Encrypted email service ProtonMail announced today it was launching a free VPN service called ProtonVPN.
Developers said the move comes following one year of development and four months of beta testing by 10,000 ProtonMail community members.
According to Proton Technologies AG, the company behind ProtonMail, the VPN was developed by the same scientists from CERN and MIT that originally developed the email service. The company says the VPN re-routes users’ traffic through encrypted tunnels via core servers located in hardened data centers in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden. Some tiers of the VPN allow for integration with Tor, so users, if they choose, can route traffic via the anonymity network to access dark web sites.
The VPN also encrypts traffic with AES-256 and handles key exchange with 2048-bit RSA, and HMAC with SHA-256 for message authentication, and also employs Perfect Forward Secrecy, a feature that helps protect past sessions against future compromises of secret keys or passwords.
While the VPN has been in the works for more than a year, Andy Yen, the service’s co-founder and chief executive officer, acknowledged Tuesday that the increasingly tense climate around privacy and especially this spring’s erosion of ISP privacy rules also helped spur the VPN’s creation.
“In the past year, we have seen more and more challenges against Internet freedom,” Yen said Tuesday, “now more than ever, we need robust tools for defending privacy, security, and freedom online.”
Congress voted to overturn the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Privacy Order, dismantling online privacy protections, in March. A few weeks later, in April, President Trump signed legislation around the repeal, something that in December will effectively roll back Obama-era rules preventing ISPs from selling customer’s browsing history. States have begun drafting their own ISP privacy rules to combat the new protections but until there’s movement on the issue, it appears the rollback will continue to be a boon for VPN providers.
Yen said Tuesday he views VPNs as a vital form of technology.
“Strong encryption and privacy are a social and economic necessity. Not only does this technology protect activists and dissidents, it is also key to securing the world’s digital infrastructure,” Yen said.
It’s the latest effort the service, based in Switzerland, has taken to bolster the privacy of their users. In January, Yen announced the mail service was introducing a Tor-accessible .onion hidden service for users – especially those living in regions under the oppression of strict state online censorship – looking for an added layer of security.