The 5 Best Secure Email Services for 2018

Encrypted email services keep your messages private

An illustration indicating an unsafe email on a laptop that needs to have a secure email service.

 Getty Images

A secure email service is the easiest way to keep your emails private. Not only do they guarantee secure and encrypted email, they protect anonymity. Most regular free email accounts are just fine for the average user, but if you need to be confident that the messages you send and receive are totally and completely protected, check out some of these providers.

An encrypted email account is great for obvious reasons, but if you want even more anonymity, use your new email account behind a free anonymous web proxy server or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service.

01
of 05

ProtonMail

ProtonMail
Proton Technologies AG

What we like

  • Two-factor authentication.

  • Send password-protected, encrypted messages to anyone.

  • CSV contact imports are supported.

What we don't like

  • Can't change the default signature on free account.

  • Does not support IMAP, SMTP, or POP3.

ProtonMail is a free, open-source, encrypted email provider based in Switzerland. It works from any computer through the website and also via the Android and iOS mobile apps.

The most important feature when talking about any encrypted email service is whether or not other people can get a hold of your messages, and the answer is a solid no when it comes to ProtonMail since it features end-to-end encryption.

Nobody can decrypt your encrypted ProtonMail messages without your unique password — not the employees at ProtonMail, their ISP, your ISP, or the government.

In fact, ProtonMail is so secure that it can't recover your emails if you forget your password. The decryption happens when you log on, so they don't have access to a means of decrypting your emails without your password or a recovery account on file.

Another aspect of ProtonMail that's important to state is that the service doesn't keep any of your IP address information. A no-log email service like ProtonMail means that your emails cannot be traced back to you.

Additional features that some users may find helpful:

  • Can compose messages with images and rich text formatting.
  • Lots of keyboard shortcuts.
  • Can download your PGP keys.

The free version of ProtonMail supports 500 MB of email storage and limits your usage to 150 messages per day.

You can pay for the Plus or Visionary service for more space, email aliases, priority support, labels, custom filtering options, auto-reply, built-in VPN protection, and the ability to send more emails each day. There's also a Business plan available.

02
of 05

CounterMail

CounterMail
CounterMail.com

What we like

  • Supports IMAP.

  • Doesn't keep IP address logs.

  • Includes a built-in password manager (called Safebox).

What we don't like

  • Can't send encrypted emails to non-users.

  • Limited storage space.

  • Limit-time free-trial (one week).

For those seriously concerned with email privacy, CounterMail offers a thoroughly secure implementation of OpenPGP encrypted email in a browser. Only encrypted emails are stored on CounterMail servers.

CounterMail takes things further, though. For one, the servers, which based in Sweden, don't store your emails on hard disks. All data is stored on CD-ROMs only. This helps prevent data leaks, and the moment somebody tries to tamper with the server directly, chances are the data will be irrevocably lost.

Something else you can do with CounterMail is set up a USB drive to further encrypt your email. The decryption key is stored on the device and it, too, is required in order to log in to your account. Decryption in this way is impossible even if a hacker steals your password.

Additional features some users may find helpful:

  • Lets you modify lots of settings for your account.
  • Forms can be built to send results to your email.
  • Supports email filters.
  • Uses anonymous email headers.
  • Works in a browser and through an iOS app.
  • Includes several identities that you can use to receive mail in your primary CounterMail inbox.

The added physical security with the USB device makes CounterMail a bit less simple and convenient to use than other secure email services, but you do get IMAP and SMTP access, which you can use with any OpenPGP-enabled email program, like K-9 Mail for Android.

After the CounterMail one-week free trial, you must purchase a plan in order to keep using the service. The trial includes just 3MB of space.

03
of 05

Hushmail

Hushmail
Hush Communications Canada Inc.

What we like

  • Supports IMAP and POP.

  • Optional two-step verification.

  • Contacts can be imported using a CSV file.

  • Includes a spam filter and auto-responder.

  • Includes 10GB storage.

What we don't like

  • Free account includes little storage.

  • Must use an alternate email address and phone number during sign-up and verification.

Hushmail is another encrypted email service provider that's been around since 1999. It keeps your emails secure and locked behind state-of-the-art encryption methods so not even Hushmail can read your messages; only someone with the password.

With this encrypted email service, you can send encrypted messages to both users of Hushmail and nonusers who have accounts with Gmail, Outlook Mail, or another similar email client.

The web version of Hushmail is easy to use and provides a modern interface for sending and receiving encrypted messages from any computer.

When making a new Hushmail account, you can choose from a variety of addresses like @hushmail, @hushmail.me, @hush.com, @hush.ai, and @mac.hush.com.

