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Google's work on full encryption chugs along, with Yahoo's help

Google's work on full encryption chugs along, with Yahoo's help

Code has been migrated to GitHub to foster involvement from the wider tech community

Google recently released an encryption tool for scrambling email messages.

Google recently released an encryption tool for scrambling email messages.

Google is making progress developing a user-friendly tool for fully encrypting people's messages on their computers, with coding help from Yahoo and a transition to GitHub.

Contributions from Alex Stamos, Yahoo's chief security officer, and his team have been incorporated into an updated pre-release version of the browser extension announced Tuesday, Google said in a blog post.

Google cited progress in other areas for the project, which aims to give Internet users an easy-to-use tool for encrypting email messages. The tool would scramble people's messages before they leave their browser and keep them that way until the recipient decodes them. Known as "end-to-end" encryption, it's typically too complex for non-technical users but Yahoo, WhatsApp and others are developing products around it, in response to cybersecurity and spying concerns.

Google's tool currently exists only as source code for a Chrome extension that developers must compile themselves. The first version was made available in June.

The code is being migrated to the GitHub open-source software repository so other developers can tinker with and improve it, Google said Tuesday.

"We've always believed strongly that end-to-end must be an open source project, and we think that using GitHub will allow us to work together even better with the community," wrote Stephan Somogyi, Google's product manager for security and privacy, in the blog post.

To that end, the project's GitHub listing contains additional information for developers and researchers interested in better understanding the tool, Google said.

The tool still seems a ways off from mainstream use. It's still in alpha, Google said, and not yet available in the Chrome Web Store. "We don't feel it's as usable as it needs to be," Google's Somogyi said.

But Google is working on a server for managing people's encryption keys for the tool, usually one of the hardest usability problems with cryptography-related products. Google hopes to have a fully fledged end-to-end encryption tool available next year.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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