Menu
Encrypted email service ProtonMail is now accessible over Tor

Encrypted email service ProtonMail is now accessible over Tor

The ProtonMail team has set up a Tor hidden service to foil potential censorship attempts

The creators of encrypted email service ProtonMail have set up a server that's only accessible over the Tor anonymity network as a way to fight possible censorship attempts in some countries.

ProtonMail was created by computer engineers who met while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The service provides end-to-end encrypted email through a web-based interface and mobile apps, but the encryption is performed on the client side, and the ProtonMail servers never have access to plaintext messages or encryption keys.

On Thursday, Proton Technologies, the Geneva-based company that runs ProtonMail, announced that it has set up a Tor hidden service, or onion site, to allow users to access the service directly inside the Tor anonymity network.

A Tor hidden service is a website that can only be accessible from within the Tor network. It is set up in such a way users don't know the real Internet Protocol address of the server, and the server can't see the real IP addresses of the users, offering two-way privacy.

Inside the Tor network, hidden services can be accessed using .onion addresses, where the address names are actually cryptographic hashes. This means that .onion addresses are supposed to look random, but owners of hidden services can spend computing power to generate a large number of hashes in hopes of obtaining one that is easier to remember.

For example, ProtonMail's new Tor service can be reached at protonirockerxow.onion, while Facebook has been accessible over Tor at facebookcorewwwi.onion since 2014.

The ProtonMail team chose to set up this onion website primarily as a defense against any online censorship or surveillance efforts that might target the service in the future.

Such incidents are common. Just recently, the Egyptian and UAE governments, which have strict control over the internet in their countries, started blocking people from using the Signal end-to-end encrypted messaging app for Android and iOS.

"Recently, more and more countries have begun to take active measures to surveil or restrict access to privacy services, cutting off access to these vital tools," the ProtonMail team said in a blog post. "We realize that censorship of ProtonMail in certain countries is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. "

A Tor hidden service also has other benefits. For one, because no one can discover its real IP address, it can't be targeted in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which means that it can serve as a failover if the internet-accessible ProtonMail servers get attacked.

The email service has suffered such attacks before. In November 2015, it came under fire by a series of massive DDoS attacks that caused disruptions for over a week. The attackers asked the company for US$5,500 to stop, but even after Proton Technologies paid, they continued to hit the service.

Another benefit is increased privacy. Because Tor uses multiple layers of encryption, there is no way for someone monitoring a user's internet connection to tell whether he or she is accessing ProtonMail. On the other end, ProtonMail will not see the user's real IP address, so there will be no way to tie a visit to a real identity.

Tor itself provides multiple layers of encryption, but on top of that, the ProtonMail hidden service is also protected by HTTPS. The company has managed to obtain a certificate for its .onion address from DigiCert, even though the .onion TLD does not exist on the open Internet. DigiCert has issued such a certificate before for Facebook's Tor hidden service.


Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Featured

Slideshows

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

The channel came together for another round of After Hours, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and partners descending on The Jefferson in Auckland. Photos by Maria Stefina.​

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours
Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Emerging start-up Consegna has officially launched its cloud offerings in the New Zealand market, through a kick-off event held at Seafarers Building in Auckland.​ Founded in June 2016, the Auckland-based business is backed by AWS and supported by a global team of cloud specialists, leveraging global managed services partnerships with Rackspace locally.

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland
Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honoured its top performing partners across the channel in Australia and New Zealand, recognising innovation and excellence on both sides of the Tasman. Revealed under the Vivid lights in Sydney, Intalock claimed the coveted Partner of the Year 2017 (Pacific) award, with Data#3 acknowledged for 12 months of strong growth across the market. Meanwhile, Datacom took home the New Zealand honours, with Global Storage and Insentra winning service provider and consulting awards respectively. Dicker Data was recognised as the standout distributor of the year, while Hitachi Data Systems claimed the alliance partner award. Photos by Bob Seary.

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners
Show Comments