Review: E-mail Encryption Made Easy

Voltage SecureMail Connected Gateway

Voltage Security, like PGP, offers a wide variety of encryption packages, including two server-based products. The first is Voltage Security Network (VSN), which is a complete hosted e-mail solution, similar to what Hushmail offers in that the company hosts your e-mail domain and deals with the encryption to and from the domain. Voltage also offers a SecureMail Connected Gateway appliance for those companies that want to handle the encryption on premises.

The process of setting up VSN is on a par with setting up Hush -- you change your domain records to point your e-mail traffic to their service. Voltage's advantage is that you can send encrypted e-mails to anyone, and they will self-register using the Zero Download Messenger solution. This is similar to PGP's Web Messenger: if you try to send someone an encrypted message and they're not known to the system, they will get an e-mail with a URL that will direct them to register and then to decrypt their message.

For this review, I actually tested the on-premises Connected Gateway product. (Voltage will sell the hardware necessary, or you can install their software on your own computer system.) Once you run the software to create the appliance, you still need to change the domain and MX mail records for your domain. When I tried it, it all took less than an hour. Connected Gateway automatically sets up two policies for encryption and decryption, and you can add other policies in the same way you'd do on any firewall console.

Voltage offers an Outlook/Outlook Express plug-in that supports automatic encryption -- it's really a custom-generated Windows MSI file that your users install. Once this is accomplished, a process that takes a few minutes, you almost don't realize that you are exchanging encrypted messages because everything happens under the covers. It is that effortless and easy, and one of the reasons that I like the Voltage solutions.

No matter which combination of Voltage products you choose, you don't have to worry about key or certificate management -- that is all taken care of automatically and on the fly. This is one of the big advantages of the Voltage products; they automatically digitally sign each encrypted message as well. If you want more flexible options such as how keys are managed, then you are going to want to look at PGP's Universal solution.

The biggest distinction between the Connected Gateway and VSN solutions is that the former lacks the PGP and S/MIME interoperability that is available on the latter. Both have Web-based consoles -- the Connected Gateway console is fairly spare but I didn't find it limiting in terms of exchanging encrypted e-mails.

The main drawback for the Connected Gateway is price -- $115 per user annually versus $65 for the hosted VSN solution, about on par with what PGP charges.

Conclusions

The good news is that all three of these solutions work easily and will protect your e-mails from end to end. They aren't difficult to implement and won't take up a lot of IT support resources handling key management issues either. If you need the security of keeping your e-mails private, they are all worth a closer look. And while they aren't effortless to set up, they are fairly effortless for end users on a daily basis.

My recommendation is to start off with either the free Hushmail product or the Business version and see if hosted e-mail is right for your needs. If you want to run your own encryption inside your firewall, then move to Voltage's Connected Gateway. If you anticipate communicating with a lot of existing PGP users, then install its Universal product.

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