After several years of Internet activists asking Yahoo! to secure its email service by adding a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) option, Yahoo! has recently begun to provide this service to its mail users.
In a letter dated November 13, 2012, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran joined 25 other organizations and activists in asking Yahoo! to provide the HTTPS option to its users. The Campaign welcomes Yahoo!’s recent addition of this option, as the secure communications protocol will give Iranian Yahoo! users the ability to send and receive email communications with stronger privacy protections.
While the secure option is not implemented automatically on Yahoo! Mail accounts, users can now activate the secure service by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of their Yahoo! Mail account, selecting “Mail Options,” “Advanced Settings,” and checking the box labeled “Turn on SSL” as depicted below.
“The value of SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] for Yahoo! and Facebook is not simply based on if you trust your government, but [on] whether your emails, contacts, and pictures should be kept private,” independent Internet security expert Collin Anderson explained in an interview with the Campaign. “Every person, regardless of whether they are political or not, [has] the right to make sure that others—whether governments, businesses, hackers, CoffeeNet owners, whoever—are not watching your online activities. SSL is a basic step to providing that protection. You should expect that the services that you give your important personal information to respect you enough to offer it, and turn SSL on by default,” he continued.
The letter from human rights and Internet security activists and organizations to Yahoo! emphasized the value of secure communication for dissidents and activists in countries with repressive governments. “There have been frequent reports of political activists and government critics being shown copies of their email messages as evidence during interrogation sessions, underscoring the importance of providing basic measures to protect the privacy of e-mail,” the letter said.
Ali Akbar Mousavi, former Member of the Iranian Parliament from Tehran, Deputy Chairman of the Parliament’s Telecommunications Committee, and an Internet security and freedom activist who has been following email security issues with companies like Google and Yahoo! over the past several years, spoke with the Campaign about the new feature. “Yahoo’s latest action is very promising because they had not foreseen such a costly service in their business plan. Such cost-intensive services are mostly implemented to prevent banking fraud and [unauthorized] online fund transfers between computers and banks. Yahoo! implemented this following pressure from Internet freedom activists,” Mousavi told the Campaign.
Mousavi warned the Campaign that the service currently only covers email, not other online communication. “I must emphasize that this service is currently only in operation for Yahoo! Mail, and it does not yet include the online chat services, and Yahoo! Messenger has weak security in this area. I hope Yahoo! tackles this problem, too, and that all companies who lack this service don’t hesitate to implement it,” he said.