Kolab creates a privacy refugee camp in Switzerland


The disclosure by NSA contractor Edward Snowden has exposed an ‘out-of-control’ surveillance system of the US and the UK. The more stories we are getting from Guardian and NYTimes, the more people are losing trust in the companies which operate from these two countries.

There is virtually no confidentiality and privacy of communications these days. Most of us may not care about government agencies accessing our email and communications (though we should). There are actually many people and organizations who want to keep their data away from the hands of agencies like NSA or GCHQ for many legitimate reasons. Data is power and if an entity has access to your data, that entity has a lot of power over you.

Abuse of data

There are investigative journalists who may be covering wrongdoings of governments and have sources whose lives could be at risk if the repressive regimes learn about them. There can also be trade negotiations between governments and if one government has access to all of the private communications of the party with whom they are negotiating, that government will have an unfair advantage.

There are many more such cases where you do need to have some privacy. I often hear claims like, “I don’t have anything to hide”, or, “I don’t do anything wrong so I don’t care.” It’s dangerous thinking. Just because you don’t do anything wrong doesn’t mean you take a shower in public. You do go behind closed doors. You don’t install web cameras in your bedroom for the whole world to watch just because you don’t have anything to hide. You do wear clothes, right? You don’t go out naked.

Privacy solutions

There are many companies which offer secure communication solutions to those who do want privacy. In the US there were companies like Lavabit and Silent Circle which offered secure email. However, both companies announced that they were shutting down their mail service as the government wanted access to the data. In the US, you actually don’t have any option – either you comply, or go to jail.

The shutdown of these services created a void.

When the US government is turning hostile towards those who want privacy of communication, is there any place on Earth where you can get such a ‘right’ without having to worry about whether your data is really secure?

The answer is yes! There are companies like Kolab Systems, that offer secure email solutions.

What makes Kolab solutions more trustworthy than Lavabit or Silent Circle? Why are they immune from the far reaching hands of the US government? Why should someone trust Kolab more than Lavabit or Silent Circle?

We talked to Georg C. F. Greve, CEO and Chairman of board of Kolab Systems and discussed all of these points. Before we talk about how Kolab offers solutions to the problems created by the US and the UK, let’s have a look at its history.

History of Kolab

Greve told me that Kolab was born in Europe. The local government Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI) wanted to have a system which was fully auditable, secure, open source and based on open standards. They did not find anything that they needed available in the market so they announced a tender which was won by 3 companies – Erfrakon, Intevention and Kdab.

These three companies worked together and created Kolab which was based on Free Software technologies and principles. Version 1 was released around 2002 and was installed at BSI. Initially they used it in a heterogeneous environment which was a mix of Windows and GNU/Linux desktops but later they switched to GNU/Linux exclusively – which now runs on their 500+ desktops.

Kolab strengthened the cryptography stack of free software

Open Source is all about collaboration and contribution – more than mere consumption. These three companies worked on a lot of technologies such as GnuPG and the entire S/MIME subset by working closely with g10code, the company of Werner Koch, the author of GnuPG. The work of these companies made essential contributions to the entire cryptography stack in free software. KDE PIM also benefited from their work and a lot of KDE PIM developers are part of the Kolab universe. So the work done was giving more to the free software than it was taking.

But unlike many open source projects suffering from NIH syndrome Kolab does it in the right way. “Everything that we do is upstream, always,” said Greve.