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CertifiedMail is a cinch to set up. Simply head to the CertifiedMail Web site, choose New User, select your account type, accept the terms of service, and fill in your personal password information. CertifiedMail stores all your encryption details, including keys and signatures, on its servers, so you can send secure mail from any server.
CertifiedMail performs like any other Web mail service (such as Hotmail or Yahoo Mail), except that when you send a message from your CertifiedMail in-box, the recipient receives e-mail informing him or her that a secure message is waiting at the CertifiedMail Web site. If the recipient is not a CertifiedMail subscriber, he or she must sign up for a free trial that expires in 30 days. CertifiedMail uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, which is faster--though less secure--than PGP.
All the basic functions you expect from an e-mail client--an address book, a spelling checker, and the ability to send attachments--are included in the CertifiedMail interface. It also packs a helpful dictionary and a thesaurus. Though you can find all of these functions at the CertifiedMail Web site, we recommend using its plug-in client. This nifty extra adds a button to Outlook, Outlook Express, or Lotus Notes toolbars to send an encrypted message. Just click the CertifiedMail button, and your mail is encrypted and sent.
Once your recipient reads the letter, CertifiedMail that notifies you that the message was read. Also handy: the message retraction feature. If your recipient has not yet opened the message, you can go to the Web site and remove the note before he or she gets to it. Be aware, however, that CertifiedMail tells your recipient that you attempted to send a message, then retracted it.
Free vs. pay accounts
CertifiedMail offers three account levels: Personal, Silver, and Gold. The Personal account is a 30-day free trial. When it runs out, you must choose a Silver or a Gold account. For $5 per month, Silver provides most basic features, including encryption capabilities, a dictionary and a thesaurus, plus 25MB of mail storage on the CertifiedMail server and tech support via e-mail. If you need to encrypt only an occasional message, Silver has you covered.
The Gold account costs $10 per month and provides the basic features, plus100MB of storage, phone and e-mail tech support, and the ability to retract messages. CertifiedMail promises to add its own virus scan and wireless access to the Gold account soon. If you use Lotus Notes, you'll have to go for the Gold--it's the only version that provides a Lotus plug-in.
What it lacks
While CertifiedMail gets the job done, it suffers from a few deficiencies. If you forget your password, CertifiedMail simply e-mails you a link allowing you to change it. Sure, it's easy, but anyone with access to your computer or e-mail account could gain entry to all of your encrypted mail. CertifiedMail does provide the ability to password-protect each message. However, you'll still need to share the password with the recipient.
The limited documentation and FAQs on the CertifiedMail Web site is adequate for most troubleshooting, but the site doesn't provide a support e-mail address or phone number for specific questions. We had to visit the main company site for contact information, then received no answer when we submitted e-mail asking for help.
On the right track
CertifiedMail is a strong product that's perfect if you want the security of e-mail encryption without the complexity presented by other programs. However, the $10-per-month price for the Gold product is more than we think you should pay for a Web-based mail encryption service. Most people should be able to live with the features offered by the Silver account, and, at $5 per month or less when you sign up for a year, it's an excellent deal.