2016-11-23 / Columns

Secure email with ProtonMail—if you can find it

COMPUSCHMOOZE
STEVE LUBETKIN

What do you do when your product is being used by a half million people to secure their sensitive email conversations, but your company has mysteriously disappeared from the Google search results for your most important keywords?

If you are ProtonMail.com, the first thing you do, according to the company’s blog, is consult the experts in search engine optimization, also known as SEO. That’s the technological wizardry that ensures websites are indexed properly by search engines like Google, so that people looking for particular topics can find your business.

As you might expect, some technology experts try to game that system. In the early days of search engines, one popular technique to raise a site’s visibility was to hide popular, but irrelevant, keywords in white type on a white background. Once Google caught on to this and other techniques, it created a set of guidelines for SEO best practices, and penalized websites that violated those guidelines.

But that wasn’t the case with ProtonMail. Their consultants confirmed that the problem only existed on Google. The company appeared properly under searches for its main keywords, “secure email” and “encrypted email” on other search engines. It had conducted its SEO properly.

It took the company months to get someone at Google to pay attention to the issue and when it finally did review the situation, it fixed the search results, but wouldn’t give ProtonMail any explanation for why the company went missing in the search results for more than four months. The issue highlights a risk for companies, that search engines, or as ProtonMail argued, “the governments that control those search companies,” could suppress companies at will.

You can read about this “search engine risk” issue in greater detail on ProtonMail’s blog. While you are there, you might consider signing up for a free secure email account if your email conversations are at all sensitive. As we have seen in the recent Presidential campaign, hackers spend enormous resources seeking to break into personal and professional email accounts, to use information against its owners.

Most of us don’t think our email is that important, but think about how many times you have sent a family member a password or a credit card number in an email. The way the Internet works, that email probably is transferred across multiple servers before reaching its destination, and copies of that email could be accessed if one of those servers is hacked, and you’d never know until the false charges started hitting your account.

When you sign up for ProtonMail, you create a user name and password to log into your account, but you also create a security key that automatically encodes all of your emails. Encrypting email has always been one of the most confusing processes for most users to understand, but ProtonMail makes it a seamless, easy process. ProtonMail messages are always encrypted, so the company does not have access to your messages. The system uses an open source version of industry standard encryption protocols that has been examined by security experts to assure that it is free of “back doors” that would allow someone to access your email secretly.

Email me at steve@compuschmooze.com with your questions about data and email security.

Return to top