A free and open source platform, Kolab offers users a secure email service with add-on features

We set out building a secure mail service, but it now seems we are turning to be a refuge of the free,” says Georg Greve, CEO of Kolab Systems — a service that has been attracting subscribers ever since the National Security Agency (NSA) was caught spying on people worldwide. MyKolab has evolved into a more resilient groupware platform, whose offering of email and collaborative applications has attracted many users who are concerned about data privacy.

In the aftermath of the shutdown of other secure email services, notably Silent Mail and Lavabit, the service supposedly used by Edward Snowden — Kolab Systems has tried to project its lightweight ‘email plus storage’ offering hosted at MyKolab.com as a secure solution.

Based in Switzerland and running “100 per cent free software”, MyKolab appears to have all the right ingredients to remain a robust solution to protect user privacy.

Speaking at a free software conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, Mr. Greve, who is also the founder of Free Software Foundation Europe, emphasised the need for user-privacy protecting tools that can be secured from snooping programs like the PRISM.

In January 2013, Kolab Systems started offering secure mail service with add-on features like tasks, calendar and cloud storage. While these services might sound identical to the many options a user already has with the likes of Google, Microsoft or Dropbox, MyKolab’s USP of is user-privacy protection.

Architectural superiority

Every line of code that goes into MyKolab is free and open source.

The possibility of the platform colluding with spying agencies through a “backdoor” is eliminated by the open source nature of its server and client.

Service providers, even when they claim to offer ‘secure’ email, are not entirely so unless they possess their own data servers. Many small providers run their services on virtual machines, with no access to physical servers placed in a jurisdiction that can be spied on, which makes their claims akin to snake oil marketing.

By locating MyKolab servers in Switzerland, a data safe haven, and at a location where Kolab Systems team enjoys physical access, the dependence on middlemen-based services, which the Snowden revelations has demonstrated to be the weak link in the security chain, is greatly reduced.

The Kolab package forms a groupware, but since it is built on NoSql and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) databases, it enables much better capabilities that enable synchronisation with mobile devices and for handling calendars, which is in great demand from groupware offerings. The Kolab client is available for Mac, Microsoft and Linux-based platforms. With revelations about NSA spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the number of account creations and service requests on MyKolab hit a peak in October, forcing MyKolab to go offline for about 30 minutes as its servers could not handle the load.

Increasing number of journalists handling sensitive cases, privacy-conscious politicians, and users worried about mass surveillance are subscribing to MyKolab.

This service, unlike Google Mail is not free of cost, but Mr. Greve offered this rebuttal: “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product,” which is epitomised by Google’s updating of its terms of use, which allowed the most popular email service on the planet to use users’ personal information in its advertisements.

The author wrote this piece from Gothenburg, Sweden, where he attended the Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit (November 8 to 10)