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Gmail's Encryption Warning Spurs 25% Increase In Encrypted Inbound Emails (theverge.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's efforts to keep users safe might be forcing other email providers to make better security decisions. In February, the company started flagging unencrypted emails, allowing Gmail users to know whether they're sending emails to, or receiving emails from, providers that don't support TLS encryption. Since then, the amount of inbound mail sent over an encrypted connection to Gmail users has increased by 25 percent, Google explained in a blog post released today. The majority of the uptick likely comes from providers updating their clients so they can avoid getting flagged by Google, the company said in a comment to The Verge. Without in-transit encryption, which Google provides by default, emails could potentially be read by attackers because their body and data are sent in plain text. Google is also going to send Gmail users a full-page warning notice if they click on a potentially malicious link. In addition, they are going to increase warnings about state-sponsored attackers with a full-page alert about how to secure accounts through two-factor authentication and the use of a security key.
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Gmail's Encryption Warning Spurs 25% Increase In Encrypted Inbound Emails

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  • Complaining about lack of TLS on the connection is about encrypting the link, not the email. Certainly, email in transit really must be encrypted. But the email itself still sits in the clear on the ISP or email provider's server unless otherwise noted. That's still a problem.

    • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @02:31PM (#51777983) Homepage

      If the ISP or email provider host the domain that your email is at, is it really that much of a problem?

      Sure end-to-end is nice, but these guys can accept, redirect and intercept your email in a million other ways anyway.

      Personal domains, forwarded emails, etc. - that's another matter entirely. But Google can read anything@gmail.com if they want, etc.

      • by Blue Stone ( 582566 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @02:53PM (#51778113) Homepage Journal

        In some ways I think of this push by Google to encrypt mail as being like that thing they do in the Israeli prisons, where they have a dummy microphone in the cell that's easily discoverable and avoidable and then they hide the real mics where people go to avoid the dummy one - and pick up all the juicy intel, undetected.

        This form of encryption provides the illusion of security; it's like: 'go back to sleep, everything's fine, your government can't snoop on you with it's giant, multi-tentacled panopticon'. All the while, the NSA and GCHQ are rather happy and completely undeterred.

        I can't decide who Google is trying to help with this.

        • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @03:45PM (#51778413)

          With encryption: Google and the US government spy on you.
          Without encryption: Google, the US government, Russia, China, half of Europe, Canada, the script kiddie who hacked your router and an organised crime gang spy on you.

          • Well, almost. With encryption, Google spy on you. Everyone else, including US.gov, have to ask Google for that or at very least make Google know about that, and have no way to know the quality of the result they get.
        • I think it's exactly the opposite. For so long PGP and other security features were email were ignored because you can't communicate with users on email providers that don't enable it. Same thing with various spam controls - we've always bitched that we can't turn them on because the big vendors ignore it.

          This is a GOOD thing by Google. By turning it on, and making it blatantly obvious to their users, they force the industry as a whole into better practices. They've done the same thing with HTTPS (now mixed-mode errors invalidate your "lock" status) and also spam control (reverse DNS lookups, etc). They are using their position of influence to encourage improvements across the industry and should be applauded.

          It's going to take multiple steps to get to the final goal of end-to-end encryption. You can't jump to the end overnight. Give credit where credit is due.

        • by Shawn Willden ( 2914343 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @05:19PM (#51778951)

          I can't decide who Google is trying to help with this.

          You're overthinking this. Google is trying to do exactly what it says it's trying to do: Make Gmail more secure for Gmail users. After investing a lot in making its own servers use encryption for every communication, inside and outside, it really bugs Google engineers that they then have to send plaintext to other mail servers whose administrators don't care enough about security to install SSMTP. Then someone realized that Google has an avenue to pressure other mail providers to step up and that Google can highlight the effort it's put into security at the same time. Win/win: Google makes the world better and looks good doing it.

          Why are you looking for some deeper reasons, when the obvious and plainly-stated ones perfectly explain the move?

          (Disclosure: I'm a Google security engineer, though I'm speaking only for myself. If you want an official company position, look at press releases or contact PR.)

        • In some ways I think of this push by Google to encrypt mail as being like that thing they do in the Israeli prisons, where they have a dummy microphone in the cell that's easily discoverable and avoidable and then they hide the real mics where people go to avoid the dummy one - and pick up all the juicy intel, undetected.

          Aren't microphones cheap enough that it would be rather stupid to make the obvious microphone a dummy instead of a working one also?

          This form of encryption provides the illusion of security; it's like: 'go back to sleep, everything's fine, your government can't snoop on you with it's giant, multi-tentacled panopticon'. All the while, the NSA and GCHQ are rather happy and completely undeterred.

          I can't decide who Google is trying to help with this.

