freenigma is a Firefox plug-in that offers e-mail encryption to a whole range of Web email systems - including Gmail, Yahoo!Mail and Hotmail/MSN. It is a product of Germany-based freiheit.com. freenigma came out of public beta at the end of September and is now open to all - but you still have to enter your name and email address to receive "an invitation" (which sounds quite 'beta' to me). Interestingly, freenigma has also just announced a Professional Edition for corporate customers as well as a Microsoft Outlook plug-in - both to be released by the end of the year. So looks like they're expanding beyond just web email and into the enterprise space.
It is a compelling product, as privacy and security are among the two biggest concerns related to using the Web as a platform. Although I am an avid user of Gmail, I wonder sometimes about sending private information across the ether on a web-based email service. I'm sure they're the usual slightly paranoid concerns of every single Web user, but a product like freenigma is positioned well to take advantage of those common concerns for privacy. See also my recent post on Web 2.0 security issues, from a report by Finjan.
The freenigma homepage makes no bones about playing on the privacy fears of Web users:
"Today, all your e-mails are stored and sent around the planet in plain text. And today you have no control over what happens to your private or business e-mail conversations and you can't prevent others from reading them. Get your privacy back! Encrypt your private and business e-mails to protect your freedom, privacy and your business secrets."
How it works
freenigma was built using Ajax and developers are invited to use an open programming interface (Open API) to extend freenigma and integrate it into their own applications. It is browser-based (Firefox), so it runs on all the main OS platforms - GNU/Linux, Apple Macintosh or Microsoft Windows XP. It is also based on "one of the most famous and most widely used cryptographic software packages in the world: the GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG)." Werner Koch, developer of GnuPG, is a founding member of freenigma along with Stefan Richter.
freenigma works by encrypting e-mails before they are saved and sent; they are then decrypted on the other end by the recipient. As noted in the FAQ, even if web-based email providers offer their own encryption services, freenigma is a service that works across all the web email systems.
As for their business plan, it is a free service "for private individuals". The fact they're releasing an Outlook and corporate version soon suggests that the enterprise market is where they'll make their money. Indeed this is confirmed in the FAQ:
"We believe that many companies will outsource their e-mail in the near future. To do so, they will utilise the services of Google Mail, Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail. However, we believe that this change will only take place if companies are able to encrypt their business secrets independently of the provider. That’s where freenigma comes in. :-)"
Interesting service and I am curious to see how much take-up they get from businesses for the paid service. There have been enough security lapses recently by Google in particular to make a service like freenigma very viable. What do you think?