Secure Calls, Chat, and Email

Things to consider

  • When communicating with someone via an online platform, both the content of the communication (the messages) and the meta- data (information about the devices, the app, and the communication) travel through a number of different points, often all over the globe.
  • This includes routers, the infrastructure controlled or rented by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), national gateways often controlled by the State, Internet Exchange Points, etc.
  • When data is sent unencrypted across these channels, it can be read by people with access to any of these many points.
  • Many email providers and messaging apps encrypt content now using a protocol known as Secure Socket Layer (SSL). This can be seen as “https”, such as when browsing websites. This provides some protection, but can not be trusted on its own for secure communications.
    • SSL encryption does not protect data from being read by the owner of the website or app, such as many free email providers, and social networks. They can access content and data either for their own interests, or when requested by authorities.
    • SSL is a common target for those trying to eavesdrop on communications or access other sensitive data.

Protection tactics

  • Always discuss the potential risks posed by communication between embassy staff and HRDs at the start of any cooperation. Decide about apps and channels to use based on this assessment.
  • Sensitive communications require services, tools,
    or applications with end-to-end encryption, that ensure only the sender and recipient(s) of an email, message, or call are able to decrypt it. Some messaging, call, and video services provide this by default. However, in some contexts they are illegal or attract further attention.
  • Look for apps that implement “Perfect Forward Secrecy” and ‘disappearing’ or ‘self-destructing’ messages. Perfect Forward Secrecy is a security feature which ensures that intruders can only decrypt one message at a time. Self-destructing messages ‘disappear’ after a certain amount of time, or can be deleted by users from their own and their interlocutors’ devices. However, it is not clear to what extent these messages can be recovered.
  • Some HRDs use PgP encryption on their emails. If this is not possible, move all sensitive discussions to an encrypted messaging application. Email attachments can be encrypted and the password should be shared over a secure third channel.


  • PGP (“Pretty Good Privacy”) and the compatible GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard) is used to encrypt email with a number of software programmes, according to the email client you use.
  • ProtonMail is a web-based email service which provides its users with automatically encrypted email. Emails among users with ProtonMail accounts are automatically end-to-end encrypted, while emails to users with other accounts will only be accessible through using a password which should be shared over another — secure — channel.
  • Signal is a free and open-source application available for mobile devices and computers which enables end-to-end encrypted messaging, voice and video calls. It also implements Perfect Forward Secrecy and disappearing messages. It does not offer multi-person voice calls.
  • Confide is a commercial messaging application (a free version is available) which provides for end-to-end encrypted messages which automatically self-destruct after being read, and also implements “screenshot protection” which prevents users taking screenshots of messages.

Further Resources:

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Date of Last Update: 31-12-2019