ProtonMail on Mr. Robot

A few weeks back, we had hundreds of people informing us via Twitter that ProtonMail was being used by Elliot Alderson from this summer’s hit TV show, Mr. Robot. With the highly anticipated season finale airing tomorrow (8/26/2015), we are finally able to share the backstory behind how ProtonMail ended up in Mr. Robot.

ProtonMail on Mr. Robot

ProtonMail was featured in Season 1 of Mr. Robot as the email service used by the main character, Elliot. While the email service used by Elliot might seem like a minor detail, the intensive discussions between our team and the Mr. Robot production team goes to highlight the extreme lengths the Mr. Robot producers have gone for realism.

We have seen many TV shows over the years try to depict hacking in one form or another. We can definitively conclude that Mr. Robot has some of the most realistic portrayals we have ever seen. A large part of our work in building the worlds most secure email service is indeed guarding against hacks of all kind so we have, you could say, some experience in this area.

When the team from Mr. Robot approached us in June, we were quite surprised that they had gone to the lengths of researching secure email services that a character like Elliot would use. This is, after all, a tiny detail that they could have ignored. More surprising though was that they had researched and understood the technical differentiators that make ProtonMail far more secure than other “encrypted” email services. It is hard enough to find people in Hollywood who understand email encryption (looking at you Sony), much less end-to-end encryption. The amount of research they had done was simply astounding.

The story gets far more interesting. Over the course of our discussions with the Mr. Robot team, they mentioned that a security focused person like Elliot would need a way to monitor his own email activity and they asked if this was something ProtonMail supported. Well, we do support this now, you can find the addition of monitoring (logging) in our latest 2.0 release. That’s right, the Mr. Robot team got so deep into their research that they made a product suggestion so good we built it for the hundreds of thousands of security conscious people who use our service.

Elliot Alderson, the main character of Mr. Robot, using ProtonMail's new email access log system in season 1 episode 8
Elliot Alderson, the main character of Mr. Robot, using ProtonMail’s new email access log system in season 1 episode 8

This might be the first recorded case of Hollywood understanding cyber security and privacy so well they influence the development of security software.  This attention to detail sets Mr. Robot apart from anything else on TV these days.

If you want to read more about ProtonMail on Mr. Robot, you can also check out this story on Wired which also features the rest of Elliot’s toolkit. We cannot reveal any details yet, but fans of ProtonMail and Mr. Robot will be happy to know that ProtonMail will be returning to season two of Mr. Robot.

About the Author

Andy Yen

Andy is the Co-Founder of ProtonMail. He is a long time advocate of privacy rights and has spoken at TED, SXSW, and the Asian Investigative Journalism Conference about online privacy issues. Previously, Andy was a research scientist at CERN and has a PhD in Particle Physics from Harvard University. You can watch his TED talk online to learn more about ProtonMail's mission.

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31 comments on “ProtonMail on Mr. Robot

  • Awesome news, congrats on being featured on Mr Robot and on releasing v2.0!

    If I turn on the logging, is this also encrypted or can you also read my logs? I don’t have nothing to hide, but it would be good to know, just in case.

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  • Very Cool. I had missed this show and will catch up soon.

    I really hope the publicity brings you needed funding to keep the service running far into the future and bring improvements too :).

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  • Great article. I’ve been really impressed with the show’s commitment to technical accuracy.

    PS screengrab via Kodi? Nice!

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  • I was soooooo excited to see Elliot using proton mail for his “activities” which made me feel really smart and pretty secure in my decision to open a protonmail account.

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  • But https://protonmail.com/security-details page says “No tracking or logging of personally identifiable information. Unlike competing services, we do not save any tracking information. We do not record metadata such as the IP addresses used to log into accounts.” So, now it turns to be that you introduced tracking and logging? Is this data encrypted as well?

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  • You do seem like the most polished of all the privacy-conscious email services I know about. But, having PhDs in physics hardly recommends you for the job. I know, I’ll have one soon. So, is there anyone on your team whose experience we can actually believe in?

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  • I just found a new TV show to watch, not just for entertainment but also for education, or edutainment as some people say #excitingnews

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  • That’s amazing. I’m still wondering if that HDD to microwave trick actually works if they were so hell bent of creating realism.

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    • It will probably break the control board but somebody who know how to replace it can most likely get the drive spinning again. Better write a bunch of data over the drive multiple times and hit it a few times with a hammer to make sure its all deleted just in case.

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      • A spinning disk one is hard to destroy. As said the board would die, but the platters would stay intact and “easily” recoverable. Hitting with a hammer would make little difference. You can even recover from a quick shredding (yes it’s been done). Dismantle and fire is best.
        However if SSD, then microwave may do the job (and break your microwave)
        For real security it would have to be a live CD + destruction of RAM or at least removed from power, as in theory, you could get the contents of the memory if still powered up.

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      • See how long it takes to fill your 500GB or 1TB disk with piles of large files. The same it will take if you need to destroy your data and will be not a good solution if cops are knocking at the door.

        Instead, use a good program to encrypt your disk entirely, like `cryptsetup` in Linux. The program works as an intermediate layer between plain data and hardware recorded ciphertext. All you need then is just destroying the very passphrase for decryption, which would be secure enough when made up with 20-30 characters. Your data will be touched by cops, but they’ll spend much more time then their lives to decrypt them.

        Reply
  • Thank you for sharing this info!
    Indeed, encryption is necessary but as we can see most of those systems that have been encrypted were hacked. The main reason is that if someone has a key, s/he can easily overcome any kind of encryption. I think telemetry is more prospective today.

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  • They way you storyboarded this post is amazing, you really are not just experts of encryption, technolgy and engineering but also creative narrators capable of writing a good story and developing the fun and the experience of the user\consumer\conscious citizen. No wonder you have somebody good who writes for you this or is really one of you guys? This woman\man has really a good style of writing.

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  • Remember folks. It’s a tv show that has an hour to tell you a slice of a story. If you know anything about hacking it’s hours upon hours of Cheetos, beer (or soda) and lots of boring shit. No one would watch that show. As far as realism goes, that being the case, the show is good!

    Reply