Additional features users may find helpful:

  • Works through the web or the iOS app, although there's also a mobile web version that works on all mobile platforms.
  • You can sign up to get notifications in any other email account — even non-Hushmail ones — when you get an email in Hushmail.
  • Supports email signatures.
  • Unlimited email aliases can be made with the @nym.hush.com address to mask your identity online.

There is both a personal and a business option when signing up for Hushmail, but neither are free. There is a free trial, however, that's valid for two weeks so you can try out all the features before buying.

04
of 05

Mailfence

Mailfence
ContactOffice Group sa

What we like

  • Digital email signatures prove authorship.

  • Supports two-factor authentication.

  • Includes spam blocker.

  • Contacts can be imported from Outlook, CSV file, vCard, LDIF, or Gmail.

  • Includes calendar and file storage for documents.

What we don't like

  • Limited online storage.

  • Requires alternative email address to receive activation key.

  • Private keys kept on Mailfence servers.

  • Encrypted email can only be sent to Mailfence or OpenPGP users.

  • Email encryption code ont available for inspection.

Mailfence is security-centric email provider that features end-to-end encryption to ensure that nobody can read your messages but you and the recipient.

What you get is an email address and web service that incorporates OpenPGP public key encryption like any email program would. You can create a key pair for your account and manage a store of keys for people you want to email securely.

That concentration on the OpenPGP standard means you can access Mailfence using IMAP and SMTP using secured SSL/TLS connections with the email program of your choice. It also means you cannot use Mailfence to send encrypted messages to people who do not use OpenPGP and have no public key available.

Mailfence is based in Belgium and is subject to EU and Belgian laws and regulations.

Additional features some users might find helpful:

  • Doesn't use ads.
  • Email settings are open for customization and tweaking.
  • Can buy credits to send faxes and text messages.
  • Messages in the EML format can be imported.
  • Can send mail through the address you used to sign up such as your Gmail address.

For online storage, a free Mailfence account nets you a mere 200MB, although paid accounts offer ample space, together with the option to use your domain name for your Mailfence email address.

Unlike ProtonMail, Mailfence's software is not available for inspection because it's not open source. This detracts from the system's security and privacy. 

Mailfence stores your private encryption key on Mailfence servers but insists, "...we can't read it since it is encrypted with your passphrase (via AES-256). There is no root key that would allow us to decrypt messages encrypted with your keys."

Something else to consider here to readjust your trust level is to realize that since Mailfence uses servers in Belgium, it's only through a Belgian court order that the company can be forced to reveal private data.

05
of 05

​Tutanota

Tutanota
Tutao

What we like

  • Apps for iOS and Android.

  • Includes 1GB storage space.

  • Open Source.

  • Supports spam filtering.

What we don't like

  • Supports only plain text emails.

  • Features like aliases and email rules only available to paid accounts.

  • Does not support IMA.

  • Cannot import contacts in bulk.

Tutanota is similar to ProtonMail in its design and security level. All Tutanota emails are encrypted from the sender to the receiver and decrypted right on the device. The private encryption key is not accessible to anyone else.

To exchange secure emails with other Tutanota users, this email account is all you need. For encrypted email outside the system, just specify a password for the email for the recipients to use when viewing the message in their browser. That interface lets them reply securely, too.

The web interface is easy to use and understand, letting you make an email private or not private with one click. However, there isn't a search function so it's impossible to search through past emails.

Tutanota uses AES and RSA for email encryption. Servers are located in Germany, which means that German regulations apply.

You can create a Tutanota email account with any of the following suffixes: @tutanota.com, @tutanota.de, @tutamail.com, @tuta.io, @keemail.me.

Additional features some users may find helpful:

  • Custom folders can be made to organize emails.
  • File attachments are supported.
  • Passwords are salted and hashed with bcrypt.

Several features in this email provider are only available if you pay for the Premium service. For example, the paid edition lets you purchase up to 100 aliases and expands the email storage to 1TB.

Additional Steps to Keep Email Secure and Private

Businessman pressing e-mail security button on virtual screens for internet and e-mail security. Business, technology, internet and virtual reality concept
 Parasit photo/Getty Images

If you use a secure email service that offers end-to-end encryption, you have taken a huge step toward making your email truly secure and private.

To make life difficult for even the most dedicated hackers, you can take a few more precautions:

  • Beware of keylogging software that captures what you type right from your keyboard. These can completely thwart all encryption if the password is all the hacker needs to access your account.
  • Do not leave your mobile devices and computers unguarded. Also, make sure your devices themselves are protected with strong passwords or biometrics and do not allow for guest accounts or similarly unprotected access.
  • Be vigilant of social engineering. Phishing attempts often come by email, instant messages, VoIP, or social networking messages, and can be cleverly designed or tailored specifically to you. These are tricks that get you to hand out personal details such as passwords and bank information.
  • Do not write down or share any passwords. Never make a note of the password that lets you decrypt secure emails. That is unless you store it in a secure password manager.