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New email app developed to make encrypting messages easier

By Martyn Landi, Press Association Technology Correspondent
Easy Email Encryption (E3) is currently being tested by researchers in the US.

A new email app that can quickly encrypt messages that appear in an email inbox has been developed by computer scientists in the United States.

Currently being trialled by a team of computer scientists at Columbia University, Easy Email Encryption (E3) is an app that its creators say is easy to manage, even for those with little technical understanding of how encryption works.

The app automatically encrypts emails as soon as they are received on any trusted device, including phones, tablets and laptops, and works on a range of platforms including Android and Windows.

Its creators say the app works with a number of popular email services such as Gmail, Yahoo and AOL.

Encryption is the process of scrambling data to make it unreadable to another than those with certified access to it.

PhD student and lead author on the research paper on the app John Koh said the public perception that encryption technology was hard to understand, and easy access to a number of free email services, was leaving people vulnerable to hackers.

“Email privacy grows ever more critical as our email inboxes increase in size,” he said.

“Thanks to free and widely popular mail services like Gmail, users are keeping more and more emails, thus providing a one-stop shop for hackers who can compromise all of a user’s emails with a single successful attack.”

Mr Koh said as encryption was becoming more common across different areas of the technology industry, the E3 app took a different approach.

“The field of email security is just begging for improvement. For 20 years, the research community was fixated on end-to-end security. We took a different tack, positing that end-to-end encryption for email is not needed in the 21st century,” he said.

“Internet connections are increasingly protected by default using encryption. Our insight is that email needs to be protected when it’s stored in our inboxes, not when it’s being sent over the internet, because hackers are mainly just trying to log into your email account.

“We thus apply an ‘encrypt on receipt’ model that provides excellent real-world security while being far more usable than end-to-end encryption.”

The developers said the app remains in testing for now, but have plans to make it available for free on Android in the near future, and are working on an iOS version.