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There’s been a lot of talk around the state of online privacy these days. In fact, private chat apps like Signal saw a 400% increase in downloads directly after the 2016 election.
People aren’t just turning to encrypted networks and secure chat apps in fear of government surveillance — they’re doing it to keep their networks from being hacked. When you mail an important package or send an important letter, you make sure it’s certified, so it makes sense you’d want to do the same for your online correspondence.
In a typical email, you have both a public and private key. Your private key is kept to your own network while your public key is sent out to the networks you’re messaging. By encrypting your email, you’re essentially converting your messages into a chunk of unintelligible text. Even if someone was able to hijack your network, there’s no way they’d be able to see who you’re messaging and who’s messaging you, not to mention what you’re writing about.
There are a ton of Chrome and Safari add-ons that essentially encrypt your email, but for the sake of brevity let’s focus on Mailvelope and Comodo. The nice thing about Mailvelope is that it lets you choose which emails you want to encrypt, so you can use it to encrypt every email or only the ones that contain sensitive information. Comodo, on the other hand, is another service that gives users a free digital certificate so they can encrypt all their messages.
Secure chat apps like WhatsApp, Whisper and Signal are also great options for securing your mobile chats. These apps use p2p encryption to relay private messages, meaning both the sender and recipient(s) are able to communicate privately.
There’s literally no harm in encrypting your messages. These apps and service are free, easy to use and highly effective. Plus, the more that people turn to encrypted systems, the less effective these Draconian surveillance tools become.
In the end, it comes down to not only wanting to keep the NSA out of our private correspondence, but everyone else out too. That includes everyone from your neighbor who’s freeloading off your WiFi to the person who sits next to you at work.
At a time when even the Pentagon is falling behind on encryption, taking a few minutes to protect your messages will go a long way.