Finding a genuinely secure email service is complicated, and if you're looking for a free one, then that search gets even harder. In this guide I'll be rounding up six of the best to give you a helping hand in making your decision.
Email is one of the oldest forms of online communication, but despite that, it is still highly relevant today.
It is also hugely insecure, considering what kind of personal information you likely share through email. It is used for business and private communication alike, and in both instances – there is data that needs protection.
The amount of protection that comes with email is minimal which you'll rightly be concerned about, but we'll explore more on that later.
However, there are a significant number of email services that can make it more secure, and today, we will present you with our top 6 picks among them.
What are the most secure email service providers?
It was previously the case that encrypted email was the reserve of tech experts and those ‘in the know'. This is no longer the case.
While there are plenty of options to choose from, our recommended list of the most secure email service providers are:
The first, and easily the best of these services is ProtonMail.
It is a free, open-source, encrypted email provider, headquartered in Switzerland. You can use it from any computer or via their mobile apps, and with it, you can be sure that no one will ever get access to your messages.
It uses end-to-end encryption that cannot be broken meaning your data is protected, and it offers a 500 MB-large storage. Its free version also allows you to send 150 messages per day. If you find this limiting, it can be upgraded to Plus, Visionary, or Business plans, although they require a premium subscription.
The service is available via web, on desktop or on your Android or iOS devices.
Full end-to-end encryption
Based in Switzerland
No IP logs
Free and open-source
Expensive to upgrade
Limit of 150 messages a day with free plan
Next, we have Tutanota, which is similar to ProtonMail when it comes to security and even design.
All emails are encrypted, and no one but you will have the encryption key. If you are sending an encrypted email outside of the system, you can send the decryption key to the receiver, so that they can view the message.
It is easy to use and offers several domains, custom folders, attachments, and more.
However, there are some features of the service that are not available unless you go Premium and there's a 100 message send limit per day. With a paid subscription, you also get a 1 TB-large storage.
Full end-to-end encryption
iOS, Windows, Android, and Amazon apps
Based in Germany, a five-eyes country
Only 1GB of storage and 1 email account with free plan
When it comes to CounterMail, it is yet another service that takes email privacy extremely seriously.
For this reason it only stores fully encrypted emails on its servers, which are based in Sweden. The servers are run from CD-ROMs only, and no hard disks are involved, which prevents leaks.
It will allow you to modify numerous account settings, and even create forms, filter emails, and more. It uses anonymous email headers and you can use it in a browser or an iOS app.
However, a big negative if you're looking for a cost-free service is its free trial only lasts for a week and offers 3 MB of space. After that, you will have to pay for an account.
Login via USB security dongle
Use diskless data servers
Full security transparency
Free trial only lasts 1 week
Tired interface and design
Then, there is Mailfence – another email service with a heavy focus on security and end-to-end encryption.
It includes a web interface that uses OpenPGP public key encryption, it does not use ads, it allows importing of messages in EML, and it is highly customisable.
The service allows you to choose your email address, use your own domain or use the Mailfence address as an email alias.
Its free account gives you a 200 MB-large storage, but it also offers premium accounts that expand it. However, its software is not open source, which makes it less secure and private. Its servers are located in Belgium.
256-bit AES end-to-end encryption
Based in Belgium; strong data-protection laws
Low storage space
Not open source
Nearing the end of the list, we have Hushmail, which is another fully-encrypted email service, and one that has been around for 20 years.
It will ensure that your emails are secure and locked away from prying eyes. You can use it for sending safe emails to other Hushmail users, as well as those who do not use this service.
The service offers a free trial, after which you must pay a subscription and choose a personal or business plan.
Encrypted with OpenPGP encryption
14-day free trial
No MacOS app
Based in Canada – dated privacy laws
Finally, we have SCRYPTmail – a relatively new service that lets users send private, anonymous email, and offers a clean, and very user-friendly interface.
It uses secure encryption, it is free, and it offers the ability to expand your cloud storage space for 1 GB if you are willing to pay.
Even so, the service has not shared a lot of its technical specs as of yet, which makes it a bit uncertain.
According to everything that we know, it is entirely safe and secure, but without an official confirmation – you may want to stick with a more reputable service. This is the reason why SCRYPTmail comes last on our list, and hopefully, we will be able to position it higher in the future.
Clean, user-friendly interface
Anonymous email permitted
Lack of technical transparency
Low storage in free plans
How secure is email?
Email as most of us know it through daily use is not secure at all.
We have a login and password to access our accounts but the content of the emails you send is sent in plain text.
Plain text means that there is a risk that if your emails were to be intercepted then the contents can be read.
This is the case when sending from you to your email service, when the email service passes that across the internet to the destination email service AND when the person your emailing finally downloads the email to read from their email service.
What are the benefits of encrypted email?
The benefits of encrypted email far outweigh any negatives.
Some of the positives you'll enjoy include:
- Greater security
- More privacy
- Complies with regulations
- Reduce data loss
- Avoid spoofed emails
End-to-End Encryption in Emails
A lot of secure email services do not offer end-to-end encryption by default.
Often you will have to enable encryption when you are composing your email and also remember to generate your keypair and import the public key of your recipient.
But when you do send an email with end-to-end encryption, it is as secure as any email can get.
End-to-end encryption means the contents of your email is unreadable.
