Introducing Autocrypt: E-Mail Encryption for Everyone

If users ask how they can secure their e-mail the answer should be as simple as: use an Autocrypt-enabled mail app!

Why improve e-mail? E-Mail has been declared dead many times but refuses to die. It remains the largest open federated identity and messaging eco-system, anchors the web, mobiles and continues to relay sensitive information between citizens and organisations. It has problems but do you prefer the proprietary, easy-to-track mobile phone number system to become the single source of digital identification?

Why a new approach to e-mail encryption? Encrypted e-mail has been around for decades, but has failed to see wide adoption outside of specialist communities, in large part because of difficulties with user experience and certification models. Autocrypt first aims to provide convenient encryption that is neither perfect nor as secure as traditional e-mail encryption, but is convenient enough for much wider adoption.

The social Autocrypt approach

The Autocrypt project is driven by a diverse group mail of app developers, hackers and researchers who are willing to take fresh approaches, learn from past mistakes, and collectively aim to increase the overall encryption of e-mail in the net. The group effort was born and named “Autocrypt” on December 17th 2016 by ~20 people during a 5-day meeting at the OnionSpace in Berlin. It’s a dynamic, fun process which is open to new people, influences and contributions. See contact channels and upcoming events on how you may talk with us and who “we” are currently.

The technical Autocrypt approach

Autocrypt uses regular e-mail messages between people to piggyback necessary information to allow encrypting subsequent messages. Under the hood, Autocrypt uses e-mail headers for this information transfer. By default, no key management is visible to users. See Autocrypt features for more technical and UI cornerstones.

We are establishing this approach step-by-step using different “Levels” of implementation compliance. We are currently documenting Level 0, which we aim to see supported in Spring of 2017 by various mailers.

See Current docs (work-in-progress) for an index of all docs and discussion results so far.