E-mail providers – which one to choose?
– The Providers –
– Hushmail –
– FastMail –
– Outlook –
– Gmail –
– VFEmail –
– ProtonMail –
– Scryptmail (DEAD)-
– MsgSafe –
– Criptext –
– Soverin –
– Librem Mail –
– SAFe-mail (safe-mail.net) –
– OpenMailBox (DEAD) –
– Runbox –
– Mailfence –
– Safe-Mail (safe-mail.nl) –
– Neomailbox –
– Mailbox.org –
– Secmail.pro –
– CTemplar –
– KolabNow –
– Teknik –
– Tutanota –
– Autistici –
– StartMail –
– Dismail –
– Migadu –
– Cock.li –
– Paranoid.email –
– Cotse –
– CounterMail –
– Posteo –
– Disroot –
– Elude –
– RiseUp –
– Temporary e-mail –
– Summary –
– Why the situation is as it is –
– On encryption –
– GPG Email encryption on Windows 7 (section written by Noctilucent) –
– On “privacy-respecting” laws –
Friend’s E-mail report, covering additional providers (onion-only)
List of E-mail providers
Everyone is entitled to their email privacy. Take back control of your data and experience a clean inbox with no advertising.
Okay, I’m in! Just give me a minute to check if the evidence supports your claims…
When you visit our website we may collect information about you, including your browser type, operating system and the Internet Protocol (“IP”) address of your computer. We use this information to facilitate your use of the website, gather market information and prevent abuse of our services.
No thanks. But wait, that’s only the website – I could possibly deal with that if the actual mail service was private. But is it?
We take steps where possible to limit the personal information we collect.
Wow, thanks! So let’s see just how limited those “limits” are:
As part of the account creation process your IP address will be recorded. We may request that you provide other information, such as a phone number, as well. We use this information to analyze market trends, gather broad demographic information […]
Asking for my phone number is very “limited” indeed. And the market trends shit rears its ugly head again.
Information we record may include […] account usernames, sender and recipient email addresses, file names of attachments, subjects of emails, URLs in the bodies of unencrypted email, and any other information that we deem necessary to record for the purposes of maintaining the system and preventing abuse.
So you’re even snooping on the links in my messages! And
any other information is an admission that they could possibly collect everything they imagine. But why pretend it’s about
preventing abuse? Just say you’re in the business of gathering information.
We store sales, marketing, and customer care information with third-parties that support these business processes, which means that information such as your name, email address, phone number, and company name, as well as the history of communications related specifically to the sales or customer care process, may be stored there.
And now my name and phone number is being sent to whoever the fuck. Could this get any worse?
The records we keep of your activities are permanently deleted after approximately 18 months. Records that are stored for statistical purposes may be kept indefinitely.
I forgot to mention that Hushmail actually wants money for all this abuse! And it doesn’t even support mail clients. Taking all that into account, this is without a doubt the worst choice on this whole list. And they have the audacity to claim stuff like this:
Hushmail has been providing secure, private and encrypted webmail solutions since 1999. Here is why our customers trust our experience in the field.
Yeah sure – very trustworthy you are!
If you register to use, or use, one of our websites or services […] personal information that may be collected directly from you includes name, billing address, mobile phone number, organisation name, your own domain name, IP address, browser user-agent and billing details
Name, phone number, address. You’re off to a fast start towards privacy hell, FastMail.
We process mail sent and received from your account to block spam and fraud.
The private FastMail scans your mail.
We also store information from your address book, calendar, notes and files on our servers.
Is there anything you guys don’t store?
We also collect the email content you create, upload, or receive from others
Guess not – even other people aren’t safe from FastMail‘s prying eyes.
Each time you connect to our service, we log your IP address, your client identifier (browser or mail client information) and your username. If you send mail, we also log the email address you’re using to send mail and the email address you’re sending to. If you take action on mail in your mailbox, we also log the activities taken.
So literally your every move is being tracked and logged. And now for some humor – look at how they justify themselves:
This is necessary for providing proof of delivery and fraud analysis.
Sure. I wonder why almost no other provider on this list is doing so, then? Now check this admission (from section
How do we use the personal information we collect from you?):
conduct analytics and measurement to understand how our services are used;
Oh, so it was about analytics all along, instead of
fraud analysis or some other bullshit excuse. And for something even more damning (from section
Sharing personal information with others):
We may share your personal information […] with third parties who help manage our business and deliver services […] Some of these providers use “cloud based” IT applications or systems, which means that your Personal Information will be hosted on their servers
And now all the stuff I’ve talked about will be put on some third party servers.
We may use your name and email address to send direct marketing communications to you and let you know more about our services or related services that we believe will be of interest to you
You will also be flooded with directed advertisements. But how does FastMail know what
will be of interest to you? Of course, it’s because of all that collected data – which, remember – includes your mail content! Later they claim that they don’t profile you to send targeted advertisements, but that seems to contradict the above – and we should always assume the worst. FastMail also uses the Matomo tracking service, which was described in detail in ProtonMail‘s section. Anyway, that’s quite a lot of data collected – but how long does it stay around?
Where we log information related to your IP address, we retain this information for approximately 90 days.
Where you request that we delete your account from our system, we will immediately lock the account and archive the information, then delete it from our severs within approximately 7 days from the date of your request.
Not bad, I guess. I mean, some other providers take a year or more…But wait:
However, in specific limited circumstances we may store your personal information for longer periods of time
After an account is terminated, data and backups are purged within a timeframe of between 37 days to 1 year after closure
So you do take a year after all. And you fucking lied straight to our faces with the 7 day thing. This seems more and more like some entry-level trolling…Can we say anything at all positive about FastMail in light of the information presented? I guess this:
Providing secure end-to-end encryption via webmail is impossible. There are basically two options, both flawed:
That’s right – it’s the same thing I’ve been speaking about. So at least they don’t pretend to have some super-duper in-browser encryption. And maybe another thing:
We won’t release any data without the required legal authorisation from an Australian court. As an Australian company, we do not respond to US court orders.
But remember that some of your data will be stored on third party servers in other countries, which might have some different ideas…All in all, I struggle to provide a reason to use this one at all. The amount of stored data is simply massive (and I didn’t even cover all of it), it’s shared with third parties and used for sending advertisements – and you have to pay for all that.
Data about your device, your device configuration, and nearby networks. For example, data about the operating systems and other software installed on your device, including product keys. In addition, IP address, device identifiers (such as the IMEI number for phones), regional and language settings, and information about WLAN access points near your device.
It’s not enough for them to know how you’re using their services – Microsoft will also snoop on everything else you’re doing with your machine. Ugh.
Data about your interests and favorites, such as the sports teams you follow, the programming languages you prefer, the stocks you track, or cities you add to track things like weather or traffic. In addition to those you explicitly provide, your interests and favorites can also be inferred or derived from other data we collect.
Not sure how applicable the above is to E-mail specifically – but it clearly shows the attitude of Microsoft towards your privacy – which is a complete disregard for it.
Data about your contacts and relationships if you use a product to share information with others, manage contacts, communicate with others, or improve your productivity.
Information about your relationships and interactions between you, other people, and organizations, such as types of engagement (e.g., likes, dislikes, events, etc.) related to people and organizations.
Data generated through your use of Microsoft’s communications services. Traffic data indicates with whom you have communicated and when your communications occurred
Now these are surely relevant to E-mail. Not only does Microsoft keep your contact list, but also when you have written them. What about the duration of data storage? Unlike Google, Microsoft does graciously tell us something about it:
when your Deleted Items folder is emptied, those emptied items remain in our system for up to 30 days before final deletion
So, we know that – when we delete an E-mail – it’s gone in 30 days at most. This sucks, but at least we get told about it – which many allegedly private providers can’t manage to muster. As for the other data, we’re unfortunately left with vague statements such as:
Microsoft retains personal data for as long as necessary to provide the products and fulfill the transactions you have requested, or for other legitimate purposes such as complying with our legal obligations, resolving disputes, and enforcing our agreements.
Realistically – considering the avalanche of various anti-privacy and anti-user stuff in their policy – we should assume the other data is stored for much longer than the actual mail content (you’d think they’d mention the duration if it was something they could have bragged about). Okay, there’s just one more transgression of note that I want to cover:
To build, train, and improve the accuracy of our automated methods of processing (including AI), we manually review some of the predictions and inferences produced by the automated methods against the underlying data from which the predictions and inferences were made.
That’s right – Microsoft uses your data to train their AI. The same crap Google has been pulling for years with their ReCaptcha. If you were considering Outlook as your E-mail provider (why?), this alone should drive you away from it. The ToS also makes SJWs look like freedom lovers by comparison. Same as with Gmail, Outlook does support mail clients and is free – which are the only advantages of the service.
Fuck it, I’ll give it a proper review, because why not? It’s not even the worst provider out there, if you can believe it. It does support mail clients, for one – so it automatically has an advantage over many of the ones advertising privacy and user respect that are webmail-only. My VPN was not blocked, though it did ask for my real name (which you can fake) as well as requiring phone confirmation – which I ended up choking on.
Unfortunately – as if it wasn’t obvious – mail client support is the only positive Gmail has. Well, it’s also free – but you pay with giving up an amount of data which other providers can only dream of matching. For example:
unique identifiers, browser type and settings, device type and settings, operating system, mobile network information including operator name and phone number and application version number. We also collect information about the interaction of your apps, browsers and devices with our services, including IP address, crash reports, system activity, and the date, time and referrer URL of your request.
We use various technologies to collect and store information, including cookies, pixel tags, local storage, such as browser web storage or application data caches, databases and server logs.
There is much more. It’s not an exaggeration to state that every step you take, every move you make while using Google is stored and analyzed (and the duration is not stated, as far as I can see – so assume it’s forever). What makes it worse is that you can’t sign up just for Gmail, but need a Google account for every one of their services. So, if you’re logged in (because you’re using their webmail, for example), then they can also track you all over YouTube, etc. and mix up all the information to make a profile. Google is also a PRISM member, so your stuff is likely ending up grabbed by law enforcement (they’ve shared location data with them before). And, using Google‘s services means you enable all their unethical practices (such as shoving ReCaptcha into our faces, heavy censorship on their search engine, widespread tracking and ads, their monopoly on browsers, etc). Other providers – even those of the spying sort – pretty much limit themselves to mail; they don’t have the worldwide influence on so many things as Google does. So, you should specifically avoid Gmail just to inhibit their quest for world domination (did you know they can even lock you out of your house?) – even if they’re not the worst provider out there.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2020: Used to require ReCaptcha to sign up, doesn’t anymore – however, still asks for your real name; registration also fails on Pale Moon. Everything else is as shit as it was when I wrote the first report, except the site is now behind the evil Cloudflare. Mail clients are supported, but auto-configure doesn’t seem to work. Accepts signing up from a VPN, and that’s where the positives end…A lot of suspicious things in the user agreement; going over all of them would take a year, so I will discuss only the most important ones:
[…] VFEmail.net can terminate and/or change and/or modify your account […]
modify my account? What the fuck? This can literally mean anything, including rewriting your mail, deleting contacts, or changing the password. Suspicious as fuck!
[…] VFEmail.net or its designee may disclose information to third parties about User and User’s use of the Service […]
Great! Prepare yourself for your privacy being ripped away and thrown around to advertisers and trackers.
User acknowledges and agrees that content, including but not limited to text, software, music, sound, photographs, graphics, video, or other material contained in sponsor advertisements or information presented to User through the Service or advertisers is protected by copyrights, trademarks, service marks, patents, or other proprietary rights and laws.
