Google has announced support for end-to-end encryption with Gmail, a major step for privacy and a major blow against mass surveillance. Gmail users who install free and open Chrome plugin will be able to send and receive messages that can only be read by people who have their intended recipients' passphrase, and not Google — meaning that even if the NSA legally or covertly taps into Google's data-centers, they won't be able to read mail that's encrypted with the End-to-End plugin.
This is marvellous news. There is already support for Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) in Gmail, through Firefox plugin or Chrome plugin, but long experience has shown that many people are confused by PGP/GPG in its current state.
What's more, Google has explicitly tied this to the Reset the Net campaign (in which Boing Boing is a partner), a global day commemorating the Snowden leaks and calling for an Internet that is made strong and secure from mass spying.
"End-to-end" encryption means data leaving your browser will be encrypted until the message's intended recipient decrypts it, and that similarly encrypted messages sent to you will remain that way until you decrypt them in your browser.
While end-to-end encryption tools like PGP and GnuPG have been around for a long time, they require a great deal of technical know-how and manual effort to use. To help make this kind of encryption a bit easier, we're releasing code for a new Chrome extension that uses OpenPGP, an open standard supported by many existing encryption tools.
However, you won't find the End-to-End extension in the Chrome Web Store quite yet; we're just sharing the code today so that the community can test and evaluate it, helping us make sure that it's as secure as it needs to be before people start relying on it. (And we mean it: our Vulnerability Reward Program offers financial awards for finding security bugs in Google code, including End-to-End.)
Once we feel that the extension is ready for primetime, we'll make it available in the Chrome Web Store, and anyone will be able to use it to send and receive end-to-end encrypted emails through their existing web-based email provider.
We recognize that this sort of encryption will probably only be used for very sensitive messages or by those who need added protection. But we hope that the End-to-End extension will make it quicker and easier for people to get that extra layer of security should they need it.
Transparency Report: Protecting emails as they travel across the web [Google Official Blog]