That means that if anyone intercepts your email en-route to its target destination, they will be unable to read or decipher the contents of that message.
The only person who can read the contents of that email is the person in control of the account you sent the message to.
No encrypted email provider can guarantee that the contents of that email will not be read if the recipients account or device have been compromised, but they can guarantee it will not be read if it is intercepted on the way there.
Does the use of a VPN make the email contents secure?
Using a VPN can make your online email traffic safe, encrypted, and protected partly by disguising your IP Address. However, you should be aware that this only works between you and the email server.
In other words, it will make the connection between your computer and the email server fully protected. This means that you can use a VPN to send emails from internet cafes and public Wi-Fi safely.
After that, the security of the email services is what determines how safe your messages will be. So using one of the six email services above is recommended.
There are many great VPNs that can protect you with top security features, as well as high speeds, while remaining affordable.
We recommend ExpressVPN for their ease of use and their risk-free 30-day money back guarantee. However, you are free to use other VPN services if you like, but you should do your research before committing to them.
What is the most reliable secure email service available?
The most secure email service on this list is undoubtedly ProtonMail. The service is rated excellent by most users, with great features such as 2FA, secure encryption, and supported imports of CSV contacts.
It has its limitations on the free package such as the inability to create email aliases (which is available with the paid account), of course, but the pros greatly outweigh the cons, so this is the one we and others recommend.
Which email service is best for privacy?
Once again, we have to go with ProtonMail. Not only is it a secure web-based email service but you can also use it with third party email clients such as Thunderbird, Apple Mail, Outlook and more using the ProtonMail Bridge add-on.
Two factor authentication is available which adds an additional layer of protection to an already secure email system. This can be via hardware devices like the Yubikey or many other popular 2FA systems.
As mentioned earlier, if you opt to use it, there is no way that anyone would ever get to see your messages, as long as you remember to sign out when you finish.
Are there any more secure email services than ProtonMail?
ProtonMail is without question the number #1 secure email service in the world right now and as such, it enjoys the trust of many.
However, it is not the only one out there, and yes – it is possible to find other secure email services.
But, one thing to keep in mind is that their quality can vary greatly, and right now, it is unlikely that there is an email service that would provide you with better security than ProtonMail.
There may be services that are just as good, and maybe have additional features, but as far as security goes – ProtonMail is at the top.
What's the best way to send and receive encrypted email?
There are three main option when it comes to sending encrypted email.
- via Desktop
- via Web
- via App
There's no right or wrong option.
Desktop is my personal favourite because I consider myself ‘old school' and like using an actual mail client. It is however a little more time consuming because you'll need to using an email services bridging add-on where available.
Web is the most hassle-free usage because there's no set up or add-ons required. You also have the bonus of being able to login and send email from any device. Just remember to trust the device you're using and logout when you've finished.
App is convenient if you like to check email on the go. Again this is an easy method of sending and receiving encrypted email because the app does all the work for you. The only drawback is some secure email services don't offer dedicated apps.
What is the best free, web-based email service for privacy?
If you're looking to use a safe web-based system then again our number one choice would be ProtonMail.
It's one of the original encrypted email services and they offer an intuitive web-based email client.
Is Hotmail more secure than Google?
Hotmail and Gmail are the two pretty good email names you can't have failed to have come across, with their user counts surpassing hundreds of millions, and likely even billions of people you're likely to already have an email account there.
However, they are also similar when it comes to security as well, which is not good news.
They are not considered secure email services and while they're free to use, they won't give you the email security or privacy that you're seeking.
Additional Steps to Keep Email Secure and Private
Using a secure email service that offers unbreakable end-to-end encryption is a huge step to making sure your email is secure and private.
But there are a number of other simple steps you can take too:
- Protect your devices – Don’t leave your electronic devices unguarded and unattended, even with people you know and think you can trust. Always make use of passwords and pin numbers to secure your devices and accounts. If your device offers biometric security, you can consider using that too. Never allow guest accounts on your devices and, if possible, try to set up two-factor authentication for extra support too.
- Beware keylogging software – Keylogging is a type of hacking that involves logging the keystrokes on a devices keyboard. It is a common type of malware and can thwart encryption and enable hackers to see your email content. They can also compromise your passwords and other security measures too,
- Don’t fall for phishing – Phishing is still the most common type of hacking because it can be the most successful. You can be subjected to a phishing attack on email, instant messenger apps, VoIP software like Skype, or social media. Attacks can be highly sophisticated and personalised, so make sure you don’t fall for one and end up handing over details.
- Never write down passwords – Don’t keep a physical list of passwords or share your passwords with anyone else. Instead, use a secure password manager to make sure all of your passwords are safe and secure.
Emails are still one of the most popular and effective forms of communication online, for business and private purposes alike.
However, their security can vary, and large services like Google have always had security issues, not to mention problems with privacy. They are too curious to leave their users alone, and spying for information has become something that they do without thinking.
For that reason, you should consider one of the many secure email services out there.
Above we've listed six of the best with ProtonMail being about the best if you don't want to stump up some cash. However, if you've got the time, it's worth checking out all six options to see if they offer additional features you're interested in.
Whichever of the six you end up choosing you can be safe in the knowledge your email usage is now more secure than previously.
Mail illustration © Andrii Symonenko & Naveed Hussain | Dreamstime.com