So you will be sent advertisements and can’t even show them to anyone. By the way, I’ve confirmed they add ads to your mail. Whenever you send anything from the free VFEmail account, your recipient gets this:
This free account was provided by VFEmail.net – report spam to firstname.lastname@example.org ONLY AT VFEmail! – Use our Metadata Mitigator to keep your email out of the NSA’s hands! $24.95 ONETIME Lifetime accounts with Privacy Features! 15GB disk! No bandwidth quotas! Commercial and Bulk Mail Options!
If you do recieve mail between your last POP and the snapshot at 12am, it will exist on backup for a week – unless it’s on Saturday night, then it’s a year.
WTF? These guys must be trolling around here. Your mail is stored in a backup for a week…except on Saturdays! How random.
As for other data, you don’t get told what gets stored and for how long. If you still didn’t get the memo – get away from this crap! Honestly, it looks as if some jokers just slapped all the anti-user things they could think of, advertised themselves with bullshit like the
Metadata Mitigator™ – for which of course you have to pay – and went around their merry way while raking in the cash. This might be worse than Gmail, which is more honest in regards to their (lack of) privacy and provides all its features for free.
The most popular “private” E-mail provider, and often the first choice of a person getting away from the three giants. But does that mean it is in fact quality? Let’s start with the sign-up process – if you’re signing up through TOR or a VPN, ProtonMail requires SMS confirmation:
And if you try to receive confirmation through a RiseUp E-mail, it says this:
So, SMS is the only option (unless you want to donate, which would reveal your personal information of course); therefore their claim that
ProtonMail does not require any personally identifiable information to register is a shameless lie. Update: a contact told me that Proton now includes the option to solve a ReCaptcha (still an evil) for confirmation; however, the option disappears while using a VPN. They must really want that damn phone number if you are using anonymizers! And the claim that you can sign up without personal data is still false.
We employ a local installation of Matomo, an open source analytics tool. Analytics are anonymized whenever possible and stored locally (and not on the cloud).
All standard statistics reports: top keywords and search engines, websites, social media websites, top page URLs, page titles, user countries, providers, operating system, browser marketshare, screen resolution, desktop VS mobile, engagement (time on site, pages per visit, repeated visits), top campaigns, custom variables, top entry/exit pages, downloaded files, and many more, classified into four main analytics report categories – Visitors, Actions, Referrers, Goals/Ecommerce (30+ reports)
So that’s the website. What about the e-mail service?
we have access to the following email metadata: sender and recipient email addresses, the IP address incoming messages originated from, message subject, and message sent and received times. […] We also have access to the following records of account activity: number of messages sent, amount of storage space used, total number of messages, last login time.
Great, even more metadata than Tutanota (if you trust Tutanota‘s claims that they collect as little metadata as they say they do). And then there’s this gem:
When a ProtonMail account is closed, data is immediately deleted from production servers. Active accounts will have data retained indefinitely. Deleted emails are also permanently deleted from production servers. Deleted data may be retained in our backups for up to 14 days.
Read that again! Indefinite retention of data by the “private” ProtonMail! And 14 days for deleted data – enough for “them” to get you. At least there’s disk encryption…UPDATE August 28; a direct admission they do store IP logs forever in certain cases –
and your IP address may be retained permanently if you are engaged in activities that breach our terms and conditions. Their TOS says this:
You agree to not use this Service for any unlawful or prohibited activities. You also agree to not disrupt the ProtonMail networks and servers, which can cover pretty much anything.
If you read their transparency report (archive), you will see quite a lot of requests for their data from governments all around the world. ProtonMail pretends to “require a Swiss court order” to cooperate – but you see that they often do that before receiving it – so don’t expect that to protect you. One particularly egregious example is from May 2018, where they disabled an account because of terrorist allegiances – and we all know that’s not just a convenient excuse these days, right? The new transparency report shows they’ve complied with 336 government data requests in 2018 alone – including 76 foreign ones. Oh, and since August 28, they finally admit to direct surveillance –
Free 7 day trial and then you have to pay. No mail client support. Claims to encrypt metadata and senders instead of just messages. Blog and support forum appear pretty dead; FAQ is also outdated – says Scryptmail is only a year old, but it’s actually 4.
sent times metadata is stored. On the other hand, if someone using another provider sends an e-mail to your Scryptmail account, the collected data extends to this:
sender and recipient email addresses, the IP address incoming messages originated from, message subject, body and attachments and message sent and received times.
Other stored information includes:
Last login time, IP address, User agent, API call. Though they claim that they
have no ability to match an IP to a specific user account. Which appears to contradict the earlier claim, since they know when a certain account logged in, as well as with which IP address. It is possible they delete the information about the account which the data belongs to, but to say that they have “no ability” to connect them is a lie.
You should assume that your data will be stored pretty much forever. From the Data Retention section:
Active accounts will have data retained indefinitely. What about deleted accounts?
Your personal data shall be deleted no later than at the end of the calendar year following the year of the termination of the contract unless in an individual case specific reasons to the contract apply. […] Moreover, the deletion of inventory and billing data may be omitted provided that legal regulations or the prosecution of claims require this action.
Another one dug up by a chat member. Website doesn’t work at all without JS enabled and embeds Cloudflare scripts. Then – after you turn on JS – you’ll wish you hadn’t when you realize the CSS has all kinds of fucked positioning (at least in Pale Moon), making the site barely usable. Usually I’d drop it right here, but I was in the mood for some suffering – and MsgSafe provides it in droves. As far as I can see, the service is webmail only, so we can’t avoid dealing with the shitty design. It’s funny how they make this seem like a virtue:
Our software works through the web and operates using open standards so you know what’s happening at all times. There’s no software to download, no app store to trust, there’s just you and us, and you’re in control.
This includes referrer pages, time stamps, page requested, user agent, language header and website visited.
We don’t get told the duration all this stuff is kept for, either. And no information about the possible storage of mail content or metadata. The free account allegedly supports up to ten aliases, but I can’t seem to find a way to actually create them. I assume the paid tiers do support the option, but I’m certainly not going to test it – the quality doesn’t justify the price of $5 minimum per month (hell, I wouldn’t use this crap for free). As a positive, it does apparently support Bitcoin payments, but…why? Leave it rotting along with FastMail, Criptext and the other piles of junk.
There’s so many violators popping up now that I wasn’t supposed to review any more of them unless they were significant for some reason. However, this one was mentioned to me by two people and it encompasses a lot of what’s wrong with E-mail services and computing in general, so I might as well get to it. Let’s start with the quote from their main page:
Quite possibly the most private email service — ever
That’s it – I’m sold. Of course, no violator has ever made that promise before…not at all. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, and first check out what’s actually so special about Criptext. First of all, since it’s a shitty Electron “app” (literally embedding Chromium inside it), it takes up a huge amount of resources – much more than Claws Mail. The interface is your usual webshit and you cannot make it fit with the rest of your operating system – like an alien invader. Obviously, forget about it supporting mail clients; Criptext says fuck the established standards – we’ll run our own special snowflake webshit implementation. That alone would usually be a dealbreaker for me, but let’s dig deeper. I don’t seem to be able to run the “app” through either torify or proxychains, so it can be assumed to not support anonymization. To use Criptext, you need to sign up through the “app” which asks you for your real name. Now let’s tackle some specific claims made on their site:
All your emails are locked with a unique key that‘s stored on your device alone, which means only you and your intended recipient can read the emails you send.
So, Criptext alleges to be E2E – but actually, it only works between Criptext accounts – others will just receive your mail unencrypted as usual. And – as the “app” doesn’t support PGP (unlike a regular mail client) – you’re left bare unless you encrypt through the command line. This is not at all different than what Proton or Tutanota are doing.
Criptext doesn‘t store any emails in its servers. All your emails are stored on your device alone, which means you‘re in control of your data at all times.
That’s actually absolutely impossible. At some point, the E-mail has to go through Criptext servers so that it is delivered to the recipient. Why pretend otherwise?
With real-time tracking you can know once your email is read.
This is advertised as an unique feature, but actually, mail clients support it with something called
Request Return Receipt. No advantage for Criptext, unfortunately. Now check this from their security section (I cannot even archive the Jabba-heavy page, ugh):
All your emails and private keys are stored solely on your device. Once Criptext delivers an email there‘s no trace of it left in our servers whatsoever.
This is called
Once messages are delivered to your device, they are deleted from our servers. The same holds true for messages which you send.
Okay – assuming they’re not bluffing (which they already did a few times) – this is a welcome change of pace compared to most violators. However, POP3 protocol in mail clients supports the deletion of E-mail upon retrieval – so again, this is not specific to Criptext.
We also keep email metadata (subject, date and sender email address) in order to enable certain features of the Services, such as the “unsend”, “read receipts” and “expiration” features.
The duration is not mentioned. Red flag.
When a normal, unencrypted email is sent to you by a non-Criptext sender, the email gets encrypted by the server with your public key and can only be decrypted by your device. The same holds true for attachments that are sent to you from non-Criptext addresses. This means that your emails are always encrypted, even if the sender is not using Criptext.
That just means the E-mail would be encrypted from Criptext to you – but not before it reaches Criptext. Therefore, Criptext could still read it – again, why pretend otherwise?
We may automatically log information about you and your computer or mobile device when you access our Services. This includes information like hardware model, operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, and mobile network, connection information including mobile operator or ISP, language and time zone, and IP.
So, Criptext stores your IP address and lots of other information. Duration is again not specified. It also shares that data with unspecified partners:
Okay, I think it’s lights out for Craptext now. The only positive about them is their promise to immediately delete your E-mail upon retrieval – but seeing how many deceptive claims they’ve already made, it’s doubtful they do even that. All that remains from the privacy posturing on their main page is a pile of rubble. The sane thing to do is to leave Craptext rotting right along the Protons, Fastmails and Hushmails and use some proper services.
Mollie will share your personal data with third parties if this is necessary for the performance of the contract or if it is based on legal obligations or legitimate interests. As for some positives – well, mail clients are apparently allowed, as well as Bitcoin. But if their payment processor stores so much stuff, does it even matter? There is disk encryption…who cares, everyone now does it. If you really want to part with your money, get Posteo that is 3 times cheaper and much better. Or just go for the good free ones like RiseUp or Disroot.
A chat member has inquired about this one. Their modus operandi sounded nice:
Purism is a Social Purpose Corporation (SPC), which means we put social good above exploiting people.
So I decided to check them out, naively believing it (I guess the Mozilla situation has taught me nothing). The amount of personal data required for getting an account is the most I’ve ever seen out of any provider:
Billing First name is a required field. Billing Last name is a required field. Billing Country is a required field. Billing Street address is a required field. Billing Town / City is a required field. Billing State is a required field. Billing ZIP is a required field. Billing Phone is a required field. Shipping First name is a required field. Shipping Last name is a required field. Shipping Country is a required field. Shipping Street address is a required field. Shipping Town / City is a required field. Shipping State is a required field. Shipping ZIP is a required field. Please enter an address to continue.
We do not track you. or
We do build products, software, and services that respect society and your privacy. – the only mildly useful information is that they keep
temporary things for 30 days. Don’t expect the
social purpose corporation (heh) to tell you about what exactly that consists of, though. Librem does support mail clients, which is the only real positive I can see about this service.
