Are the following three statements more or less correct:

-To send someone an encrypted email basically entails having access to their public key (either smime or pgp). Thus for all practical purposes you cannot send anyone an encrypted email these days, unless the recipient has previously gone to the trouble of acquiring for themselves a public/private key pair and then making the public key available to others including you.

-Only a very small percentage of people who send and receive email have acquired their own security certificates (i.e. public/private key pairs), and thus the vast majority of people are sending and receiving plain-text emails almost exclusively [except possibly in a corporate setting. Btw, what % of corporate business email users have encrypted mail]. Plain-text emails are generally readable to a vast range of 3rd parties while in transit, including automated processes which use scanned email content to generate marketing profiles and ad content subsequently directed in one form or the other to the people who wrote the emails.

-Email is increasingly less relevant with other modes of communication available, (texting, skype, etc which are also not generally encrypted) but email is not going away any time soon.

closed as unclear what you're asking by schroeder, Steve, RoraΖ, Steve Dodier-Lazaro, Xander Jun 10 '15 at 23:34

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  • Just to clarify my first question, or put it more generally, I'm assuming you can't readily send someone anything encrypted unless they have "opted-in" either by having a public key, or the two of you both using the same 3rd party encryption service, etc. What's with the thumbs down. Bizarre. Instead of thumbs down, why not a 3 word answer, e.g. yes,no, yes or whatever. – Bill Cody Jun 9 '15 at 21:44
  • The problem is that there isn't a real question here - that's why the downvotes. It also looks like you are trying to build an argument for something without disclosing what you are really getting at. – schroeder Jun 9 '15 at 22:21
  • There are real questions here. I could have phrased them as questions, but what was the point. They are assumptions I'm holding in my mind that at this point in time I am not sure are still completely true, because you know, its computer science? And things are changing all the time? – Bill Cody Jun 9 '15 at 22:32
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    I think, perhaps, you are taking the downvotes and feedback personally. No one is saying that you are stupid for asking the questions, but simply that this particular forum isn't set up for this kind of thing. There is a section in the FAQ about how to ask questions. In addition, you only disclose as a comment to an answer that the reason for these questions is to validate a product you are thinking about creating. As I mentioned, that might be great to put into your question for context. – schroeder Jun 9 '15 at 23:00
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    Not clear about the purpose of the question. Are you looking for agreement in terms of upvotes? Then I would number the points instead of using dashes. You also have a mix of absolutes (email is increasingly less relevant...to who? For what) with specifics (speaking about encryption solely in terms of key pairs - you do know of secured email servers used by banks, steganography, etc?) Like schroeder said, not making fun of you, just need a little help understanding the context of your question. – lonstar Jun 10 '15 at 2:18

Your statements are broadly correct, at least for public-key encrypted email. Of course, this is not the only way of doing things.

One of the key limitations of this kind of encryption is the distribution and management of keys. This is indeed one of key factors limiting the takeup of email encryption.

Even corporate takeup of email encryption is minimal in most sectors.

Email is far from being "less relevant" - check my inbox if you want proof!

UPDATE: You are correct that there is a complete dearth of new email clients - something I find a little odd too. The premier client is, of course, Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird is a far second if that. There are other commercial clients too. But no new ones that I'm aware of, not even web-based ones.

But that does not make email less relevant - simply that the current clients seem to be considered "good enough" to get the job done.

If you are considering a new email product, you will need to think about something that will break through the mold because the major users of email are corporate and so very conservative. Why would a corporate switch from Outlook to something else? You will need to convince. Even convincing consumers would need something a little special. For example, a client that links together all forms of electronic communication?

  • The only other type of encryption other than public key I know of is symmetric and still entails getting password to recipient somehow. And the only thing integrated into email clients is public/private key encryption (which few evidently use) Speaking of, was surprised at the dearth of new desktop email clients. Seems thunderbird is still leading the pack there, thus my question about whether email is becoming less relevant. I really want a definitive answer to all three questions. I think I know the answer, just want confirmation (to gauge whether a product I conceived is relevant). – Bill Cody Jun 9 '15 at 22:01
  • But that I mean I don't have the credentials yet to upvote. But appreciated all the feedback. Will assume its more a less consensus – Bill Cody Jun 10 '15 at 4:21

Since the second statement assumes the first one is true, it cannot be evaluated independently, therefore it is enough to prove the first one to be false.

And in my opinion, the first one is not entirely correct. There are other ways of sending an encrypted e-mail. It is just a matter of abstraction what really says where the correctness is. It is possible to send a symmetrically encrypted e-mail for instance which rectifies the need for public key. You can send the encrypted mail and then tell the receiver he needs a key/passcode to decrypt it and give him the passcode by other means (by phone, diffie-hellmann exchange, by paper mail, etc.) Or the e-mail can contain an encrypted .zip archive. There are many options.

The third statement is, by my opinion, very subjective. It can be true for some areas but false for others. In business for instance, e-mail is predominant while communities tend to shift to social media instead.

  • Re your second paragraph, I accept your point, but you're still making the recipient jump through hoops. I am basically trying to determine if there is any encryption product out there in use to some degree that enables sending mail completely encrypted in transit to a recpient who has done nothing on his end to facilitate encryption, e.g. possibly someone you don't even know. But any feedback at this point like yours is useful to me. – Bill Cody Jun 9 '15 at 21:50
  • nothing comes to my mind what would not require any steps taken on the recipient side, except maybe using some well-known ciphers such as Caesar cipher. But that wouldn't be much secure, would it?:) – mikky Jun 9 '15 at 22:14

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