Lavaboom builds encrypted webmail service to resist snooping

The service has started accepting registrations for its upcoming beta testing period

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Security

A new webmail service called Lavaboom promises to provide easy-to-use email encryption without ever learning its users' private encryption keys or message contents.

Lavaboom, based in Germany and founded by Felix Müller-Irion, is named after Lavabit, the now defunct encrypted email provider believed to have been used by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Lavabit decided to shut down its operations in August in response to a U.S. government request for its SSL private key that would have allowed the government to decrypt all user emails.

Lavaboom designed its system for end-to-end encryption, meaning that only users will be in possession of the secret keys needed to decrypt the messages they receive from others. The service will only act as a carrier for already encrypted emails.

Lavaboom calls this feature "zero-knowledge privacy" and implemented it in a way that allows emails to be encrypted and decrypted locally using JavaScript code inside users' browsers instead of its own servers.

The goal of this implementation is to protect against upstream interception of email traffic as it travels over the Internet and to prevent Lavaboom to produce plaintext emails or encryption keys if the government requests them. While this would protect against some passive data collection efforts by intelligence agencies like the NSA, it probably won't protect against other attack techniques and exploits that such agencies have at their disposal to obtain data from computers and browsers after it was decrypted.

Security researchers have yet to weigh in on the strength of Lavaboom's implementation. The service said on its website that it considers making parts of the code open source and that it has a small budget for security audits if any researchers are interested.

Those interested in trying out the service can request to be included in its beta testing period, scheduled to start in about two weeks.

Free Lavaboom accounts will come with 250MB of storage space and will use two-way authentication based on the public-private keypair and a password. A premium subscription will cost €8 (around US$11) per month and will provide users with 1GB of storage space and a three-factor authentication option.

"In addition to your key-pair and password we can either send you a randomly generated code or you can use the OTP-feature of a YubiKey. Or even both. We strongly recommend using YubiKey," Lavaboom said on its website.

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