UPDATE August 2020: The signup still requires manual approval and it’s hit-and-miss whether you get in. Last time I reviewed them I didn’t, even though I gave a real looking name. Now despite a troll name they accepted me for some reason – and I did it through the TOR network too. Clearly, they’re not a serious service. Often, you can’t even connect to the site and they send you http:// links through E-mail – which are not even redirected to HTTPS (without addons). More importantly, full mail client support is limited to paid accounts – free ones can only receive. Therefore, this should be considered a paid provider, with minimum $25 per year (or about $2 / month). And if you do that, you need to provide your real name, address, and credit card data, so it becomes totally useless for privacy. Lights out for SAFe-mail then, but there’s more damning information I wrote previously, so take a look at it if you want to dig deeper still:
Israel-based service established in 1999. Before I delve deep into the meat of the issues, let’s look at the first impression. Namely, the site structure and grammar is something a chimpanzee would make – this makes getting any information from the site a puzzle in itself. Most of the stuff in there is ancient, and some sections contradict each other. They’ve had 20 fucking years to make a proper website but instead we get this abomination…but let’s try to make sense of it anyway:
Safe-mail.net is not using cookies and not collecting any data about users. Safe-mail.net does not transfer, sell, trade or oterwise exchange any data it might have about its users with any other company.
So it allegedly does not collect ANY data about its users. Why, then, do they bother to qualify it with a statement that they also don’t sell the data? Wait, there’s also this: (from the user agreement) (archive)
SAFe-mail Ltd. will not disclose information about you or your use of the SAFe-mail system, unless…
Okay, so you DO have data about your users after all…
You agree that SAFe-mail may access your account, including its contents, for these reasons or for service or technical reasons.
So now you admit that you can access even the contents of my account? Isn’t this an admission that you read our mail?
Please note that your Internet Protocol address is transmitted with each message sent from your account.
No shit. But what we’re interested in is whether that IP, or any other data, is stored by SAFe-mail, and for how long – and this information is not provided. Does this not sound suspicious? SAFe-mail spends a lot of time posturing on how privacy-based it is, yet seems strangely secretive about the kinds of data it collects; in fact, you have to read between the lines to realize that it stores anything at all. A clear indication of a honeypot to me.
You consent to providing us with the following personal data when you register an account: First name, last name, company name (where applicable), mobile phone number (where applicable), country, and alternative email address. […] To revoke this consent you must terminate the Service
Sorry Runbox, but requiring my real name just ain’t privacy-respecting. The first impression already isn’t very good…and it’s just the beginning.
Your Account Information is stored on servers located in Norway for as long as your account is active…
Great, so I have to kill the account for you guys to stop storing my information. And then it’s fucking gone, right?
…and: up to 1 month after closure of trial accounts; or up to 5 years after closure of subscribed accounts, as financial records must be kept for 5 years according to the Norwegian Bookkeeping Legislation.
No, of course it isn’t fucking gone – that would be too private for the “privacy-loving” Runbox. So it’s five years after the deletion of your account until your real name is gone from their database…or is it?
Backup of Account Information is stored on secure servers separate from the Runbox system for up to 6 months, even after the information has been deleted from the main storage.
Nope, the privacy-loving Runbox is truly smashing all the previous privacy records set by privacy giants such as Google or Yahoo; it’s five and a half years until your data is gone from their servers! Oh Runbox, what are some other ways in which you protect my privacy?
Email service content (data associated with Webmail, Contacts, and Files in the Service) is stored in main storage on servers located in Norway for as long as your account is active and: up to 3 months after closure of trial accounts; or up to 6 months after closure of subscribed accounts.
So all your mail and metadata (sender, recipient, subject, date/time) is stored as long as your account exists. There’s also the backup which is stored for longer. Should we prolong this torture? Okay, let’s do the finishing move and get this over with: The Runbox “service” is fucking paid! Can we say final nail in the coffin? Seriously, they’re like a Gmail you have to pay for…but wait, there is more: (I swear it’s the last quote!)
If you correspond with us via e-mail, the postal service, or other forms of communication, we will retain such correspondence and the information contained therein.
To say something positive, I will mention that they accept Bitcoins…and you can use them through the mail client. There is also a 30 day “free” trial. Oh, and they are powered by renewable energy sources (but so is the actually private Posteo, reviewed later), which is the only really commendable thing about this “service”. But since the data collection and storage policy is so terrible, you should stay away.
all user data is stored in privacy respectful countries – without, of course, specifying those uber-private countries. ReCaptcha is required to sign up, which shows you just how much privacy matters to them (if they submit to the Big G’s botnet, you can safely assume they store fucking everything). Openmailbox severely lacks ethics, deleting features without notice (archive):
Free users of Openmailbox could use IMAP/POP to connect to their mailboxes previously. The new owner of the service, French company SASU Initix, disabled the option without prior notice for all free account owners.
This blocked the use in all email clients for free users, and left them with no choice but to use the web interface instead to do their mailing.
Related to that is the removal of the mail aliases feature. The available aliases were removed completely and stopped redirecting any messages.
Imagine you’ve used an alias to talk to your family and it suddenly stops working – so you don’t get their messages anymore, unaware of the reason it happens (hey, maybe they hate you now…). They also claim you can make an account in a minute – which is simply mockery due to ReCaptcha. Their Terms of Service (archive) follow the same principles (or lack of):
OpenMailBox reserves the right to amend this text, without prior notice, and you are therefore responsible for making yourself aware of the latest version of this text. In the event of a breach of these conditions, your user account may be locked or deleted, with no option for redress or compensation.
So if they suddenly decided VPN / TOR users are dangerous terrorists, they will kick you out just like that; say goodbye to your contacts, messages, everything (since mail clients don’t work, you can’t easily download them). Free accounts inactive for 180 days will also be deleted.
There is a rumor going around reddit that either OpenMailBox or Autistici gave access (archive) to someone’s account to the Singapore Tax Authorities. However, this is almost impossible for Autistici since it would go against everything they’ve always stood for (archive):
After 2005 we have been constantly pestered by prosecutors and security forces (and even by the Vatican! ) asking us to hand over users’ data and identities and we are proud to say we were always able to answer: we are sorry, but we do not have them. Recently (2010) some very smart policeman managed to convince a judge to order the full seizing of three servers in three different countries to find out if we REALLY did not have any data about a user’s activity on our servers . After spending a lot of public money (for a couple of graffiti on a wall), the judge ended up with a lot of encrypted files with no useful information inside, and maybe he’ll think twice about giving out other investigations to the cunning policeman.
On the other hand, it would be quite consistent with OpenMailBox‘s proven lack of ethics. But, in the end, it is just an unconfirmed rumor – so take it with a grain of salt (however, the person did post it more than once).
It’s August 2020, time for an update. First, let me say that I could not sign up despite enabling cookies, JabbaShit, XHR and filling out all the fields correctly several times. Was the issue Pale Moon or maybe the VPN? Who cares – if I can’t register, the service is useless. Free tier does not support mail clients so for MailFence to be even slightly worth bothering with, you need to pay (2.50 € per month, Bitcoin accepted). Of course the front page contains privacy posturing:
We believe that online privacy is a fundamental human right which can no longer be taken for granted so we decided that it was time to offer a service which is fully dedicated to email privacy.
We implement a local instance of Matomo […]
This crap again. Read ProtonMail‘s section to see just how vile it is.
We collect IP addresses, message-ID’s, sender and recipient addresses, subjects, browser versions, countries and timestamps.
Already a red flag here. No mention of how long this data stays around, but we do have an idea of how long they store your E-mail:
We retain backups of deleted messages and documents for 45 days.
Very private you are. And then comes this excuse:
This is for the purpose of restoring data in case of accidental deletion by users. After 45 days, data will be permanently deleted from all our systems.
Yeah sure – it’s always for the user’s good. In the end, your deleted mail will stay on the servers for 45 days, regardless of justification. And if that wasn’t enough…
Should you close your account, all data will be permanently deleted 30 days after the legal expiration date (i.e. the Belgian law imposes 365 days after account closing).
So you have to wait for over a year for your “deleted” account to be actually deleted. Belgian privacy laws in action! Summarizing: the service stores a lot of data and is strangely secretive about the duration – but we can guess it’s somewhere between 45 and 395 days. Mail client support requires paying, and if you’re going to do that, there are much better options. So, forget about MailFence.
Safe-Mail (safe-mail.nl) (SIGN UP DISABLED)
Let’s move straight to the meat of the issue:
The Safe-Mail Team are a bunch of nerds with a clear vision about privacy. And we want to give others the opportunity to protect their privacy. With a Safe-Mail community we want to let the world know that privacy is a legal right and we are ready to fight for it.
Great, and yet…
The provider does not check on messages or any other content stored on Safe-Mail.nl unless bound by law to do so (this means only when we get a court order!!).
So you can check on messages? Anyway, they will not fight court orders. So much for the
privacy is a legal right posturing.
We do not hold any user information accept for the information you give us at the registration.
Unfortunately, that information includes my real name and city (I guess I can give a fake one, but still…).
The whole Safe-Mail system is using different log files which we need to access when there are problems with the system. It’s called maintenance and important for the health of our Safe-Mail system. We totally understand that it feels uncomfortable by the idea that you aren’t really anonymous then, but we also cannot say that we log nothing. But we are convinced that log files older then 7 days does not have any value to us. Especially when it contains maintenance value. So we decided that all logs with “specific” information are being deleted from the server after 7 days. Log files only takes up space and we want to save that for more important matters. That does not mean you can abuse the system. There are rules and our guess is that all of you know what those rules are. We fight for privacy here, but we condemn illegal activities. Please, think wise and twice when you use the Safe-Mail system.
Not many specifics – remember, secretiveness is a red flag – but “specific” data (whatever that means) allegedly stays around for only 7 days.
Free account does not support mail clients. They do accept bitcoins so theoretically, you can have an anonymous account with mail client support. Even in the free account, you can upload an S/MIME certificate to have end-to-end encryption, however, unlike PGP, this relies on trusting a certificate authority – similar to SSL.
Maybe I’m a little too harsh on this one – but if FREE services with mail client support are available – that also don’t ask for your real name – and will ACTUALLY stick their heads out for your privacy – then those should be used.
Paid only – 50$ per year; bitcoins accepted. Mail client support. TOS forbids you from badmouthing the service (lol) –
not publish or post false, malicious, defamatory or libelous comments about Neomailbox or Neomailbox Customer Support in any form online of offline. What about the privacy? Not much is mentioned except:
We keep logs of SMTP traffic for 6 months for performance analysis and abuse prevention. Anonymous surfing logs are wiped every 10 minutes.
This used to be 2 months, so they multiplied the duration by 3. And the specifics of “SMTP traffic” are not mentioned so you should assume it’s absolutely everything. And in another part of the website:
We keep no logs or customer data other than what is absolutely necessary for performance tuning and security monitoring of our servers. Your IP address is not saved in our logs. All logs are deleted every 7 days.
UPDATE: the IP part is not in the FAQ anymore, roundabout confirming they do store your IP. But wait, that contradicts the earlier quote. So they didn’t explain themselves clearly – that’s a red flag; as if they didn’t want you to know what exactly do they store. You should assume the worst – namely that all your mail content and metadata is saved for 180 days. There is also this:
The following statement is true on January 1st, 2020: Neomailbox has never released any customer data to any government agency or other entity.
That’s nice. However, the fact is – not only do you have to pay for getting your data stored for half a year, but cannot even say a bad word about them. For something positive, Neomailbox has disk encryption and unlimited aliases. Still, they are paid, keep your unspecified data for 6 months, and have weird stuff in their ToS. My friend has also proven that one of their mail servers fails the TLS test – which means your mail is sent around unencrypted. You could do much worse than Neomailbox – but also much, much better.
Right off the bat you get smacked with Google’s recaptcha; this is an absolute injustice as Google is the epitome of spyware companies. The service also demands your full name and country. They do allow signup and use through TOR. I was prompted for SMS or email verification for the purpose of password reset, this was however, optional.
