A Usability Study of Four Secure Email Tools Using Paired Participants

Scott Ruoti, Jeff Andersen, Luke Dickinson, Scott Heidbrink, Tyler Monson, Mark O'Neill, Ken Reese, Brad Spendlove, Elham Vaziripour, Justin Wu, Daniel Zappala, Kent Seamons

Secure email is increasingly being touted as usable by novice users, with a push for adoption based on recent concerns about government surveillance. To determine whether secure email is ready for grassroots adoption, we employ a laboratory user study that recruits pairs of novice users to install and use several of the latest systems to exchange secure messages. We present both quantitative and qualitative results from 28 pairs of novices as they use Private WebMail (Pwm), Tutanota, and Virtru and 10 pairs of novices as they use Mailvelope. Participants report being more at ease with this type of study and better able to cope with mistakes since both participants are β€œon the same page.” We find that users prefer integrated solutions over depot-based solutions and that tutorials are important in helping first-time users. Finally, our results demonstrate that Pretty Good Privacy using manual key management is still unusable for novice users, with 9 of 10 participant pairs failing to complete the study.

ACM Transactions on Privacy and Security, Vol. 22, No. 2, pages 22–29, April 2019. ACM, 2019.


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