OpenPGP in Thunderbird 78

Updating to Thunderbird 78 from 68

Soon the Thunderbird automatic update system will start to deliver the new Thunderbird 78 to current users of the previous release, Thunderbird 68. This blog post is intended to share with you details about our OpenPGP support in Thunderbird 78, and some details Enigmail add-on users should consider when updating. If you are interested in reading more about the other features in the Thunderbird 78 release, please see our previous blog post.

Updating to Thunderbird 78 is highly recommended to ensure you will receive security fixes, because no more fixes will be provided for Thunderbird 68 after September 2020.

The traditional Enigmail Add-on cannot be used with version 78, because of changes to the underlying Mozilla platform Thunderbird is built upon. Fortunately, it is no longer needed with Thunderbird version 78.2.1 because it enables a new built-in OpenPGP feature.

Not all of Enigmail’s functionality is offered by Thunderbird 78 yet – but there is more to come. And some functionality has been implemented differently, partly because of technical necessity, but also because we are simplifying the workflow for our users.

With the help of a migration tool provided by the Enigmail Add-on developer, users of Enigmail’s classic mode will get assistance to migrate their settings and keys. Users of Enigmail’s Junior Mode will be informed by Enigmail, upon update, about their options for using that mode with Thunderbird 78, which requires downloading software that isn’t provided by the Thunderbird project. Alternatively, users of Enigmail’s Junior Mode may attempt a manual migration to Thunderbird’s new integrated OpenPGP feature, as explained in our howto document listed below.

Unlike Enigmail, OpenPGP in Thunderbird 78 does not use GnuPG software by default. This change was necessary to provide a seamless and integrated experience to users on all platforms. Instead, the software of the RNP project was chosen for Thunderbird’s core OpenPGP engine. Because RNP is a newer project in comparison to GnuPG, it has certain limitations, for example it currently lacks support for OpenPGP smartcards. As a workaround, Thunderbird 78 offers an optional configuration for advanced users, which requires additional manual setup, but which can allow the optional use of separately installed GnuPG software for private key operations.

The Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) awards program has thankfully provided funding for an audit of the RNP library and Thunderbird’s related code, which was conducted by the Cure53 company.  We are happy to report that no critical or major security issues were found, all identified issues had a medium or low severity rating, and we will publish the results in the future.

More Info and Support

We have written a support article that lists questions that users might have, and it provides more detailed information on the technology, answers, and links to additional articles and resources. You may find it at: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/openpgp-thunderbird-howto-and-faq

If you have questions about the OpenPGP feature, please use Thunderbird’s discussion list for end-to-end encryption functionality at: https://thunderbird.topicbox.com/groups/e2ee

Several topics have already been discussed, so you might be able to find some answers in its archive.

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