Virtru launches business email encryption service for Google Apps

Email encryption startup Virtru has launched a version of its service for businesses using Google Apps, a market segment that the company thinks is showing increased interest in secure communications.

Google Apps has some 30 million users, which is growing as companies become more comfortable with software-as-a-service, said Virtru co-founder John Ackerly.

Virtru aims to make email encryption easier to set up and use. It uses a browser extension to encrypt content and attachments, which can be sent through mainstream email providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Google.

The service also allows for fine control over messages. The encryption key for a message can be revoked, cutting off access. Message forwarding can also be restricted by managing access to its decryption key. Messages can also be tagged with an expiration time.

Virtru encrypts content in the Trusted Data Format (TDF), which Ackerly’s brother and Virtru cofounder Will developed while working for the U.S. National Security Agency.

The open-source format is akin to a secret ZIP file and is widely used in the U.S. intelligence community. Unlike other encryption program such as PGP, TDF also allows attachments to be encrypted.

Virtru is also HIPPA compliant, a mandatory standard for U.S. health care providers handling sensitive information.

Virtru for Business will be free to try until later in the year no matter how many users, Ackerly said. After that period ends, Ackerly expects pricing for the baseline product to be around US$2.50 per user per month, with volume discounts.

The company will also offer other paid-for modules, such as data leakage protection and a white-label option—for additional fees, he said.

“The goal here—in the classic disruptive sense—is to be a lot cheaper and dead simple,” Ackerly said.

Setting up Virtru involves adding Marketplace Apps to the Google Apps domain console and then downloading the Virtru application. From there, an administrator can then manage the access and forwarding rights of users.

Virtru, which runs its central service on Amazon Web Services, manages the encryption keys for messages. Ackerly expects by the end of the year to license a key management product that will allow businesses to handle that task themselves.

“There are certain companies, particularly overseas, that don’t want a U.S. company to be having access to the keys,” he said, such as in South America, Europe and Asia.

Those concerns stem from secret NSA documents leaked last year by former contractor Edward Snowden, which described the agency’s vast surveillance operations and infiltration of U.S. technology companies.

To dispel worries about his brother Will’s stint at the NSA, Virtru has made its source code available for inspection on Github.

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