Staying safe and secure while you’re browsing the internet or corresponding with friends and coworkers has become more and more pressing for the average person in recent years. After all, Hillary Clinton’s email usage and the subsequent safety (or lack thereof) of her email account played a huge factor in deciding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
Facebook is also currently under fire for unwittingly handing out millions of its users’ information to a private data analytics firm. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of bad actors and malcontents on the Internet these days and folks are justifiably wary.
Nowhere is more ripe for hacking than your own email inbox, so I’ve decided to break down 8 different encryption methods so you that you always have safe and secure emails.
1. Microsoft Outlook’s In-House Encryption Tool
This method obviously only works if you use Outlook, but enough businesses use it for their employees’ email that I don’t feel bad talking about it exclusively. If you don’t use Outlook at all you can skip ahead, I’ll have other methods for you. For those of you that do use Outlook, encryption is simple.
If you want to encrypt a single email, all you have to do is the following:
1. Click on “File,” then “Properties” on the email you are currently writing.
2. Click “Security Settings,” and then click on “encrypt message contents and attachments” checkbox.
Then all you have to do is finish your message, add your attachment, and click send.
You can also encrypt all of your outgoing emails at once if you so choose.
It’s as simple as going back to the “File” tab, and from there choose “Options,” then “Trust Center,” then “Trust Center Settings.” Under the “Email Security” tab, you’ll see the same “encrypt message contents and attachments” checkbox.
All you have to do is click that and voila, you’ve got secure emails.
2. An Internet Browser Plugin
There a bunch of different options out there, but they basically all work the same. You download the plugin, restart your browser and the next time you send an email the plugin will ask you to protect the email with a password that you then share with the recipient of the email.Most of these free plugins secure emails in the same way.
The only downside of this method is that it requires the receiver of your encrypted email to also have the email extension installed. If this isn’t a hindrance for you, and you use Gmail, I recommend SafeGmail. There are other extensions out there though, just do some Googling and find one that suits your needs.
3. Use Gmail and Send Emails to Gmail Users Exclusively
This is admittedly a sort of tongue-in-cheek answer, but it’s true.
In 2014, Gmail announced that all of the emails received or sent in their Google Mail applications will be encrypted automatically. Of course, like with SafeGmail (a third party program unaffiliated with Google), this method only works both the sender and receiver are using Google Mail apps.
So if you want to send secure emails to your hapless grandma with the last existing AOL account, you’re out of luck here.
4. Secure Emails With PGP
PGP is an encryption program that a lot of the aforementioned browser extensions use themselves to secure your emails. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy and has been encrypting and decrypting emails since 1991. It’s the Ol’ Reliable of data encryption, but it can be pretty daunting for those that aren’t tech savvy.
The way it works, at its most basic level, is that it when you package data you want to encrypt and send to someone it randomly generates a random “PGP key,” usually a random series of numbers that serve as a password for that particular email or file or whatever you want to send. The recipient then uses that key to decrypt the file and open your attachment or read your message. A good breakdown on how to use it is here, if you feel so inclined.
5. Use S/MIME
S/MIME works nearly identically to PGP. It stands for “Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions” and it basically does what it says in the name. I won’t harp on it for too long as the long difference between it and PGP is that it exists exclusively for Apple Operating System users.
6. Microsoft’s Encrypting File System
This method works not for emails you’re going to send, but to encrypt old emails saved on your computer. The basic idea here is that if you want to protect files on your computer not from hackers thousands of miles away from you, but from people who may be able to get physical access to your computer, Microsoft’s EFS is the method for you.
Yes, someone still has to know your password on your computer if you’re logged out to look at your files, but what if you’re not? Or what if they break in anyway? Microsoft’s provides a hearty last line of defense for your privacy.
And luckily for you, Microsoft OS users, this functionality comes stock on all versions of Windows developed for business use.
7. Self-Destruct Your Emails
If all this encryption talk is making your head hurt, maybe just consider blowing up your emails? It’s email encryption by a different method.
What I’m suggesting is this: Snapmail, a browser extension that allows you to essentially set a timer on any given email. When that timer runs out, the email deletes itself. This is a good option for emails that are sensitive but don’t have any information the recipient needs to hold on to.
Understandably, this doesn’t apply to all emails so let me get to my last suggestion…
8. Just Download A User-Friendly Encryption Program
I’m not talking about PGP or S/MIME, I’m talking about an actual email encryption program with an easy-to-understand user interface and simple instructions.
There are a ton of different options out there but Encyro is the secure file sharing option I recommend for small businesses, considering ease of use, and price.
Encryption is proving to be more and more useful with each passing day. Whether it’s an email or a document, it’s important to keep your files secure.
Pick a method that suits you and stay safe!