Why Google’s new ‘Confidential Mode’ for Gmail isn't secure messaging

One of the most important features in the redesigned Gmail is the "Confidential Mode" which lets users set “expiration date” to sent emails.

While the emails marked as Confidential can’t be copied, forwarded, printed or downloaded, but beyond the edged restrictions is the fact that email can be either secure and less easy to use, or easy; and certainly can't guarantee both conditions.

And with the Confidential Mode, you can write email as you normally do, but you can now set the expiration for one day, five years or other specified durations, and optionally you can choose to require a passcode.

The recipient gets a passcode, which remains valid only for five minutes, when you choose the SMS passcode option. Additionally, email sent using Confidential Mode can be revoked at any period, regardless of the expiration date. Simply open the email in the “Sent” folder and click “Remove access” and you can make it available again, by choosing “Renew access,” it's that easy.

Gmail Confidential Mode works by storing your message in a secure space on Google Cloud, and when both sender and recipient use Gmail, the message appears as normal. While the recipients without Gmail account get a link for viewing the email in the browser.

So messages you send or receive through Confidential Mode aren't actually email, but may be served as links, albeit it's an email-looking page on the Web requiring a password.

This situation can be problematic, and capable of inviting phishing attacks via link-baiting, thus exposing the login information of Gmail users.

Another issue is encryption, as systems that encrypt email also decrypt it on the recipient's end, but makes it inaccessible even for the mail provider. And the sender will have full access until after it’s sent, at which time the recipient becomes in control.

The reverse is the case with Confidential Mode, Google retains possession and control of the email at all times and grants or revokes access based on the choices of the sender. And the Confidential Mode also raises issue around data retention compliance, which enterprise users on regular Gmail may run into conflict of requirements for the retention of company emails.

Gmails Confidential Mode is perhaps more private than regular email, but it’s certainly not more secure.
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