          They never said that anything would be ok, but they are pointing out some easily avoidable mistakes.

        • You're making the perfect the enemy of the good. Yes, of course the Five Eyes can still spy on you if they're so determined -- but it raises the bar for the unemployed computer science graduate sitting in an Internet cafe in Nigeria or Moscow. Ubiquitous encryption is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
      • I was going to point out the difference between encrypting transport versus encrypting email, but I was beat by the first post.

        If the ISP or email provider host the domain that your email is at, is it really that much of a problem?

        When that "ISP" is in the business of indexing content and selling data to third parties, I think it is reasonable to believe there is a problem.

        As for "a full page notice", just how will this be sent, and just how is Google intercepting web browsing going to a non-Google site? Why, they'll have to insert a redirect through their servers into any links embedded in your email. They

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        But Google can read anything@gmail.com if they want, etc.

        Not true if one utilizes end to end encryption (pgp/gpg, s/mime, etc).

        • Not true if one utilizes end to end encryption (pgp/gpg, s/mime, etc).

          Using gmail, one cannot encrypt the header. This includes the source and destination addresses, as well as the trace information.

          One can tell a lot from a traffic analysis, even if you can't read the specific words in a messages.

          • by suutar ( 1860506 )

            is this not true of all email? How can it be delivered without being able to read the header?

            • The headers do need to indicate the message's destination, unless you simply want to broadcast to everyone and leave the recipient to identify their own messages by whether or not they have the matching decryption key (which obviously doesn't scale). The destination doesn't need to be complete—for example, the full e-mail address could be encrypted so that only the destination server can see it, while everyone else only needs to know the server name. More importantly, the cleartext headers of a GPG-en

          • by unrtst ( 777550 )

            You're reading out of context. There was nothing about what I said that implied that email headers were encrypted via S/MIME, GPG, or PGP.
            If one is using email + one of those, the clear text headers will be available to every SMTP server along the way, and possibly sent clear text in transit depending on various TLS deployments/negotiations/etc. None of that changes the fact that, if you encrypt all your email via S/MIME or GPG or PGP, and you use gmail, google will be unable to read the content of the mess

      • If the ISP or email provider host the domain that your email is at, is it really that much of a problem?

        Actually, it is. The NSA tapped Google's communication lines with the help of Big Mother Bell (AT&T), and the NSA and anyone they decided to let see the data could read everyone's emails.
        http://www.theguardian.com/wor... [theguardian.com]

        Due process should matter to everyone.

        Warrant? We don't need no stinking Warrant!

    • Complaining about lack of TLS on the connection is about encrypting the link, not the email. Certainly, email in transit really must be encrypted. But the email itself still sits in the clear on the ISP or email provider's server unless otherwise noted. That's still a problem.

      Clearly, email in clear at the ISP is vulnerable if the ISP is hacked, and to employees of the ISP, etc. But unencrypted e-mail in transit is vulnerable to many people at many locations all along the connection path. End-to-end encryption is better, than encryption only on the wire but it's much better than plaintext on the wire.

  • I'm more and more wary of email, because your free provider can simply read your email, or allow the US government or your national government to read it. Is the metadata sold to the highest bidder too? I don't know.

    So, don't get your mail from an internet giant. But then you have to be able to pay for it. For those that would be able to pay, they have to be willing. For those who would be willing, they have to even be aware that paid-for email exists.

    What can we do?
    A friend has free community email service

    • The fact that you can host it yourself is what makes email superior to the centralized alternatives, despite its faults.

      • You can, but it's tricky. Receiving works, but sending doesn't from any residential IP - you get blocked by anti-spam services.

        • Might be good on the smallest configuration of rented VM you can get - I refrain from saying the cheapest host you can get, since not being blocked by anti-spam will be a concern too.

    • How does paying for email make any difference? The government can subpoena paid for email providers just as easily as free.

  • How do you enable this encryption thingy in Apple's "Mail" program?

  • I downloaded and built there End-to-End Chrome extension. I reported a few bugs and they were quickly fixed. Then I waited for Google to finish the development/testing and announce it to The World, but two years later there is only silence on that. No news since 2014 https://security.googleblog.co... [googleblog.com]

    To paraphrase XKCD, I have been posting my public key for 37 years now but nobody has ever asked me for it or used it for anything as far as I can tell.

    • by M00nd0g ( 711042 )
      Agreed. The entire PKI and email system needs to be re-thought, however, going down that road starts conversations about TPM, secure O/Ss (with government backdoors)... Maybe a better way to approach this is to have a secure email system then.. oh, that's right, *cough* lavabit *cough*. However, I do agree with you. The system need to be baked into tools used every day, browsers, email agents, phones ... and now we are back at the first point. sigh...

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