Dark Alliance Reinvents Email Security

Nov 05, 2013

New mail protocol will shut out the NSA and prevent snooping on metadata.

Email technology providers Lavabit and Silent Circle have joined forces to launch the Dark Mail Alliance, a project with the goal of building a truly secure and private email communication system that is resistant to spying and government oversight. The two companies have long been leaders in the field of email encryption and employ an impressive team of cryptologists and programmers. (Phil Zimmerman, creator of the popular PGP email encryption tool, is the President and co-founder of Silent Circle.) Both Lavabit and Silent Circle suspended their email services recently in the wake of revelations about NSA spying and orders to allow government access to encryption keys.
Conventional email encryption tools like PGP can encrypt the contents of a message, but not the subject, to and from fields, or other metadata. Also, messages stored on the server can be encyrpted using the key, which governments can obtain from the vendor through a court order. Dark Mail plans to replace the venerable SMTP mail protocol with a more secure alternative and design an infrastructure that will not be susceptible to snooping.
The new protocol will be based on Silent Circle's instant messaging protocol SCIMP. Dark Mail will resemble ordinary email, but behind the scenes, messages will pass through an encrypted peer-to-peer connection. Keys used for the connection will be deleted afterward, which means the email provider would have no knowledge of the keys and could not surrender them even if ordered to do so.
The tools and protocols developed by the Dark Mail alliance will all be open source, and the alliance welcomes scrutiny from cryptologists and security experts. According to the mission statement on the Dark Mail website, "As founding partners of The Dark Mail Alliance, both Silent Circle and Lavabit will work to bring other members into the alliance, assist them in implementing the new protocol, and jointly work to proliferate the worlds first end-to-end encrypted ‘Email 3.0’ throughout the world’s email providers."

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