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Lavabit bloke passes hat for open-source secure email master plan

Snowden's old mail provider wants '100 Lavabit-like services'

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Ladar Levison, the former operator of the Lavabit secure email service that was once used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, has launched a Kickstarter project to raise funds to release the site's code as an open source project.

Levison shut down Lavabit in August, and while court orders forbid him from discussing details of the situation, it is widely believed that the move was in response to a subpoena to turn over his users' data.

At the time, Levison posted to the company's homepage that he felt scuttling the service was his only option, or else he would "become complicit in crimes against the American people."

Since then, he has teamed up with the team behind Silent Circle – which also briefly offered a secure email service, but similarly closed it down in August – to form the Dark Mail Alliance, a group dedicated to creating a new email system designed to be impossible to eavesdrop.

"The Summer of Snowden may have taken the Lavabit email service offline, but the lifeblood of the service is still alive and relevant to Dark Mail," Levison writes on his new Kickstarter page. "The goal is to perfect and release its source code as a free and open-source software (F/OSS) project."

To that end, Levison is seeking to raise $196,608*, of which $25,000 had already been pledged when The Reg hit the big, red publish button on this story.

Those funds will go toward paying programmers to clean up the code and get it into a form that can be released to the public so that it can be used to create new secure email systems like the one Levison used to operate.

"Since I've basically decided that I don't think I can return as a service provider until my case is settled, I've decided that if there can't be a Lavabit, the next best thing is a hundred Lavabit-like services," Levison said in the video accompanying the Kickstarter project.

If the project is funded, Levison says he will be looking for engineers with experience in C, Javascript, HTML, SQL and JSON.

The software itself consists of "magma," a mail daemon that transparently encrypts data before writing it to disk. The magma daemon supports access via SMTP, POP3, IMAP4, and HTTP, and part of the project will involve adding support for the new, end-to-end encrypted Dark Mail protocol being developed by the Alliance.

In addition, Levison plans to develop Dark Mail–compatible email clients for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android, which will also be released as F/OSS projects.

Backers of the Kickstarter project will receive various perks, ranging from access to official binaries to early access to the source code, installation support, and a limited-edition polo shirt.

The funding period extends until 8:00PM Eastern time on Wednesday, November 27 – coincidentally, the day before the American Thanksgiving holiday. ®

Bootnote

* Levison's funding amount is a curious one, and although El Reg has asked for clarification, we haven't heard anything back. The decimal number 196,608 is equivalent to 110000000000 in binary or 300000 in hexadecimal, but those numbers don't hold any special significance for us, either. If Reg readers have any ideas, we'd love to hear them.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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