Cyber Security

Former NSA Employees with Open Source Focus Secure Email with Virtru

May 8, 2014

Guest Author

A few former NSA employees change the security game for email in Washington, DC. Former employee, Will Ackerly, with other NSA past employees, came together to offer improved email security with Virtru. 

The software is affordable, easy to use, and applicable to Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, Mac Mail, and other major email providers. Meade and elsewhere are responsible for creating the type of security solutions to prevent such spying.

How does Virtru make email secure?

This email add-on puts power back in the hands of the individual user. After downloading and activating the software for specific email accounts, a person can set an expiration date, deactivate forwarding, track forwarding, and revoke a message after delivery.

The software utilizes on-device encryption, the open Trusted Data Format (TDF), and patented technology. Also, in contrast to Gmail’s ‘Terms and Conditions’ for privacy, which states that their systems scan email content, Virtru’s website claims they “never [have] access to your content.”

Trusting the Trusted Data Format

The Trusted Data Format, developed by the U.S. intelligence community, specifically Ackerly, is an “XML based file format” used to wrap messages ranging from emails to SMS to secure content.

This open source tool is an integral part of their services. When you send an email message the content is encrypted with a TDF wrapper and then verified through the Virtru server once it reaches its destination. Their email encryption works immediately before your message even leaves a device. They use a 256-bit AES key to secure emails. Those messages are shielded by Virtru’s keystore located in the cloud.

Why open source innovation and philosophy keys privacy awareness

For over the past two hundred years the United States Postal Service (USPS) has upheld a strict privacy policy that adheres to federal laws governing the abuse and privacy of mail. Instead of relying on the federal government to protect your privacy with email, individuals must trust Gmail, Yahoo, and other major emails providers who often supply free services in exchange for the distribution of user information for advertising purposes. These privacy issues create a security paranoia for individual users who are now skeptical about hackers, data breaches, social media and email security.

Lately, the strongest responses to spying and security concerns come through open source collaboration and innovation. As we continue to address cyber security problems, open source development remains a key resource to combat spying, malicious hackers, and other unethical practices used to exploit individuals.

After reading several articles on various tech publications promoting this new software, their open source focus, the founder’s NSA background, I tested the software.

Test results for Gmail and Yahoo mail

I ran an initial test to see how Virtru worked with Gmail and Yahoo. The verification only works if the receiver verifies their email account by giving Virtru access.

When receiving an encrypted email, the email takes a person to an external site to the “Virtru Secure Reader” pictured below.


If the sender includes an expiration date, as I did, and you miss the time frame, the message expires.

email expiration

One of the best features included is the “revoke message” button available in “Sent Mail”. If the person does not access your email in time, you can revoke it by going hitting the red button in the upper right hand corner.

Not every email requires this level of security. Though messages with sensitive information calls for this type of email encryption, especially at such an affordable price.

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