Interview: Meet CryptPad – Collaboration suite, end-to-end encrypted and open-source

CryptPad has a very clear vision: enable collaboration, while keeping data private. In order to allow this, all the documents are encrypted and decrypted by the browser. Find out more in this interview with David Benqué.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m David Benqué, the designer on the CryptPad development team. We make an end-to-end encrypted and open-source collaboration suite. I joined the other two team members in November 2019. My role includes UI/UX design, documentation, support, and many other things.

For NGI DAPSI we proposed INTEROFFICE, a project focused on improving document conversions in CryptPad.

What is your motivation to work in the data portability field?

We’re very conscious of the impact of usability and practicality on the adoption of privacy-preserving tools, and portability is a huge part of that. One of the first experiences people have when using a platform like ours is trying to import their existing documents, so that needs to go smoothly in order for them to benefit from the rest of our work.

How did you hear about DAPSI and what drove you to apply?

We do our best to follow NGI’s new programs and see where they intend to lead the European Internet ecosystem next, but it can be hard to keep up! A friend pointed out the deadline of the open call since they knew it aligned closely with things that we’ve wanted to do for some time. It was very short notice but the effort writing the proposal was well worth it for the opportunity to improve interoperability in this space.

Many of our users have requested conversion to and from common office formats over the years, along with the ability to edit them directly within our platform. We experimented with ideas and basic prototypes before, but this is a big job that we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without NGI DAPSI’s support.

In simple words, what challenge does your project address?

Importing and exporting common office formats (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) is an expected feature for an online collaborative suite. However, all of the solutions out there do this by sending the document to their server and converting it there. This means the server can see the content of your document.

In CryptPad, we have a strict requirement that the server cannot see any un-encrypted data. This guarantees that even the administrators of the service have no access to the content of users’ documents. For CryptPad to offer extensive document import/export all the conversions have to happen in the user’s browser. This way our server still does not see any of the document’s content. Technologies exist that make this possible, but they have not yet been used to do what we are doing with INTEROFFICE.

What solution are you developing?

We are developing a solution that converts documents in the user’s browser. This way the functionality can still be available to users while preserving privacy.

We started working with Web Assembly technologies for our spreadsheet editor. This uses the interface of OnlyOffice, and integrates it with CryptPad’s end-to-end encrypted real time collaboration engine. Our DAPSI project builds on this work and extends it to all office formats.

This will benefit CryptPad users, making it much easier to move documents in and out of the platform. We will release this work as open-source libraries that will be usable outside of CryptPad, so other projects facing similar problems will benefit as well.

What will be the next steps?

With this project, we will be adding two more OnlyOffice apps to the CryptPad suite, presentations and text documents. In addition to our existing spreadsheet editor, all three apps will come with extensive import/export capabilities (.docx, .xlsx, .ppt, open document formats, etc).

We hope that this will help us grow our existing user base and make CryptPad more financially sustainable as well.