At the beginning of the month, I blogged about an Internet radio service called Pandora. Now, I’m going to blog about something completely different. I discovered a service called Freenigma, and it provides free PGP encryption for anyone with a webmail account from a major provider (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.). All you need is an account, one of these email addresses, and Mozilla Firefox (because Freenigma uses a browser extension to display the toolbar; IE support is under development).
So, you sign up for an invitation at www.freenigma.com. You wait for a while, up to a few days. They’ll send you an invite code via email, and you then complete the signup process by following a link. Then you install the extension and restart Firefox. Log in to the webmail account you signed up to use Freenigma with and voila, you have encryption.
I won’t detail the instructions here; the help files on the Freenigma website are pretty detailed. But your contacts must also use Freenigma, have Firefox, and have a supported webmail account. Aside from that, it’s great! Though you have to invite people to your contacts list and then trust them before Freenigma will work. But that’s minor.
Anyway, I tested the software (is it really?) and it worked. Both encryption and decryption take place locally on your computer so there’s no data floating back and forth to the Freenigma servers. And it doesn’t support encrypting attachments yet. But both processes were smooth (though Firefox did slow down for a bit, a result of the intense calculations) and the messages never turned out garbled.
The service is based in Germany, and the site is rather slow. Especially the HTTPS profile management part. It takes me, on cable, more than 5 seconds to select or deselect email addresses in the profile section, search for existing Freenigma users, or do anything else. The fact that the site is in Germany, coupled with the HTTPS encryption/decryption calculations, slows the site down quite a bit. But this doesn’t affect the encryption and decryption of messages, fortunately.
The final caveat is the fact that each computer you want to check your email on must have a Freenigma-enabled copy of Firefox configured with your primary email address before you can encrypt or decrypt messages. But for those with a webmail account that’s just on the web because they don’t want to deal with a software program and check their email from only one or two computers anyway, it works.
So, sign up for the service and try it out. As far as I know, it works with Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, and some others, like maybe AIM Mail (unconfirmed). Get your friends to sign up. Enjoy simple, encrypted communication that no one without a password associated with one of the accounts involved in the message will be able to read. Even if someone hacks into your webmail account, your email will be nicely PGPed and unreadable. Have fun!