Tech All-Star Lineup Unite To Support Email Encryption

Ahead of Tuesday’s courtroom showdown between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an all-star lineup of technology companies have joined forces for encrypted email. 

Apple faces the FBI and US Department of Justice in court on Tuesday, appearing in front of Judge Sheri Pym of the US District Court for the Central District of California.

At stake is whether or not the federal government can force Apple to create new software to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Investigators believe that the phone could hold important national security information, while Apple insists that this could set a legal precedent that puts all iOS users’ privacy in jeopardy.

Judge Sheri Pym will also decide whether Apple should turn over its source code to the FBI, a decision that The New York Times reports has Apple engineers threatening to leave their jobs rather than comply with the decision.

As the debate over Apple’s encryption continues to wage, engineers from a host of technology titans have submitted a new proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to ensure that all emails are encrypted before they are sent with a new SMTP Strict Transport Security (STS) mechanism.

The IETF is a volunteer-based organization devoted to creating better Internet standards. Participating companies in the IETF email encryption proposal include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Comcast, LinkedIn and 1&1 Mail & Media Development.

If approved, SMTP STS would upgrade the current Internet standard for email communication by preventing emails from being sent if their certificate is invalid, or if the destination doesn’t support encryption.

Most emails today are sent in plain text using Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the Internet standard for electronic mail communication. SMTP dates back to the 1980s and has a number of risks, including being easily read by hackers and being susceptible to cyber crimes.

STARTTLS was originally created as an extension to SMTP to upgrade plain text to encrypted communication, but has failed to see widespread adoption and offers no warning to users if their encrypted emails fall back to using plain text.

Submitted on Friday to IETF for consideration as a new Internet standard, the SMTP STS proposal expires on September 19.

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