Rhodri Marsden: Use email encryption services? The trouble is, we can't be bothered

When I was a boy I was given a fantastic book called The Knowhow Book of Spycraft. This hugely important volume did an excellent job of persuading young men and women of the importance of secrecy and stealth, with evocative illustrations of men in dark coats and sunglasses covertly passing notes to one another through shrubbery. For a whole summer, I found myself leaving bits of paper for friends at carefully allocated drop points, informing them of crucial nuggets of information.

The bits of the book dedicated to coding your messages, though, I wasn't that bothered about. I remember one tip involved writing a message in lemon juice and the recipient holding the piece of paper over a candle to read it. It just seemed like too much of a faff. My secrets didn't seem worth encrypting.

For years, I felt the same way about email. When I send a message to a specific email address, I figure that it'll be opened by the person who owns that email address, and even if anyone else did stumble across that message, it's unlikely that they'd be interested in the contents. I knew about methods of email encryption such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard), because I occasionally saw the email signatures of people who cared deeply about such things; they'd include a public key that you could use to send them encrypted messages. But rather like the lemon juice, dealing with the various keys and additional processes all seemed too much like hard work. I reckoned that the people who emphasised its importance were at best excessively geeky and at worst ridiculously paranoid.

But this thinking seems to be slowly changing, not least in my own head. The revelations over the past few months about the surveillance programs of the NSA have prompted people to toy with the idea of encryption, not necessarily because they have something to hide, but merely because they have something to type and find the idea of unauthorised interception slightly unappealing. When stories of the kind revealed by Edward Snowden have emerged in the media, some encryption services have seen spikes of interest in their products, and that's a good thing for privacy in future; as systems such as PGP or GPG rely on senders and receivers having the same encryption and decryption tools at their disposal, they are only as useful as the number of people using them.

But could encryption be made easier, perhaps to the point where we can actually be bothered to do it? This week, the website Venture Beat quoted a source at Google claiming that research is under way to "improve the usability of PGP with Gmail". This piqued my interest, for a bit. The idea of all my email being encrypted with a single click and unreadable to anyone except the intended recipients – not even Google! – held a very strong appeal.

But then I realised that the aforementioned faff, a lack of ease of use, is almost a necessary part of encryption systems. All the coding or decoding should happen on your computer before the email is sent or after it's received; as soon as you make it part of the system, with public and private keys stored for convenience in the cloud and "protected" by a password, you've made the whole point of encryption redundant. Convenience and encryption will never make easy bedfellows; that's why I still don't my write letters in lemon juice. (Don't tell GCHQ.)

twitter.com/rhodri

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

    £17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

    IT Support - Hampshire - £24,000

    £19000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

    Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

    £25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone