Make an informed choice—what is the best private email service?

Learn about the essential encryption protocols and security features in private email accounts. Protect your data and communicate freely online!
Skiff Mail logo alongside other email provider logos.
Email can be many things—unfortunately, private isn’t one of them, at least not by default. Your prying neighbor cannot know the content of the text you sent last night, but overactive spies on the internet can. A private email service is something you have to specifically look for if you want to snoop-proof your inbox.Internet privacy is a somewhat vague concept with no defined parameters as to who can (or has the right to) access your stuff, making it hard for users to know which service to choose. Even email service providers (ESPs) may take advantage of inconsistent regulations to advertise unsafe communication channels as private ones. We will help you understand:
  • What an ideal privacy-focused email service should provide
  • What the best email service for privacy is
  • How to improve the protection of a private email account
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The basics—what is a private email?

Privacy is rarely respected online. What a private email means largely depends on a user’s perception. For most people, it’s the comfort of not being swamped by unsolicited ads and spam messages, but much more is at stake.Email is highly vulnerable because it is the gateway to almost every piece of info you’ve ever shared or stored. The Social Security number you emailed to your attorney back in 2015, the images on your drive, and even your online dating activity—everything is up for grabs once your privacy is compromised. Why? Because your data is not adequately secured on the network or storage levels.A privacy-focused email service provider should protect:
  • Messages as they’re relayed over the network
  • Inbox or drive content stored on network servers
Many users assume shifting to private email servers (compared to public ones like Gmail) affords absolute privacy, but no service is completely hack-proof. The only reliable way to have full ownership over your communications is to use an end-to-end encrypted email service.

Why a private encrypted email service is essential

Encryption is a data-protection method that involves ciphering your communication. An encrypted email can only be read by using a decryption key. A hacker may gain access to the content, but without the decryption key, they wouldn't be able to decipher it.Keep in mind that not all forms of encryption are equally effective. The encryption reliability rests on the ownership of the decryption key. Even big corporations like Gmail and Outlook use encryption to some extent, but their approach is flawed at a fundamental level because the decryption keys can be accessed by Microsoft, Google, and their employees. The availability of the keys also implies that if a hacker infiltrates these companies, they can find the keys.The only valid solution for protecting your data from ever-improving digital attack schemes is using end-to-end encryption (E2EE), with users controlling their keys.

What is end-to-end encryption (E2EE)? Why does it offer absolute privacy?

What is your idea of privacy? If you think that only the intended recipients should read your message, end-to-end encryption is for you.E2EE can be understood better in comparison to other popular forms of encryption, mainly:
  • In-transit encryption—The data is encrypted during transit over the network (deployed by the likes of Gmail and Outlook)
  • At-rest encryption—The data is encrypted while being stored on a server, so again, the service provider handles the encryption
End-to-end encryption means the message is encrypted and decrypted at the sender’s and receiver’s endpoints and cannot be read in between. It combines the security offered by in-transit and at-rest methods but with end users creating and holding the decryption keys instead of the ESP. In simple terms, when you send an email, you encrypt the message, which travels sealed on the network because only the intended recipient has the key to decrypt it. It is the only way to keep your inbox protected from all threats.Here’s a quick comparison of E2EE, in-transit, and at-rest encryptions:
Encryption architectureDecryption layerKey access privilege
In-transitNetwork-levelService provider
At-restStorage-levelService provider
End-to-endDevice- or browser-levelUser only
All mainstream email service providers use in-transit encryption (Transport Layer Security or TLS model), but they retain the decryption keys and can access your communication. While they have other security protocols like anti-phishing filters, they operate by scanning the user’s emails (mostly for keywords), which is another strike at privacy.

How do E2EE-enabled private email services work?

