct boost to its bottom line for developing End-to-End. The New York Times points out big tech players "have been hesitant to provide end-to-end encryption because it excludes companies like Google and Yahoo from gathering data from messages that can be sold for targeted advertising."

Some things are worth the revenue hit, apparently. Look for End-to-End in the Chrome app store when it goes live.