- the browser types and versions used
- the operating system used by the accessing system
- the website from which an accessing system reaches our website (so-called referrer)
- the sub-websites which are accessed via an accessing system on our website
- the date and time of access of the website
- an internet protocol address (IP address)
- the internet service provider accessing system
They say they collect this data expressly to provide it to law enforcement. They will erase data if requested; they also detail the erasure period of particular data:
- WEBMAIL: IP address and access time retained for 4 days, then erased.
- SMTP: Message metadata (sender, recipient, message ID and size of a sent or received email) is retained for 7 days, then erased
- POP3/IMAP: Account, IP address, ID and size of erased messages, ID and size and locations of moved emails; all retained for 4 days, then erased
- Remote POP3 server, login, password, log of recent POP3 retrievals; retained for 7 days, then erased
- WEBSITE: log data with logins + source IP addresses in the last few hours; retained for 4 days, then erased
The german public prosecutor’s office and police have “easy” access to their database. “Simple” requests do not need a court order. They are not legally allowed to inform the customer to any information request. They are also not allowed to dispute the request, and as such you have no protection.
Access to the log data of mail or web servers or the email content of a mailbox requires a judge’s decision, unless the investigating authorities can directly establish “imminent danger”, in other words the police can just cry terrorist and they can get any of your data.
They claim they will only disclose data to mandatory requests, “Such requests for information from the police without a court order will definitely be rejected by us.”
Playing around with the web interface, there is not a single third party request.
All in all mailbox.org is absolutely abysmal for privacy. Not only do they retain an exorbitant amount of data, they bend over backwards for the authorities and don’t try to (or legally can’t) protect you whatsoever. NOTE: this entry has been submitted by Oreamnos; I only did grammar / structure improvements. Thanks, Oreamnos!
UPDATE July 2021: Dead. Rumors of the admin being arrested, but no proof.
“We are confident that they didn’t get in,” states the alert. “It looks like they resorted to rewriting the .onion URL located on sigaint.org to one of theirs so they could MITM [man-in-the-middle] logins and spy in real-time.”
Another investigator wrote them an e-mail a few days ago where they said that they have no time to implement SSL (they are relying on the TOR network’s automatic bad relay detection, which is not perfect –
In 32 days I’ve found 15 instances where a node is sniffing and using my credentials). They’ve had two fucking years to support SSL but don’t – and since they know about SIGAINT’s hack, making themselves intentionally vulnerable to the same means they are either be heavily incompetent or a honeypot. Secmail has also refused to comment on not having a v3 (more secure) onion domain; do they also not have time for that? All it takes is one additional line in the config file (archive).
When secmail got started, they advertised themselves on reddit (archive), where they took a lot of criticism. For example, their first server configuration used to reveal the OS and PHP versions, which makes it so much easier for hackers to get in – and at that point, they were already
operating for more than six months – can you say incompetent? So, despite allegiances of security and the allure of the darknet, I’d stay away from this one. It has nothing at all over RiseUp which also supports onion domains (v3 as well!). Read a deeper investigation of secmail here if you’re interested.
I used to have a review of this one, and it was not so good. However, after reading my review, CTemplar wrote me an E-mail to say they’ve changed most of the offending issues (kudos!). Since I didn’t want to spread wrong information, I took the old review down, and just now finally got around to a rewrite. So, is CTemplar actually worth using now?
Currently all end to end encrypted email services can hack their own users and decrypt all of their data except us. We are able to provide this level of protection using an implementation of checksums that have not been used before.
There are two problems with this claim. First of all, comparing checksums doesn’t require any special implementation – you can do it with any service that shares their code externally (for example, on GitHub). Then, you just compare that code to the one from your browser’s
View source option. However, all the E-mail providers I’ve seen don’t actually share the code that runs on the site – only files to build / generate it. Thankfully, one of our chat’s regulars undertook the job of building CTemplar and after several tries, still couldn’t. Even if you did manage to do so, you’ll have to compare the checksums every single time you use the site and for every single script it loads. Clearly, this is impossible in practice, and therefore useless. If they really cared about this, they’d just put the real code on GitHub so you could compare directly.
When you visit our website, your browser sends us your user-agent and IP address. When you leave our site no records are kept of your IP address with association to your account. We store your IP in an anonymous way for 7 days.
The “anonymized data” rears its ugly head again. What exactly is stored is anyone’s guess.
If you choose to delete your account, everything is deleted and no records or backups kept.
Now that’s a great policy which unfortunately most providers don’t follow. By the way, this is apparently thanks to the
Icelandic privacy laws – which are actually a thing unlike, say, Swiss privacy laws (a meme at this point) which enforce 6 months of data storage.
We will not disclose anything to third parties, except your payment information if you choose to buy a paid account.
Again, this is the only way to be private. CTemplar, by the way, also allows bitcoin payments so even if you DO want a paid account, you can avoid your data being stored anywhere but CTemplar.
Okay, I’ve skipped some sections because I want to cover the most important part in depth. Check out this quote:
We use a CDN service because its use is required to provide a better experience serving our static website content quickly around the world. Our CDN service also provides necessary protection against DDOS attacks. CDN’s can theoretically serve malicious code to our users. Our SRI & Checksum implementation offers protection from malicious code served by CDN’s.
integrity parameter to the resource with a hash which your browser would then compare to the received file to ensure it’s what the site intended to send. If the hash doesn’t match, it means that the either the site serving the resource, or some other third party, tampered with the file. However, this works only for the resources for which the site added the integrity tag – the meddling third party could still modify anything else. The bigger problem, though, is what kind of CDN did CTemplar have in mind (archive):
For example, if CTemplar receives a DDOS attack that we are not able to handle, we will switch to using Cloudflare.
So they will put their site behind the evil Cloudflare in case of a DDOS. What does that mean for their claims about SRI? Briefly, what Cloudflare does is proxy the whole page (instead of a specific file or several) – so that it can modify it before serving it to you, including removing the integrity checks if it wanted to. See, SRI can only protect against the third party modifying a file if it has no access to the page that sets the integrity checks – but Cloudflare does. That CTemplar pretends otherwise means they are either lying to you or didn’t do their research – which is bad news for their trustworthiness.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the positives about CTemplar. Registration requires no personal data or ReCaptcha. Front page claims that they
never track your IP address, keep logs on your usage or record any identifying information at any time; which is great but again – since they’ve specified
identifying information, there must be collection of some allegedly non-identifying data – and we’re in the dark as to what it is. CTemplar does provide an onion domain but it redirects to their clearnet one:
Wow! And here I was thinking I’ll be a good guy and list some positives, but it seems CTemplar does not deserve it. I could dig deeper, but it seems fruitless at this point. CTemplar does seem to care about you at least a little bit – since they did send me an E-mail some months ago and changed some of the offending issues. But they still don’t support mail clients (the most important feature for a provider) and have other glaring flaws such as the totally insecure and disrespectful downgrading of the onion domain to the clearnet. They also made wrong claims about both checksums and subresource integrity – call it fraud or incompetence, I don’t care. Even if they changed stuff again, the reputation has been irreversibly damaged. As much as it pains me to say it – because there are truly lots of way worse providers out there – avoid CTemplar.
Paid, requires real name and an existing E-mail address to activate. Accepts bitcoin. Full of privacy posturing, complete with the claim of being protected by strong Swiss privacy laws. Such as this one (archive), for which they’ve gotten a government data request that they complied with:
Damage to data 1. Any person who without authority alters, deletes or renders unusable data that is stored or transmitted electronically or in some other similar way is liable on complaint to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty. If the offender has caused major damage, a custodial sentence of from one to five years may be imposed. The offence is prosecuted ex officio. 2. Any person who manufactures, imports, markets, advertises, offers or otherwise makes accessible programs that he knows or must assume will be used for the purposes described in paragraph 1 above, or provides instructions on the manufacture of such programs is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty. If the offender acts for commercial gain, a custodial sentence of from one to five years may be imposed.
I don’t understand exactly what the above means – sounds like hacking but could be interpreted in many ways (even deleting your own mail could fit
We […] guarantee you that there is no third party access to your data. No information about the length of data collection or the possibility to delete your account and what does it actually do. Maybe we can find something in their TOS (archive) then:
We will only keep the minimum of logs and debug information necessary to ensure that we can improve the service and resolve issues that may have occurred.
These are requests for retained data. Switzerland has a legal requirement for six months data retention by the provider. Data that is retained is communication metadata, so information about who communicated with whom from where and when but not the actual content of the communication.
We use Piwik to track user interaction with the site. We keep it hosted on the server locally, so no analytic data is leaving the server.
Piwik has changed its name to Matomo recently, so just read ProtonMail‘s section to know more about it.
Dates – When you perform an action (ie: register an account), the date of the action will be recorded.
I assume this goes for all actions? Then it’s absolutely terrible. What comes next?
Emails – Any email you send or receive with your Teknik.io email address is stored locally onto the server. These emails are not read.
UPDATE February 2020: Everything is as it was but added information about Tutanota blocking anonymizers. With that, lack of PGP and mail client support, it is absolutely useless regardless of its privacy.
This was my first provider after I got concerned about privacy and dumped Gmail and friends. That was before I “dug deep” – needless to say, I don’t recommend it anymore. It does not support mail clients; I used to think that’s something dinosaurs use, but now I can’t live without it. Encryption works only if you pre-shared a password with your recipients (unless they also use Tutanota, then it’s automatic) – and that, of course, comes with its own issues (how to share the password securely?) which PGP has already solved. And since Tutanota is only accessible through webmail or their shitty desktop client (which is the same as the webmail it seems), they could easily modify the code to send themselves your password and be able to decrypt your shit. Tutanota does not support the usage of other encryption, like PGP (and in fact shits on it on its website [archive], even though it’s the only real E-mail encryption you can have). Unlike with ProtonMail, there has been no third-party audit of Tutanota’s encryption. There’s also this worrying policy in regards to logging:
In order to maintain email server operations, for error diagnosis and for prevention of abuse, mail server logs are stored max. 7 days. These logs contain sender and recipient email addresses and time of connection but no customer IP addresses.
No IP addresses? Great! Except if you use a VPN or TOR –
Storage only takes place for IP addresses made anonymous which are therefore not personal data any more. It’s a genius excuse, isn’t it? You’ve hidden your IP so it isn’t personal…except if TOR or the VPN ever got compromised. Also, later you will learn how just the metadata (which Tutanota does store) can reveal much more about you than you’d ever guess. This is all assuming you can actually use a VPN or TOR, but Tutanota provides no such option:
The above message appears both with the Snopyta VPN as well as TOR Browser – therefore, there is no anonymity with the uber-private Tutanota. Signing up is free, but you are limited to only one account if you don’t pay. If you do, then prepare for this:
For the execution of credit card payments your credit card data will be shared with our payment service provider Braintree. This includes the transfer of personal data into a third country (USA)
Later they say that they have an “agreement” with this company that they will only use your data for the processing of the payment – but the value of these “agreements” is doubtful, in my opinion. Your payment data is also stored for whoever knows how long:
Order-related data and the addresses associated with the order are stored in respect to tax, contract and commercial law retention periods and erased at the end of those periods.
Summary: blocks anonymizers, no mail client or PGP support, stores your anonymized IP and metadata, indefinite (?) storage of payment data. Yet another privacy giant bites the dust.
A service for
activists that starts off with some nice quotes:
We believe that this world is far from being the best world possible. We respond to this by providing activists, groups and collectives with platforms for a freer communication and digital tools for privacy self-defence.
Our principles are fairly straightforward: the world should not be run on money, but it should be rooted in solidarity, community, mutual help, equal rights and freedoms, and social justice.
We believe that communication must be free – and for free – and, therefore, universally accessible.
discrimination based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation
Using the Services in order to promote institutional political parties or any other organization that already has the financial resources to widely spread its own content and ideas
Speaking in favor of a politician is a sin according to Autistici.
