Today I am asking you to to setup a private and secure email account. I realize that many of my readers are already using ProtonMail (but I also know that some are not). If you are using ProtonMail, don’t worry – I have included tasks for users at all levels of the email migration process.
Difficulty: Easy (initial setup); Hard (long-term migration)
Active Time: 5 minutes (initial setup); multiple small increments adding up to several hours over a period of several weeks (migration)
What it Protects Your From: Traffic interception, mass surveillance, content scraping
Beginner: Setting Up A ProtonMail Account
If you don’t have a ProtonMail account already, your first priority is to set one up. ProtonMail is a free, end-to-end encrypted email provider. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I will run down the key features.
- All of your emails to and from other ProtonMail accounts will be automatically, end-to-end encrypted using OpenPGP.
- Your emails will also be stored securely in an encrypted, “zero-knowledge” format so that not even ProtonMail can read them. Even if you have to correspond with non-ProtonMail accounts, this alone cuts your attack surface in half.
- Messages can be set to self-destruct after a pre-selected interval, messages to non-ProtonMail recipients can be encrypted.
- ProtonMail was founded on privacy and doesn’t collect, store, or sell data about you.
If you want to know more about ProtonMail, my co-host and I interviewed their CEO, Andy Yen recently on the Complete Privacy & Security Podcast. Once you set one up, run it for a while and get the feel for it. If you like it it (and if you care about privacy and security, I think you will), follow the rest of the advice in this post.
Intermediate: Migrating to ProtonMail
To get the maximum benefit from ProtonMail, you should make it your primary (and eventually, ONLY) provider. Migrating to a new email account is difficult. There are a few things that can make it easier.
- Don’t be in a rush. You’ve been on Gmail for the last ten years, so a couple more months won’t kill you.
- Get the app for your iOS or Android phone.
- Start with online services. Slowly start changing your contact email address for your online accounts and services. Again, don’t be in a huge hurry, just change this address during your normal logins.
- Get friends and family on board. Send out a mass email to everyone, letting them know that you are switching to ProtonMail. And while you’re at it, maybe explain why you’re doing it.
- Send a followup email FROM YOUR PROTONMAIL ACCOUNT. Before you burn that old Gmail account down, send a follow-up letting everyone know your old account is closing down.
- Take Gmail off your mobile device. The inability to check Gmail from your phone, and the ability to check ProtonMail, will let convenience work in your favor for a change.
- Forward your Gmail account. Just to be sure you don’t miss anything important, forward that Gmail account. If, after a year you haven’t gotten anything important, it’s time to close it for good.
Expert: Try ProtonMail Premium
If you have been using a free ProtonMail account for a while, spend a couple of bucks and try out ProtonMail’s premium features. Premium memberships start at $4/month. The upgraded features include the ability to bring in your own domain(s), add additional email addresses that forward to your inbox, and increased storage. ProtonMail has also recently begun testing a VPN, and the beta version is currently available to Plus and Visionary members.
As a premium member you also support a worthy cause. ProtonMail keeps journalists, dissidents, and activists safe, and paying for a membership helps demonstrate to other companies that privacy and security is important to consumers.
Regardless of where you are in this process, if you really want to go the extra mile you can sign up for accounts for the three personal contacts. These should be the people you email the most. This could be your spouse, parents, children, friends, co-workers, or any combination thereof. This will ensure you enjoy the maximum benefit of ProtonMail’s end-to-end encryption, and create a much broader user base and make us all a little less conspicuous.