Among the vast majority of Internet users, the most common way to distribute files is via email attachments. A method that is well-known for being among the simplest for nefarious third parties to hack, or for government agencies to sniff. A growing segment of the population has started using file dump services like Dropbox to handle larger files, due to their simplicity and ease of use. Now, Keybase, a company created by OK Cupid founders Chris Coyne and Max Krohn is making a serious attempt to offer a Dropbox alternative that includes built-in file encryption for every file and user the system handles.
Backed by $10.8 million in VC funding that was led by esteemed tech financiers Andreessen Horowitz, Keybase focuses on public-key encryption and seeks to solve the problem of finding the public key for someone you want to send a message to by utilizing social media and other external authentication methods including a central repository of public keys.
“[Encryption] shouldn’t be something only a hacker can do,” said Krohn in a recent interview. “It should be something that anyone using a workstation in their daily lives should be able to use effectively. You shouldn’t have to understand crypto in order to use these products.”
The Keybase plan provides end to end encryption, meaning that there would not be an entry point for sniffers or hackers, and the company’s software will invisibly encrypt all the data you store in it so even Keybase won’t be able to read it. That is a crucial part of any encryption method in a post Patriot Act world, because any company that can access your data can also be compelled to provide access to that data for any number of government snoops as well.
Keybase intends to use the well-respected open source encryption system NaCl and welcomes audits by software security firms that intend to find and notify the public of any potential risks or backdoors, and Keybase is not alone in this endeavor. Others including Boxcryptor and SpiderOak aim to offer their own versions of cloud-encrypted file sharing services for the ordinary consumer.
The one remaining question is whether or not Keybase can simplify the process down to a level comparable to attaching a file to an email. Consumers have already shown time and again that they value their convenience more than their security, often even when confronted with the dangers of doing things the ‘easy’ way – now it falls on the shoulders of tech startups to make being secure just as convenient as the outdated methods of data transfer billions of people have already become accustomed to using.