Using the Services for any military purpose, including information or training material about firearms and related combat techniques, cyberwarfare, weapons development and manufacture.
Forget about self-defense related content, too. And the funniest:
Using the Services for cryptocurrency related activities;
What’s wrong with cryptocurrency? You’d think it would be considered a (relatively) anonymous and uncontrolled alternative to bank accounts. Anyway, we don’t know what exactly they mean by
promoting political parties, for example – so the severity of what’s accepted by the ToS is unknown. Either way, if they detect you violating the policies, you’re out:
if we see that you’re violating our principles publicly while using our services, we won’t hesitate to delete your account without previous notice.
In order to detect abuse of our email services, we keep track of email metadata (message sender and recipient only) for every message that goes through our systems. These logs are retained for 15 days.
Metadata is extremely revealing – enough to kill people (archive) because of it. And why is it necesary to store it for 15 days when other privacy services like Disroot manage with just 24 hours? Now, since this is the E-mail report, I will only briefly cover their policy for other services they provide:
Whenever you interact with our platform or Services, whether you have an account or not, the automatic exchange of information between your client and our servers will provide us with some non-personal data, including, without limitation, data relating to the browser you are using (browser type, whether it is a mobile/desktop device, OS version, preferred language), the date and time of your visit and the referring website, but not your IP address.
I’ve written before about the perils of
anonymized data, so I will only respond briefly. All the data Autistici collects is certainly vulnerable to browser fingerprinting, and we don’t know what their alleged anonymization consists of.
Referring websites could also be used to create a profile of someone’s interests to possibly connect it to their real life identity. How about the good stuff?
Autistici controls their servers and uses disk encryption. When you delete your account, it’s fully gone in 3 days. There’s no third party data sharing. Personal information is not required to sign up, but you need to fill a request – which they will check if it agrees with their beliefs, such as:
We support individuals, collectives, communities, groups and so on whose political and social activities fit within this worldview and who share with us some fundamental principles: anti-fascism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-militarism. And on top of that, one has to share our basic attitude towards money and the capitalistic world: a deep feeling of uneasyness and unrest.
Privacy. It’s not just our policy. It’s our mission. slogan? Let’s find out. First, their website:
The data that’s collected and processed by their website include: your IP address, browser and operating system type and version, browser language settings, country, date and time, origin of your visit, as well as clicked links and visited (parts of) pages of their website. Hmm, the latter sounds suspicious. Wonder how do they justify it?
to help us get an idea of which of our pages appear to be effective to inform our visitors. How about the origin of your visit?
to assess the success of our search engine optimization and information outreach efforts. And the country?
to know in which countries and at what moments our marketing efforts appear to be effective. Sounds like good old tracking to me. They claim this data is then “deleted or anonymized”, but whatever. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be apart of their “marketing” and “information outreach” experiments – anonymized or not. How about the mail service?
When you delete an email, it is immediately deleted from our production servers, unlike what happens with many other webmail providers. Only on the off-site backups (which are fully encrypted, of course) a copy will remain for the maximum retention period of three days. Your Account will be stored for as long as our Agreement remains in force. When an Agreement is fully terminated, all data contained in the Account, including all emails, will be deleted permanently.
As well as their policy in dealing with requests:
We will not comply with requests from any authorities other than Dutch authorities. If we receive a request from any foreign government, we will refuse to comply and will instead refer the requestor to place a formal request to the Dutch authorities for mutual assistance.
StartMail will never cooperate with any voluntary surveillance programs. Under the strong current laws that protect the right to privacy in Europe, European governments cannot legally force service providers like StartMail to implement a blanket spying program on their users. Should that ever change, we will use all methods at our disposal to resist.
We will not comply with any requests from private third parties to provide information about our Users, unless we would receive a valid Dutch court order to such effect.
We store invoices for 7 years, or whichever period may be prescribed under applicable tax law. And, according to Wikipedia, invoices contain personal data, such as your name. Despite a lot of posturing, I can’t recommend StartMail as long as they keep us in the dark in terms of the most important information. Also, recall that some time ago, StartPage was bought by a data collecting big corporation – and even though they allege that StartMail is separate entity, you’d be naive to think that stuff won’t spill over.
UPDATE July 2021: registrations now disabled. As I’ve explained, it’s all about money in the end, and these single-person services can’t be relied on.
It’s no secret that providing dismail services is very time consuming. This is 3 hours every day for the last 6 years. Sometimes less, sometimes much more. With family, job and other commitments, this means very long days. Unfortunately, the day has a limited number of hours and so it comes (among other importent things) that I have hundreds of unanswered requests and questions in my inbox, I just don’t have enough time to answer them all in a reasonable amount of time. This is frustrating for you and for me.
When will you reopen the registration? If I won the lottery, maybe.
the sending of messages with the aim of harming or destroying, violate privacy, infringe the intellectual property, to issue statements offensive, fraudulent, obscene, racist, xenophobic, discriminatory, or any other form of content prohibited by law.
In other words, pretty much the SJW favorite victimization issue list. Plus no porn, no copyright violations, no
abuse of others and no
software for the circumvention of copy protection which could include even torrent clients by a loose definition. Apparently only one guy runs Dismail, so it could go down if he gets bored. Not that you’d want to use it when there are much better alternatives. Though – in a pinch – it does allow TOR signup without personal data or ReCaptcha as well as mail client support, so it’s decent, at least.
A friend has made me aware of this one and called it his favorite, but I don’t like it for a few reasons:
- It’s paid – that alone does not kill it, but free should be prefered
- You must pay for the whole year ($19) upfront if you want the Micro plan, which is the cheapest. The other plans are extremely expensive and I’d say, not worth it for a simple E-mail provider.
- You must contact them personally if you want to pay with Bitcoin, but at least they do support the option
- They don’t provide a domain, so you must buy your own which is an additional cost
- The Micro plan allows only 20 outgoing messages per day, which is kind of low. To be honest, I never reach it with my own E-mail usage, but depending on what you do, 20 might easily be too little.
- They require giving them your real name to sign up
- They require an existing E-mail account; temporary ones are banned
- They store your outgoing messages for up to 30 days
- They store your IP addresses but claim they are
anonymized– you are not informed of how that is accomplished, however.
- Inventory data is stored for up to two years, and possibly more if some unspecified legal stuff applies.
So, Migadu is a paid provider that needs a domain and whose privacy is not that great. At least they allow Bitcoin payments and support mail clients. Overall, I’m not impressed and would much rather go for Disroot, RiseUp or Posteo / CounterMail if money is not an issue.
UPDATE May 2021: registrations closed, soon to be invite-only. I guess an inferior RiseUp, then? Or superior, if you really hate the commies.
Sounds good at first glance – supports mail clients (though Claws Mail could not automatically detect the settings and required manual configuration), does not ask for personal information,
allows registration and usage using TOR and other privacy services, and
is run by “some dude”, not a business. So is this the service to use? For that, we will have to see what data does it collect, as usual:
IMAP and SMTP logs include: When an E-mail is sent, the username, destination e-mail address, and information about the connection (like IP address, quota information) When you connect to IMAP, what IP address and username (if any) you are logging in with, and if that login was successful
HTTP access logs containing your IP address, user agent, and type/location of your requests. They say it’s not related to your account, but it would be trivial to connect them.
“That means that SSL keys and private keys and full mail content of all 64,500 of my users, as well as hashed passwords, registration time, and the last seven days of logs were all confiscated and now are in the hands of German authorities,
Yeah…I mean, could this have gone any worse? The victims of this breach were probably wishing they never cared about this “privacy” stuff and still kept using Gmail, haha. Also, forget about having a normal domain name with this guy – they are all shitty jokes about cocks, rape, memes like blazeit and others you’d rather not show to most people. Another really significant issue is how often the cock.li domain is blocked on various sites. With that in mind, I cannot anymore say that this is a good choice at all. It does at least have an onion domain at http://mail.cockmailwwfvrtqj.onion/; this, however, does not prevent them from reading your mail or storing the metadata.
Alleges itself to be extremely privacy based, with quotes such as
Our mission is to return the feeling of privacy back to people. and
PROBABLY THE ONLY OPENPGP-ENCRYPTED EMAIL BOX, but that isn’t really true – even the dreaded ProtonMail and MailFence have that (though the implementaion is worse). Supports mail clients and has an onion domain. Here’s the big thing though – Paranoid requires an invite, which I tried to get a few days ago. First, it told me that my cock.li mail is “disposable” and won’t be accepted. Then I signed up with real disroot account and – though the message about the disposable services didn’t appear – I still didn’t get a reply in 5 or so days. One of my contacts says his friends sent requests months ago that are still not accepted. Thus, regardless of its privacy, Paranoid appears to be pretty useless.
UPDATE February 2020: The above is what I wrote very long ago. Then, the service went down shortly after so I assumed it’s dead. Now it’s back and one of my contacts was impressed with it, so I investigated again. Everything I wrote above is still true, except I also tried to sign up with my RiseUp E-mail alias, and got rejected for using a “disposable address”. However, the contact managed to get through the process so we did some tests. Paranoid claims that:
If a sender can’t encrypt the eMail which will be sent to your @PARANOID box – we will encrypt it for you using your public key – the only key we store.
@2048.email & @4096.email aliases can receive encrypted eMails only. We will check for you, if an eMail, which has been sent to you, is encrypted.
Unless we’ve understood it wrong – the above is false. I’ve sent an unencrypted E-mail to both of those addresses, and my friend received them, where according to the claim – they should have been “bounced” back to me. I did, however, get a message implying that the unencrypted E-mails did not go through:
Dear owner of the email address email@example.com, recently you’ve sent an email to the firstname.lastname@example.org which is in the 4096.email domain provided by Paranoid.EMAIL service. This user does not accept unencrypted emails. Please encrypt email using PGP and send it again. If you do not know the key you can ask using this email email@example.com To avoid seeing this ‘bounce’ message again in the future you can either start sending OpenPGP-encrypted eMail messages to the recipient (if you’ve already familiar with OpenPGP/GnuPG) or alternatively, you can become an early bird tester of our brand new encrypted eMail service…
Of course, even if he did not receive them, they would still have traveled unencrypted from my machine, through my provider, ending at Paranoid (with many other points inbetween). So, him not being able to read them wouldn’t provide any security. What does the “bouncing” accomplish, then? It might possibly (in some alternate world…) get the other guy to encrypt using PGP – however, to have real end-to-end encryption, that person would also have to generate his own keys, which – for the vast majority of people – is insurmountable. Also remember that the above applies only to the 4096 and 2048 aliases – you can still give the regular
paranoid.email one to avoid the bounce.
The above, however, is still the best implementation of PGP you can have without PGP proper. At least they are not doing decryption in the browser, or worse – storing your private key like ProtonMail. In fact, they are specifically warning against those approaches. Not only is there no security or other disadvantages in what Paranoid is doing, some benefits even exist. The messages you receive will be encrypted for at least a part of the journey without the other person’s involvement (again, you must upload your public PGP key), and you might “convert” a few people to real end-to-end encryption in PGP (at the cost of annoying some others).
