Google and Yahoo are unlikely bedfellows. But yesterday at the annual Black Hat security conference the two announced they were teaming up to keep government and commercial snoopers out of users’ emails.
By 2015, the two promise that not only will it be near impossible to hack or view either Yahoo mail or Gmail, it will also be possible to encrypt emails between Yahoo and Gmail, accounting for a huge amount of email traffic across the Web.
This follows yesterday’s announcement from Google that it will be giving secure websites higher search rankings.
While there is still work to be done on the coding, Yahoo stated that it will publish its encryption source code later in the year and that it is working with Google to ensure compatibility between the two email services' encryption efforts.
The final result of this partnership will be the first time that consumer services make available this kind of encryption. This will be the latest, but not the last we hear from vendors tightening email security in the wake of the Snowden revelations of security agencies systematically scanning emails.
Snowden Fall Out
Google announced in June that it is making the encryption process more effective and universal by open sourcing the code for an end-to-end Chrome encryption extension that works with the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption tool.
Google describes PGP as a plugin that encrypts email from the time it is sent from Gmail to the time it lands in the recipient’s inbox.
Microsoft followed suit in July and announced that it is upgrading its encryption standards across all its networks as part of a wider ongoing drive to upgrade security.
However, Google published research in June that indicated a large number of email providers were not providing encryption services to the users. Email can only be encrypted if both the sender's and recipient's email services support encryption.
Encryption: The Tie that Binds
Into this atmosphere comes Google and Yahoo’s announcement last night. It is significant if only in terms of the number of users affected. Google claims it has 425 million Gmail accounts, while Yahoo claims 110 million.
Microsoft claimed 400 million email account users after it closed down Hotmail and moved users onto Outlook.com. While Microsoft has not stated that it will join the Google-Yahoo initiative, how long can it be before it does? The Google Yahoo partnership indicates that competition in other areas doesn't preclude working together on encryption.
That two of the major email providers are joining forces shows the level of repercussions still being felt after the Snowden revelations and the measures that providers must now take to protect users’ information.
The question remains what will happen when government agencies demand to see the email content, encryption or no, but that is a question for another day.