A new Web page service launched last week uses the encryption built into Web browsers to allow users to send encrypted e-mail, circumventing the US government's export restrictions on cryptography.
ZipLip.com uses the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security built into Web browsers to allow users to communicate securely with its servers. Messages are sent from the Web page (www.ziplip.com) to the server using SSL, where they are encrypted and stored. Recipients then receive a separate e-mail informing them of the message, and can click on a link to read the message.
To enable encryption, the sender specifies a password, in which case they have to either arrange a password with the recipient beforehand, or use a "Hint" feature to give the recipient a clue. For example, a clue might be: "The first word at the top of page 25 in the issue of PC Week with that encryption story". To maximise security, the message is deleted from ZipLip's servers after 24 hours once it has been read.
But Yaman Akdeniz, head of Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties UK, questioned the use of SSL outside the US, as exported browsers are disabled to only use 40-bit encryption. "I would recommend the use of encryption tools on your computer," he said, "but it is encouraging to see these sort of tools being developed as Web-based e-mail systems remain popular with online users. The more secure these systems are the more people will use them, as the protection of privacy is becoming more attractive to online users. Having the right tools of course helps, and protection of communications is very important."
Arvind Srinivasan, chief technology officer at ZipLip, said that the company is now looking at ways to improve the service for overseas visitors. "We're planning to address (the 40-bit browser problem), possibly by using a downloadable applet," he said. "We have the security, but we also want it to be easy to use. Other solutions are very secure, but they don't have the same ease of use.
"Users outside the US do have access to browsers with 128-bit support," he added.
For example, 128-bit versions of popular browsers can be downloaded from ftp.replay.com/pub/browsers/, although the site is very busy.
Srinivasan said the firm would keep the service free, and rely on revenues from corporate services, which it has yet to announce.
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