A reader has made me aware of this one, and I think it’s particularly good so I’m whipping out this review immediately. UPDATE: sorry, it seems I have missed important information – the service is worse than I thought. Read on:
But let’s move on to the stuff that actually matters, which is the service’s inner workings. Cotse is a paid provider, and you must pay for half a year outright, which comes out to about 4 USD per month (similar to CounterMail). They do not accept bitcoin – but do cash by mail (archive):
We do also accept checks, money orders, and cash sent by regular mail
And this is where Cotse‘s cracks begin to show. Their logging page (archive) starts with some information about how logging works and why an E-mail service can’t operate without any. Cotse even nicely shows you what actual SMTP logs look like:
Nov 18 13:25:23 www mta: AUTH=server, relay=domain.com [127.0.0.1] (may be forged), authid=account, mech= Nov 18 13:25:23 www mta: XXXmpe12345: from=, size=405, class=0, nrcpts=1, msgid=, proto=ESMTP, daemon=TLSMTA, relay=domain.com [127.0.0.1] (may be forged) Nov 18 13:25:23 www mta: XXXmpe12345: to=, delay=00:00:00, xdelay=00:00:00, mailer=esmtp, pri=12345, relay=receivingmachine.domain.com. [receivingmachineIP], dsn=2.0.0, stat=Sent (iAIIPOAb089975 Message accepted for delivery)
These appear to indicate that the customer IP address is not stored – as in, it’s set to 127.0.0.1 (the localhost) and unable to identify you. Unfortunately, on another page (archive), they admit that to be wrong:
– Login IP addresses and associated time stamps. (only available from last five days.)
This is the part that I’ve missed during the earlier review (a reminder to always dig deep!), and it kind of dooms Cotse. It’s too bad, because I really thought I could compliment them on their honesty, but I can’t now in good conscience (they’re better than most in that department, though). The service is still good, but cannot now compare to the ones which do not keep your IP. Cotse does not store the contents of your messages:
None of our logs record the datastream, as in contents of the email
There’s no backups, either:
Automatic backups can compromise your privacy because there is a backup to seize of something you deleted. For this reason we do not back up any user data, neither e-mail nor web space.
Which is actually the only privacy respecting option; thanks to this, you’re ensured that after five days, no logs are left. Still, five days is kind of long compared to other services (e.g Disroot) which can manage with 24 hours somehow; but it’s still better than what almost everyone out there is doing. E-mail clients are of course supported (if they weren’t, I wouldn’t even bother reviewing the service) – and you can download the E-mails using POP3, which will also delete them from the server. Lots of domains are available, including using your own. There are many spam filtering options (archive), but you’re not required to use any of them so there’s no worry of E-mails being randomly rejected (like what Disroot does sometimes). Cotse also has an alias feature similar to RiseUp‘s:
We give you unlimited addresses in twenty domains plus unlimited addresses in any of your own custom registered domains. This is so you can give each place that requests an e-mail address its own custom address.
For much of your email needs, you can create unlimited aliases of the form (alias)@(yourname).cotse.net, without the parentheses.
So, if someone visits Cotse‘s site and learns how the alias feature works, they can figure out that your main E-mail address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. Still, the feature should work well against bots. There’s no Bible of banned things (archive):
We have a zero tolerance for fraud, spam, harassment, theft, terroristic threats, cracking or DoS attacking other servers, or child porn.
This is less than what any other provider has. Anyway, summarizing: Cotse is a pretty expensive service with good quality. The main flaws are that it stores your IP address for five days and doesn’t accept Bitcoin payments. Cotse has been around since 1999 so there’s little danger of it going down. It’s a good choice if you don’t trust the commies – just remember to always use anonymizers when using it!
Upon registration, CounterMail will generate a pair of PGP keys, which will be used to encrypt all incoming and outgoing E-mail if possible. If your recipient is another CounterMail user, messages will be automatically encrypted for the whole journey. Otherwise, they’ll be sent in the clear from your recipient until hitting CounterMail’s servers, then encrypted back to you. The problem with all of that is – of course – that CounterMail stores your private key on their server. They allege it’s only stored encrypted with your password, but they could easily swipe that since you must type it to log in each time. Still, even that kind of encryption is better than plaintext – since at least middlemen can’t access your messages, even if you do not trust CounterMail. But nothing compares to PGP that you manage locally, as long as your recipient is able to do so as well. UPDATE July 2021: it seems that now you can delete the private key from their servers and even use your own. This is the best of both worlds – newbies can rely on CounterMail‘s encryption while pros roll their own.
We do not collect any data from our users, the only time we store some data is the first 14 days of your payment date, after 14 days, we remove most sensitive information and only store the data that is needed for the accounting, such as the product you bought, the amount, the payment method, the date and the country. So after 14 days: no Name, no Address, no State, no Phone, no Card numbers and no Secondary email
we strictly do not save any IP addresses that could be traced back to customers. […] This was independently confirmed in an audit report by the German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection.
The audit is in German so I can’t confirm what was actually checked, however it’s nice that they bothered to do it.
We also do not collect or save your IP address if you use an external client to retrieve your emails via IMAP or POP3 or to transmit messages via SMTP to be delivered by us.
So, if you use a mail client, your IP is not stored at all. How about the mail contents? Posteo doesn’t seem to directly say what is stored and for how long, besides the fact that you can wipe it:
When you delete content data, it’s deleted immediately. If the data has been backed up in one of our daily security backups, it will remain there for an additional 7 days until it is completely deleted.
So you can delete your mail anytime, and it’s gone except for the backup. Not bad; you can encrypt the backup as well:
Additionally, we offer the possibility to encrypt all emails, notes, contacts and calendar entries that are saved at Posteo individually with the password of the account (AES-encryption).
Posteo is a paid service (1 EUR per month), though it alleges that the payment data is anonymized (as in, not connected to your account); you can read more about this here (archive). However it is unclear what is actually saved – on one hand, they say that
Despite the change in the law, we still do not save any of our customers’ user information; and on the other –
For PayPal payments: The time and date of a payment, the amount, and the name of the payer. The data is stored for 10 years; they say it is not connected to the user’s account, but you will have to take their word for it. Cash payment by letter is also available. Regardless of Posteo‘s claims, you will still be giving your personal data to someone, whether it’s PayPal, your bank, or the post office – and this is my biggest gripe with the service. Get with the times and accept Bitcoin already…Anyway – since I did this for Disroot, RiseUp and Autistici – let’s now check out what does Posteo‘s ToS prohibit:
5.3 The customer will not use the email service to send out advertisements for commercial purposes by email or to send standardised emails to a multitude of recipients.
So you can’t advertise your commercial service, despite Posteo itself being paid for and not following anti-capitalist politics. Weird. You also can’t
break German laws and
break regulations regarding protection of children. Pretty mild, I guess.
Since June 2019, the German laws have changed so that targeted surveillance by the government is now unlawful (maybe we should be speaking about
German privacy laws instead of
Swiss privacy laws?):
At the present time, there is no longer any legal basis for TKÜ (surveillance of an account for a specified time period); Posteo is therefore no longer allowed to and will not implement such orders.
No tracking shit on their website, unlike StartMail. No IP storage, e-mail deleted immediately upon your action and only stored in a backup encrypted with your password. No personal information collected ever; payment data (allegedly) anonymized as well, so even when the government comes knocking, they get nothing. Two aliases are available upon signing up, and you can buy more. You can’t use custom domains with Posteo and it also does not have an onion domain available. Posteo is powered by renewable energy sources! So you’re protecting the environment with this provider, as well. Taking everything into account, this service is one of the best out there, though it does have a few flaws.
Starts off with some nice quotes. From the front page:
Disroot is a platform providing online services based on principles of freedom, privacy, federation and decentralization. **No tracking, no ads, no profiling, no data mining!
In the last few decades information has become very valuable and more and more easy to collect and process. We are accustomed to being analyzed, blindly accepting terms and conditions for “our own good”, trusting authorities and multi-billion dollar companies to protect our interest, while all along we are the product in their ‘people farms’.
Many networks use your data to make money by analyzing your interactions and using this information to advertise things to you. Disroot doesn’t use your data for any purpose other than allowing you to connect and use the service.
By running Disroot we hope to change how people typically interact on the web. We want to encourage people to break free of the walled gardens of popular software and turn to open and ethical alternatives
The once decentralized, democratic and free internet, has been dominated by a handful of technology giants, promoting concentration in monopolies, more government control and more restrictive regulations. Everything that, in our opinion, opposes and destroys the true essence of this wonderful tool.
Our motto is “The less we know about our users, the better”. We implement data encryption whenever possible to ensure that obtaining user data by unauthorized third parties is as difficult as possible and we maintain only the minimum of user logs or data that are essential for the service performance.
We chose a working approach in which users (from now on referred to as Disrooters) are the most valuable part and the main beneficiaries of the project
IP addresses of currently logged in user via IMAP/POP3 protocol are stored as long as the device is logged in to the server. (per each device logged in)
No persistent IP storage then.
All emails, unless encrypted by user (with gpg for example) are stored on our servers in plain-text.
This means that Disroot can read it – unlike, say, RiseUp or Posteo – that encrypt the mail with a key derived from your password. However, AFAIK – those two could still do it if you were targeted and they decided to swipe your password before hashing (so, use PGP anyway if you can). Disroot also uses disk encryption. This is it for the E-mail specific policy, so let’s check out the general one:
We store logs of your activity for period no longer then 24h (unless specified otherwise per service). This data is used to help diagnose software issues, maintain security of the system against intrusion, and monitor the health of the platform.
So, for E-mail: IP is not stored at all, while all other logs are wiped every day. Very well, can’t do much better than this. Let’s now check out their Terms of service (archive). The relevant parts are these:
2. Contributing to the discrimination, harassment or harm against any individual or group. That includes the spread of hate and bigotry through racism, ethnophobia, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discriminatory behavior.
These days, absolutely anything (even harmless jokes) is considered
discrimination so whether what you do qualifies is anyone’s guess. However – assuming they don’t read your mail – you should be safe (unless you get reported).
3. Contributing to the abuse of others by distributing material where the production process created violence or sexual assault against persons or animals.
Again, lots of room for interpretation here. Would reporting on a violent event that happened qualify? Using Disroot for commercial activities is also not allowed:
Because of this structure we see using Disroot services for commercial purposes as abuse of the service and it will be treated as such.
However, they will not immediately kill your account when such an activity is detected:
5. Using Disroot services for any other commercial activity will be examined per case and the decision on terminating such accounts will be based upon communication with the account holder and the type of the activities in question.
This might seem worrying, but it’s still better than the ToS of almost any other provider listed here.
Disroot allows signing up through a VPN or the TOR network (however, there is no onion domain). Mail clients are supported – but you can use the RainLoop webmail as well, which supports PGP encryption – but they tell you not to rely on it and instead encrypt your shit locally (as I’ve been saying all throughout this report).
Nevertheless, we encourage you to always be cautious when using email communication, and to make use of GPG encryption to ensure your correspondence is safer.
Signing up for Disroot requires filling a “Your Story” section. Earlier, they’ve used ReCaptcha to deal with the spam problems they had – but – due to privacy reasons – dumped it and had to come up with something else, so there it is. If you do so, you also get access to some other services, including a forum, where you can read that Disroot is in for the long haul (archive):
So as far as I’m concern disroot isn’t going anywhere. It is my primary email address, xmpp account and d* account.
I think we have something, big corporations don’t. We believe in what we do, and the change of current status-quo. Going back to the roots, to how the internet used to be.
We started disroot with “long run” in mind. From my side I can tell you, disroot is my baby and I believe in it’s success (or however you want to call it). You don’t kill your babies.
I dont know where did you get the information that we are somehow for activist exlcusive. Nowhere on our website, neither in our Mission statement we say anything about it.
Me and a chatroom member also did tests with him sending E-mail to my account from some rarely used providers (such as Paranoid or Onion Mail), and Disroot blocks them, forcing the other person to resend. This is called
greylisting and is a form of spam filtering – but still, kind of annoying.
In summary – no IP storage, other (possible) logs only for 24h, no personal data required for registration, VPN / TOR usage allowed. So, privacy is very good and they mostly did end up confirming their mission statement – unlike Mozilla. The issues with Disroot include: no onion domain, blocking unknown providers and a somewhat restrictive ToS (no discrimination or violence, no commercial usage) – however, still much less so than almost all the others. You also have to pay for aliases. Along with RiseUp, Disroot is still likely the best free option out there.