E2EE architecture is usually based on complex algorithms, but it offers complete privacy and data protection. Here’s what happens with your emails:
  1. Once the message is created and sent, an encryption key is used to encrypt the content so that it leaves the user node (your computer or smartphone) in encrypted form
  2. Your email travels across servers without the risk of being read if intercepted
  3. As soon as it reaches the intended recipient, a decryption key is used at the recipient’s device so that the message reverts to its original form

Best free private email providers

More and more privacy-focused, end-to-end encrypted email service providers are popping up, making it difficult to choose between them. To help you make an informed decision, we have presented three popular choices—and a prominent alternative—below:
E2EE email service providerDescription
Proton MailThe company provides users with a comprehensive product suite that includes mail, drive, calendar, and VPN, all protected with a solid end-to-end encryption model. ProtonMail uses zero-access approach, which means they can’t decrypt your messages or reset your passwords. One of its neatest features are self-destructive emails—you set an expiration date for an email and it gets deleted from the recipient’s inbox at that time. Drawbacks of ProtonMail include an outdated interface, making it challenging to navigate the platform. Their free plan is also somewhat limited—with only 500 MB of free storage and a limited number of messages per day
TutanotaThis popular email service provider uses E2EE to secure your messages, encrypting even those you send to non-users. It is an open-source product, which means you can access their code and confirm their E2EE practices. Tutanota offers users more free storage space—up to 1 GB. It provides apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. A major drawback is lack of email aliases for free users. Users with free accounts can also send messages only to other Tutanota accounts
MailfenceIt offers a “shared secret” password system, enabling beginners to send encrypted emails effortlessly (without having to learn about encryption keys and processes). Mailfence offers other products, such as contacts, calendar, and document storage, which you can sync easily across all your devices. The service’s major drawbacks is the fact that it stores some of the user data (such as IP address and metadata) to comply with Belgian laws. The free plan offers no more than 500 MB of free storage, and the interface is outdated
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Skiff offers the most private email service for free—here’s why

As we established above, most privacy-centric email services have confusing user interfaces and limited features, which feels underwhelming when compared to the range of free services you enjoy with the likes of Gmail.Skiff makes email privacy the norm, not a luxury you must pay for. The company has created an intuitive user interface that anyone can use. Unlike other privacy-oriented providers, Skiff offers all necessary features for free, including:
  • Robust E2EE setup that combines efficiency and the highest privacy standards
  • Free access to a comprehensive product suite that includes Skiff Mail, Skiff Pages, Skiff Drive, and Skiff Calendar
  • Superb user interface that’s easy to understand and navigate
  • Import of content from existing email accounts
  • Effortless management and labeling
  • Unrestricted email search
  • 10 GB of storage space
  • Signatures
  • Aliases
Skiff offers Essential, Pro, and Business plans with additional features, such as custom domains and up to 1 TB of storage.You can set up your Skiff account for free and migrate to a paid plan later. Skiff’s development team is constantly working with users to improve the services and add more handy features—join the Skiff Discord community and be the first to know about the latest upgrades!

Why Skiff is the best email provider for privacy

The platform follows a zero-trust privacy policy, so not even Skiff can view your communication. The privacy is further solidified by:
  • Open source transparency—Many privacy-first services don’t fully explain how their encryption architecture works. Skiff is 100% open source with a public whitepaper describing its E2EE model and an open-source code
  • Zero-knowledge login—Skiff doesn’t demand personal data while signing up or logging in, so the company has no info to track a user’s identity
  • Crypto wallet integration—Skiff integrates with popular crypto wallets, such as Brave and MetaMask, providing you complete anonymity in online transactions (like purchasing Skiff Pro)
Embrace uncompromised privacy—create your account and start exploring Skiff today!

How to make a private email account with Skiff

You can create an E2EE Skiff account in any browser or download the platform’s iOS, Android, and macOS apps. Here’s how to proceed:
  1. Visit the Skiff signup page
  2. Enter your desired domain name (or integrate with your crypto wallet)
  3. Create your password
  4. Set up an account recovery method (optional)
Skiff automatically creates an account recovery key for safekeeping and takes you to your inbox. For additional protection, activate two-factor (2FA) authentication from your account settings.

Safety practices for a private email account

Your email service provider cannot protect you if your device is compromised. Some of the best safety practices to follow include:
  • Not opening emails from people/entities you don’t trust, or at least, know
  • Sending sensitive information only within an E2EE ecosystem
  • Not leaving your private email address on various platforms, especially if there’s a chance your data would be sold to advertisers—it’s easier to keep an inbox sanitized if you don’t receive spam emails in bulk
  • Using anti-virus software on all devices
Recommend E2EE services to your friends and collaborators to keep your communications in a safe environment.

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