Harvard and MIT Students Claim They've Created an "NSA-Proof" E-mail Service

Writer, Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

May   2014



Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard a lot about the National Security Agency and e-mail surveillance in recent months. Whether you’re worried about your privacy being violated or you could care less about the government taking a gander at your inbox, it’s hard not to be impressed by a team of Harvard- and MIT-educated students who say they’ve managed to create an NSA-proof e-mail service: ProtonMail.

Developed at both MIT and CERN, a nuclear research facility in Switzerland, ProtonMail features end-to-end encryption (which means messages are encrypted by the writer to be readable and decrypted only by the intended recipient), and user authentication is so strict that even the creators are unable to read users’ e-mails.

“Even we don’t have the ability to read that e-mail,” said Andy Yen, one of ProtonMail’s creators, in an interview with BostInno. “If we can’t read it, we obviously can’t turn it over to any government agencies.”

Bothered by headlines about wiretapping and governent surveillance techniques, Yen, along with four other teammates who have studied at Harvard and MIT, set out to create an impenetrable e-mail service. ProtonMail was their brainchild and was recently recognized as a semi-finalist in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

Interested in trying ProtonMail? It’s free to use, but there’s currently a waitlist because the response has been so overwhelming that its server capacity has been maxed out. And don’t let all the tech talk intimidate you: the service’s encryption and decryption processes are invisible to users, so it’s as simple to navigate as any of the most popular e-mail services—plus, you won’t have to worry about the government intercepting those hilarious e-mail forwards from your best friend or the cat videos your mom keeps sending you!

Most of the guys on the ProtonMail team studied physics. Want to follow their lead? Check out this list of Colleges with Great Programs in Physics!

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

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