Curiously, cookies are required just to view the site. Registration possible only through TOR (now v3); no personal data is needed – only solving a
text-based captcha (which often appears to ignore correct solutions, for some reason) really hard picture captcha. Front page says
Elude mail is free. We will never require you to pay to use our email service. However, mail client usage requires a donation (1 USD per month, in Bitcoin or Monero) and the free tier also needs the user to answer the question
You may not engage in the following activities through the services provided by Elude:
- Harassing or abusing others by engaging in threats, stalking, or sending spam.
- Misuse of services by distributing viruses or malware, engaging in a denial of service, or attempting to gain unauthorized access to any computer system, including this one.
- Contributing to the abuse of others by distributing material where the production process created violence or sexual assault against anyone.
This is still very mild compared to all other providers – most of which have a Bible of requirements to follow. Compared to RiseUp below, allegiance to anarchist / “commie” ideology is not required. All in all, Elude is a very good choice assuming you consider it a paid service. Onion access, no personal data, first-party captcha (but hard to solve), great privacy, decent ToS and 10 aliases for the first paid tier (1 USD / mo). The copied ToS looks kind of suspicious, but whatever. Also, we don’t know who made the service and if they’re going to stick around. Keep in mind I did not truly test this provider because I didn’t pay (but might eventually), so I don’t even know anything about possible downtimes etc. Still, from what I can discern, Elude is a great option, second maybe only to the below.
The Riseup Collective is an autonomous body based in Seattle with collective members world wide. Our purpose is to aid in the creation of a free society, a world with freedom from want and freedom of expression, a world without oppression or hierarchy, where power is shared equally. We do this by providing communication and computer resources to allies engaged in struggles against capitalism and other forms of oppression.
We work to create revolution and a free society in the here and now by building alternative communication infrastructure designed to oppose and replace the dominant system.
We promote social ownership and democratic control over information, ideas, technology, and the means of communication
This is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve spoke about in the Avoiding “The Botnet” – impossible? article. If RiseUp realizes the source of the “botnet” and the need to control the infrastructure, then surely their service does not spy on you. Let’s check it out (archive) though, to be sure:
No IP addresses of any user for any service are retained.
Good, the most important one is out of the way.
Your web browser communicates uniquely identifying information to all web servers it visits […] We do not retain any of this information.
So, user agents and stuff like that isn’t collected. So what do they actually store?
we keep a log of the “from” or “to” information for every message relayed. These logs are purged on a daily basis
So the sender and recipient metadata is stored but only for 24 hours at most, apparently for the prevention of spam. But then comes this:
Anonymous, aggregated information that cannot be linked back to an individual user may be made available to experienced researchers for the sole purpose of developing better systems for anonymous and secure communication. For example, we may aggregate information on how many messages a typical user sends and receives, and with what frequency.
If I have criticized Mozilla and DDG for the same thing, I can’t let it slide here. Though, of course, it’s mild compared to what everyone else is doing.
You may choose to delete your riseup.net account at any time. Doing so will destroy all the data we retain that is associated with your account.
Okay, so regardless of what is stored, if you delete your account – it’s gone for good. The only sane policy that unfortunately isn’t used by most other providers.
We will do everything in our power to protect the data of social movements and activists, short of extended incarceration. We would rather pull the plug than submit to repressive surveillance by our government, or any government.
We have fought and won every time anyone has tried to get us to give up information. We have never turned over any user data to any third party, fourth party, fifth party or any party.
We would not consent to the installation of any external hardware or software on our network and would end the organization rather than install any.
So they admit they will fight the government and would rather die than surrender. What other provider would do that? However, the claim that they’ve never turned over data is false:
After exhausting our legal options, Riseup recently chose to comply with two sealed warrants from the FBI, rather than facing contempt of court (which would have resulted in jail time for Riseup birds and/or termination of the Riseup organization). The first concerned the public contact address for an international DDoS extortion ring. The second concerned an account using ransomware to extort money from people.
Even though this might seem justified by the apparent evil of the actions, it opens a can of worms that I’m not sure should be opened. I mean, the legal system itself is a massive oppressor and we shouldn’t ally with it just because it happens to do something we like once in a blue moon. After this fiasco, RiseUp has taken steps to further increase privacy – they implemented automatic encryption of mail using your password (similar to Posteo):
Additionally, as of March 2017, the storage for all new accounts is personally encrypted. Riseup is unable to read any of the stored content for these accounts. Any user with an account created prior to March 2017 may opt-in to personally encrypted storage.
You can read more about this here. There is also disk encryption – so you’re still protected against the government better than from any other service. And let’s be real here – in RiseUp‘s 21 year long history (as of the time of writing), such a situation has (AFAIK) only happened once – while providers like Proton have given away data hundreds of times. RiseUp will remove your account for engaging in these activities:
- Harassing and abusing others by engaging in threats, stalking, or sending spam.
- Misuse of services by distributing viruses or malware, engaging in a denial of service attack, or attempting to gain unauthorized access to any computer system, including this one.
- Contributing to the abuse of others by distributing material where the production process created violence or sexual assault against persons.
Pretty mild compared to the litany of things you’re not supposed to do that providers like FastMail (archive) or Mailbox.org (archive) have (and you pay for them). RiseUp also provides the best E-mail alias feature of all, which is free, does not reveal your real account in the headers, and you can delete the aliases if they aren’t useful anymore or have become spammed. Though other providers, such as cock.li or danwin1210, do use the more secure v3 onion domains for XMPP and E-mail, RiseUp is the only one which provides them for the whole suite of services, such as bins, pads, file upload, etc.
All in all, for me this is still a great E-mail provider – taking into account the logging policy, lack of personal data needed for registration, v3 onion addresses, unlimited aliases, mail client support and great reliability (I don’t think I’ve ever had it go down – unlike their XMPP). They also respond to support tickets. The only possible problem would be the FBI fiasco – though, they could not have done much there with the gag order. Remember – this service is used by thousands of activists – it has to take privacy and security very seriously. Of course, there is also the focus on anti-racism, anti-“homophobia”, etc – but I haven’t seen them claim to delete accounts for certain views, unlike Autistici. Other providers – such as FastMail or Mailbox.org – have a litany of things you’re not supposed to do in their ToS (ten times longer than RiseUp) – and you pay for them. Still, it is a minor issue and since the service has no major ones, I have to mention those. To register, RiseUp requires an invite code from a person who already has an account.
Temporary e-mail (AirMail and such)
Just for completeness’ sake – they’re pretty much useless. Blocked everywhere and only stay around for a while, preventing password reset and such. Outclassed by RiseUp’s alias feature.
It is very worrying how many providers pretend to be privacy based but turn out to be anything but – even actively trying to compromise it. No matter, there still exist a few good guys such as Riseup and Disroot. If you can’t or don’t want to get into those (perhaps disagreeing with their principles) – the second best option is paying for an Elude / Posteo / CounterMail account. Dismail / Paranoid / Cock are also decent, non-politicized and free services. You should not fully trust any provider, (or any internet service at all). Take this quote from RiseUp to heart:
Nothing online is 100% secure. If you have something very sensitive to say, do it offline. Encrypt with GPG whenever possible! That way, you can kind of bypass their censorship / data storage policies even if you’re worried about those being used against you.
Why the situation is as it is?
E-mail services can be funded in a few ways:
- By making you pay for an account
- By collecting and sharing your data, or showing advertisements
- By paying for it from their own pocket
- By soliciting donations
Option 1 can afford to be private without needing your data – however, that does not mean it will. After all, privacy is a big business opportunity now and there are lots of frauds taking advantage (many of them I’ve analyzed here). Some do exist that do go out of their way to create a secure, private and functional service – so, use those if you’ve got the money. Option 2 is obviously undesirable and the reason for this report’s existence. Option 3 is extremely rare and doesn’t last long (see SigaVPN), so let’s move on to Option 4:
For a service to earn donations, there need to be people willing to give them. Unfortunately, there are not enough privacy autists for whom that cause is important enough to support monetarily. There is a group of people who do care more about it, though – the so-called “activists”, or people “working on liberatory social change”. This means the service will be inseparable from the donators’ ideology – since it was made by them, for them, anyway. The activists consider it an abuse that the big corpos or governments can spy on their communication or even track their web browsing to show them ads, etc. More importantly, since they use the Internet to talk about their “activism”, they cannot afford to be watched – because that innocent convo might be used against them during protests, etc. Privacy autists alone usually do not have an ideology they identify with from which the privacy would follow – they just don’t like being spied on. They also don’t do real-life stuff such as shoplifts, whistleblowing, etc. for which the privacy would be required. We can see, then, why the “activists” care so much more about the issue that they can afford to donate. This is why we don’t yet have a service that is free, donation-supported, and without a stated ideology – privacy alone just doesn’t move the spirits enough. When the privacy autists consider the issue more important, these kinds of services will spring up. For now, we’re unfortunately dependent on RiseUp, Disroot and some others.
First of all, ensure your mail is sent using TLS since some providers actually don’t support that. For those that do, there are two settings that determine how it’s used – STARTTLS or SSL / TLS – and the former is insecure. Briefly: for SSL / TLS, the mail is encrypted by default for its full journey; if TLS is unavailable at the other end, the mail is dropped. STARTTLS, on the other hand, first sends an unencrypted packet to check if the other server supports encryption, and only upgrades the connection if it does. A downgrade attack can be performed by any man in the middle by modifying the server response (archive) to make it seem like it doesn’t support TLS. STARTTLS is actually a historical relic whose point was to upgrade insecure connections from an age before TLS even existed. Later, the port number 465 was defined to support only encrypted connections, so that is the one that clients should be configured to use to prevent MitM attacks. Of course, this will disallow sending mail to providers which don’t support encryption, but pretty much every relevant server (archive) does today.
Now, SSL / TLS still has many of its own issues. Any of the points inbetween you and the recipient can try to perform a Man in the Middle attack (just as an example – a connection to mail.riseup.net takes 22 hops). The protocol usually protects against those by requiring the server to prove itself with a digital certificate. However, SSL validation can be broken in many ways (archive). Even if the above don’t apply – all software that uses the protocol has an in-built list of certificate authorities that it trusts by default. If a hacker takes over one of those, they can generate fake certificates (which your program will automatically accept) for the servers they want to capture traffic from. This allows them to see request content, steal passwords, forge responses (archive), etc. for the spoofed providers (such as Google’s in the above case). Another way to perform a MitM is by installing a rogue root cert on the target’s machine – this is done by both corporations (archive) and governments (archive) – and is in fact also how you can spy on your own browser’s HTTPS traffic. Even without a MitM, both yours and the recipient’s servers can still see everything, including message content in regards to E-mail. How do we protect that? Enter PGP:
PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, is a way to locally encrypt your E-mail before sending it to other people, as well as allow receiving encrypted messages yourself (it can do more, but since this is the E-mail report, we will focus on just that). This hides them both from possible MitM as well as compromised servers. To take advantage of this tool, you first need to create your PGP key. Claws Mail can do this through its PGP plugins – but it’s limited to the less secure 2048 bit key length – so we’ll do it from the command line. First, install the necessary packages – gnupg2 and pinentry. Now type this command:
Select RSA and DSA for key type (option 1). 4096 for size – this is the highest possible value, and the most secure. To make using PGP easier, we will create a key that never expires – option 0; otherwise, you’d need to generate and share new public keys every so often. Press Y to confirm all the chosen options. Now, it will ask you for your real name – however, we – being the privacy ninjas – don’t share personal details on the Internet – so type something like
Totally Real, or whatever nickname you usually use. Then type your real E-mail address – then confirm everything by pressing O. Now choose a strong password – but also one you will remember. This is very important – if you forget it, you won’t be able to decrypt the messages sent to you. On the other hand – if it’s weak (either too short, made up of common words, or personal details like birth dates) – it increases the possibility of cracking.
