NB : This article is much targeted to people with a special interest in IT technology itself as an overview of secure communication alternatives to GPG.
Don’t worry if you feel like this part is too complicated or like it’s going over your head. You can safely skip this part or come there later when you understood more.

The other articles of the serie:

So, here we are. We have OpenPGP and its software implementations, PGP and GPG, which are tools to protect your mail from unwanted lookup. But is it the best way ?


Let’s take a look at Bitmessage first. In my opinion, this is the perfect anti-example because it does not respect the carpet paradox : the addresses look like strings made out of random characters, so they’re a real hassle to exchange to your pen pals.

Even give your address on a piece of paper could be risky because your friend may make a mistake while copying it. Like so easy to send your message to someone else now !
I think the best way to share a Bitmessage address is to publish your address on a website you control.
However, even if you take this route, you still have to be careful.

The foundation of Bitmessage itself is easy to understand, but as soon as you dive deeper into it (a task I think is really important when talking about safety protocols), you it gets confusing rather quickly.

Some reflections on Bitmessage…

One unusual thing about Bitmessage that comes to mind is the way it uses P2P technology. The Bitmessage protocol works by sending a given message to everybody in the network.

This makes it really less efficient with the energy. But it’s also now trivial for attackers like the NSA (the group hackers are typically trying to escape from) to create their own Bitmessage address, collect every message sent on the network and try to decrypt it because apparently, it’s what it already does !

Instead of sending messages only to the recipient, the Bitmessage protocol relly entirely on SSL/TLS cryptography to ensure privacy ! Not the safest, as I will explain later.

GPG or Bitmessage ?

This is my opinion, my use of computing tools. This is not some sacred words to respect at all cost. A debate is possible. If you want to troll or whatever, feel free, but without me !

Given my above reflections, it’s probably no surprise I prefer to use GPG rather than Bitmessage. Mail is a widely recognized communications channel, and even though I have “no reason to hide” - except privacy concerns - I do understand that other people have motivations to want to do so.
This is especially true for those who want to hide who they are writing to.

Use of Bitmessage marks me as a high-level hacker, which I am not. I can barely pretend to be a little hacker or a padawan. Besides, using Bitmessage would further encourage people to watch my email.

On the other hand, using signed or encrypted email, I still assume my mail is being watched but I’m also able to protect it, along with my privacy and the privacy of others. Since it is still plain email, many more people can still use it for many more day-to-day purposes, without learning whole new systems and while still being protected. Plus, the more I use GPG, the more my use of it encourages other people to use GPG, too.

And if an attacker wants to decrypt my mail, all they’d learn about me is that I exchange thoughts with my lesbian friend, or some proposals that I’m developing at work. Basically, useless stuff for NSA & Co !

That said, there is a bonus: encrypting my mail is easy and takes no extra effort on my part, but decrypting it does. Our Big Brother friends have to spend enormous efforts and waste countless hours of CPU cycles to decrypt things.

And make worse the life of others you don’t like is really enjoyable !

Other classic email enciphering schemes

Another standard for encrypting and authenticating email is the S/Mime standard, which uses SSL/TLS certificates very much like those used by websites for encrypting Web traffic. Some entities and service providers even offer free certificates for personal use.

It is the case of DanID, who mounted the authentication system NemID, used by the danish governement and banks. It is valid to sign and encrypt mail as well as authenticate on some websites, for example DBA, the danish ebay, but you can’t use it to secure your website, sadly.

There’s much to be said for a nation-wide system of secure certificates like NemID, which are one step towards a digital citizen ID card, after all. But the SSL/TLS protocol on which it is based have had numerous, well-known problems lately. There’s widespread concern that the NSA (along with some other agencies) have been able to compromise the certificate infrastructure or even break some of its crypto algorithms.

Personally, I tend not to trust TLS too much, because the more we look at it, the more holes we see in it.

Yet, I still recommand TLS use in web browsing ! A weak shield is better than no shield at all !

SSL/TLS and GPG are a slightly different implementation of the same principle : asymetrical cryptography, with a public and a private key. But actually, I don’t believe it to be easier and certainly not safer to use SSL/TLS.

Back to GPG

GPG tries to respect the carpet paradox: it uses well-known, easy to understand protocols (the standard email protocol itself).
The keys can be identified by the mail address, or the fingerprint, easy to search and giving a good feeling of security to users.

And, evidently, it’s not been broken yet!

So, please come to read the next article, where I tell you about the softwares.