You’ve now managed to create two keys – public and private. The former allows other people to send encrypted messages to you. You’re supposed to share the public key either through your website, a keyserver or directly with the people you talk to. The private key is used to decrypt messages others sent to you, as well as sign your own (which proves they have come from you). As its name suggests, you’re not supposed to share it and in fact should protect it as best as you can. Without it, you won’t be able to read the E-mail that’s been encrypted with your public key, and will have to generate a new key pair. Worse than that – if a hacker steals it and is able to guess your password, they will be able to spy on your mail and even forge signatures; at which point you’ll likely need a new account. To export your public key, type this command:
gpg2 –export –armor email@example.com > mypublickey.asc
Of course, the E-mail address has to be the same one you’ve given during the key creation process – otherwise, GPG won’t know which key to export. Now, you can safely put that file on your website, upload to the keyserver, or give to your contacts directly (easiest by sending them an E-mail with the public key attached). This is enough for people to be able to send you encrypted messages. To read them, you first need to load the necessary Claws Mail plugins:
PGP Inline is insecure (archive) and shouldn’t be used – however, you will need it if someone sends you an E-mail encrypted with it. Now click on the encrypted message and a prompt for your private key password should appear. Enter it and the message will display. To encrypt back, your contact must first generate their own PGP keypair (with the process described above, for example) and send their public key to you. Then you import it with this command:
gpg2 –import random_guy_public_key.asc
Now mark the necessary options in the Compose (or Reply) window and click Send:
Signing ensures your recipient that you’re not being impersonated (only someone who knows your private key password could have signed a message with that key) and that your message has not been modified by a MitM (in that case, signature verification will fail). Technically, you can encrypt without signing (or sign without encrypting) – but for better security, you should do both. Of course, for the signing to matter – you need to verify out of band that the key that’s been used to sign the message actually belongs to the person you think you’re communicating with. This means you need another trusted channel such as a website that you’re sure is theirs; or the best way – in person. Anyway, GPG has much more functionality than this – but I think I’ve covered everything needed for basic usage (and you can always learn more on your own).
There are various ways to implement encryption in webmail, and many providers use them as a strong marketing point, but none of those are as strong as PGP proper, so we will ignore those (if you want, you can read up). PGP still has flaws – for example, it does not encrypt the headers; this includes the subject, sender, recipient and others – you can see all the headers in your mail client; it is all the stuff above the actual message. There have been analyses done (archive) on just how much information can be revealed without even knowing the message contents – the results should astonish you:
But we see that even our not very sophisticated, DIY methods, enabled us to create a deep and clear image of someone’s habits and activities, using information extracted from ‘only’ email metadata. Although our investigation primarily discovered relations, patterns and anomalies of someone’s work life, it still gave us an insight into that person’s habits that border with private life.
access to the encrypted emails, for example, by eavesdropping on network traffic, compromising email accounts, email servers, backup systems or client computers.
For clarity’s sake – Claws Mail was immune to the attack – so the situation wasn’t that bad. Still, it shows you shouldn’t put all your privacy eggs in one basket. Despite the attack, PGP is still fucking awesome and should always be used for any sensitive communication (best case scenario: all for every contact you can get to use it) – in addition to secure providers and all the other stuff we should be doing.
GPG Email encryption on Windows 7 (section written by Noctilucent)
The Windows port of Claws Mail can also be used successfully for encrypted communication. Unfortunately, this version has a tendency to freeze during its built-in GPG key generation procedure (looks like a bug), and as Dig Deeper already mentioned, the keys obtained this way wouldn’t have satisfied the highest security requirements anyway. The usual CLI/TUI method is unavailable for this OS, but luckily there is another solution – the Gpg4win package. It includes all the necessary tools: gpg-agent (private key daemon), gpg.exe and two certificate managers – the more traditional GNU Privacy Assistant and its modern alternative Kleopatra, which is also part of KDE project. I will use the latter to demonstrate the key generation process under Windows.
After you’re done with installing and configuring Claws Mail, download and install Gpg4win (you may also want to check the executable’s integrity). Launch Kleopatra and press the
New Key Pair button. The key generation procedure is similar to what’s been described above for Linux, but this time we are using GUI. Enter your nickname into the
Name field – which can be left empty, but keep in mind that some keyservers may refuse to host completely nameless keys. Don’t forget to specify your e-mail address, for which you intend to use GPG. Now press the
Advanced Settings… button. Set your new key’s details as shown below – RSA + RSA; both 4,096 bits in size; for signing, encryption and certification. Remove the check mark in front of
Valid Until so that the key won’t expire.
Press OK to confirm the advanced settings. Don’t press
Next yet in the main dialog – now is the time to create a reliable password. Follow the advice given in Dig Deeper’s main guide – or you can rely on a password manager such as KeePassX or KeePassXC. This software allows you to generate extremely durable passwords (or passphrases), that you won’t have to remember at all – instead, they are stored locally in a database file, which is protected by a master password. Said password is the only one you will have to come up with and remember yourself. Be sure to keep the database file and the device it is stored on far away from the malicious types. Despite the added hassle, this method has an obvious and significant advantage – the randomly generated passwords can be extremely long and complex, providing strong protection from cracking.
During the next step Kleopatra will ask for your new password – enter it yourself or copy the generated one from your password manager and confirm. This will start the key creation process proper, lasting a few minutes. Once finished, Kleopatra will display a new entry in its main window, listing your new key pair. To export your public key, right click on said entry and select
Export… – save the file to a desired location, now it’s ready to be shared. Exporting your secret / private key (option immediately below) will require entering the password you’ve just created. Do not store the exported copy of your secret key on the same device where you use it – it’s unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Gpg4win will automatically activate this key as needed – when you decrypt incoming and sign outgoing messages. Instead, export your secret key as a backup on a removable drive.
Now let’s hook up the GPG system to Claws Mail. As stated above, first you’ll need to enable the three plugins – PGP/Core, PGP/MIME and PGP/Inline. After that, go to Preferences and specify the path to gpg.exe:
Also check your settings in
Preferences for current account -> Plugins, where GPG and S/MIME must be set to select the sign key based on your email address.
This concludes the initial setup of GPG for Windows. Once you share your public key, you will be able to receive encrypted messages, just like in Linux. The system will automatically ask for your password whenever you click on incoming messages marked with a little key icon. If you are using a password manager, launch it and open the database with your master password. Copy your GPG password from the database and paste it to decrypt the message. In order to send your own encrypted mail, just import any public keys you may have to Kleopatra – double click on the file and confirm. Don’t forget to tick off the necessary options before sending: Sign, Encrypt, Privacy System – PGP MIME. Because of the way PGP works, you won’t be able to read any encrypted messages you sent – that’s because you don’t have the matching secret key – only the recipient has it. Thus the
Couldn’t decrypt: Decryption failed error in this case means that, in fact, you did everything right. If you think you might forget whatever you wrote in that message you encrypted, the option “Reply will quote by default” may help if enabled on both ends. You can also encrypt sent messages with your own key pair in addition to recipient’s, which will allow you to re-read them later (this will also ask for your password of course, just like with the incoming messages). This is arguably the best approach. Storing clear text (unencrypted) copies of outgoing messages is the least secure option available. The actual messages you send will still be encrypted, so in theory this doesn’t have adverse effects on security – but it will definitely require ensuring that nobody else can access these copies and the device they’re stored on. You can find the last two options under
Preferences for current account -> Privacy.
On “privacy-respecting” laws
One of the major ways various privacy frauds advertise themselves. I’ve pretty much ignored this issue while rating singular providers, since it’s so common and requires a dedicated section to analyze. The claim usually goes something like this:
“Our service is hosted in (insert uber-private country of choice), which, instead of (insert non-private country of choice – usually UK or the US), has super-strong privacy laws. Only a valid court order can force us to release your data!”
You might have already detected the issue while looking at the last sentence. The “super strong privacy laws” claim is based solely on whether a court order is required to release the data. Let’s assume they do bring that valid court order – what ends up mattering, then? The data that a service has actually stored, since they can’t release what they don’t have. Nothing prevents a service from storing whatever they want despite being positioned in a supposedly privacy-respecting country. More than that, many of the countries commonly claimed to be private actually force providers to store certain data. Examples from specific providers above:
- Dutch law forces StartMail to store your invoices for
7 years, or whichever period may be prescribed under applicable tax law.
- Norway does the same to Runbox but for even longer –
as financial records must be kept for 5 years according to the Norwegian Bookkeeping Legislation
- MailFence (Belgium) keeps deleted account data for a year –
i.e. the Belgian law imposes 365 days after account closing
- And the big fish – ProtonMail‘s and KolabNow‘s Switzerland –
has a legal requirement for six months data retention by the provider.
- CTemplar‘s Iceland
does the same as above (not 100% sure here though)doesn’t seem to do so – but read later to see that’s not a perfect protection.
Thanks to the above, we end up with some funny situations like RiseUp (hosted in non-private USA) keeping metadata only for one day compared to KolabNow’s six months. But in the end, the law is your enemy, not your friend. It imposes the minimum amount of data a provider is required to store, while not preventing them from collecting more if they want to. Being hosted in a country with
strong privacy laws is purely a marketing strategy that mostly seems to arise from US and UK citizens scared of their nations’ mass surveillance programs. But other countries – like France or Germany (realistically – probably all of them) – run them as well. More than that, many of them cooperate with each other. In 1946, the UK and US formalized an agreement to share intelligence data between them; a few years later Australia, Canada and New Zealand joined in (this was called the
five eyes). Eventually the number of eyes increased to 14 as more and more countries became apart of the alliance (with even more “unofficial” members such as Japan or Israel). Edward Snowden’s leaked documents revealed that the eyes work closely together to share electronic communication data (abbreviated as
ELINT). For example:
And they admit the operation is becoming more and more effective as time goes on (you can learn more about the history of the “eyes” here [archive]). What does it mean for the people, though? Choosing a provider from a supposedly privacy-respecting country does not help avoid surveillance – many of them are apart of the
fourteen eyes and even if they aren’t, they might still cooperate with foreign intelligence. I mean that’s exactly what Iceland (non-14 eyes) did during the Silk Road investigation (archive). They’ve literally let USA agents in to do whatever they wanted. Therefore, in the end, you shouldn’t focus too much on the country issue (just assume they’re all in it together anyway), but instead on the provider’s actual policies, history and trustworthiness. That plus using encryption, a VPN and good OPSEC should protect you from surveillance way better than falling for red herrings like the service’s location.
To put the final nail in the coffin for this idea, we have to come back to the court orders again. To begin – what makes you so sure that a provider will actually require a court order as they state? Remember that ProtonMail has already broken that promise in a case of alleged
terrorism. How much resources do some of the smaller companies have to fight the data requests in court? Do they even have lawyers on board to determine if a court order is valid? SafeMail.nl (based in “private” Netherlands) has admitted they will not fight court orders and just hand over the data. On the other hand, Lavabit (from “non-private” United States) did everything they could to protect their users from surveillance, including trolling the government (archive). Eventually, they preferred to shut down their service rather than give in to the spies’ demands (similar to what RiseUp promises to do today). How many of the providers hosted in supposedly privacy-respecting countries would do the same, instead of just saying “fuck you” to the users and giving up the data? Taking all that into account, I hope we can put the location non-issue to rest…