Email is the most popular form of business communication. And more often than not, we use it to send sensitive information containing things like bank details, tax returns, personal information, etc. If you send this information in a regular email then anyone with access to that particular email, including but not limited to the government institutions, email providers, third-party users, etc., can read the contents of it.
So, if you are looking for a little bit of privacy and want to make sure that only the recipient can read the emails, then here is how to send encrypted emails.
Gmail Has Encryption, But it is Limited
By default, Gmail encrypts all the emails your send and receive from it. But, there is a catch. Any email you send from Gmail to Gmail is encrypted. However, any email you send from Gmail to other email providers (like Outlook or Yahoo) is not encrypted, otherwise, you will not be able to see the email due to the unsupported encryption. That being said, even though Gmail encrypts your emails, it can still access your email and scan for keywords or other content to display advertisements. Moreover, when Google receive requests or orders from government entities, it has to comply with those orders and provide access to your emails without your knowledge.
Thus, we need a powerful, free, and open-source way to encrypt our emails so that only the recipient can open and read them.
Send Encrypted Emails in Gmail and Outlook
Note: though I’m showing this in Gmail, the procedure is similar even if you are using other email providers like Outlook, GMX, etc.
To send encrypted emails in Gmail or other popular email providers like Outlook, GMX, etc., we are going to use Mailvelope. In case you don’t know, Mailvelope is a free and open-source project that provides end-to-end encryption using OpenPGP standard to enable secure email communications.
Since Mailvelope uses OpenPGP standard, all the emails you send and receive are encrypted with public keys. To decrypt the message, one needs to have the respective private key. Without the private key, you cannot decrypt the email. Don’t worry, I will show you how to create the keys and send and receive emails using Mailvelope. One thing to keep in mind is that the Mailvelope should be installed on both the sender and recipient systems.
Creating Keys and Exporting Public Key
To start off, install the Mailvelope Chrome extension. Once installed, click on the Mailvelope icon and then select the option “Options.” If you are a Firefox user then you can download the Mailvelope Firefox add-on from its official site.
The above action will open the Mailvelope settings page. Here, you first need to create your own public and private keys. To do that, click on the option “Generate Key,” enter your name, email address, a strong password and click on the button “Generate.” For easy sharing of the public key, you can select the checkbox “Upload public key to Mailvelope server.”
Once the key is generated, Mailvelope will flash a success message.
Now, navigate the “Display Keys” tab. This page will show your primary keypair.
After creating the key pair, you need to export and distribute the public key so that other users can use it to encrypt the emails. To export the public key, click on your name. This will open the “Key Details” window. Here, navigate to the “Export” tab, select “Public” and click on the button “Save.”
This action will download the public key to your Downloads folder. Now, send this public key file to the user who wants to send you the encrypted emails.
You can share the public key to your friend in any form, even post it on their Facebook wall. As long as people have your public key, they can only send you messages. But never ever share your private key with anyone.
So, make sure that you securely save the private key. Without your private key, you will not be able to decrypt the emails encrypted with your public key. You can export the private key just like the public key. All you have to do is select the “Private” tab in the “Key Details” window.
Importing Public Key and Sending Encrypted Email
To send encrypted emails to a person, you first need to have their PGP public key. You can ask the person for their public key. If they don’t know how to create one, share this tutorial with them.
Once you receive their public key, open Mailvelope options, navigate to the “Import” tab and click on the button “Select a key text file to import.”
From this window, select the PGP public key of the recipient and click on the button “Open.”
The above action will import the public key. From now on, you can send encrypted emails to this particular person of whom the public key belongs to.
To send an email, launch Gmail in your web browser and click on the “Compose” button to create a new email. This action will open a new edit panel. Here, enter the email address of the user, subject line, and then click on the little “Edit” icon appearing in the email body field.
This action will open a new encrypted window. Here, type your message and click on the button “Encrypt.”
That’s it. Your message will be encrypted and you will only see the random gibberish in the Gmail edit window. Simply click on the button “Send” to send the email.
Decrypting the Email
Upon receiving the encrypted email, you can easily decrypt it. Open the email in Gmail client. Mailvelope instantly identifies the encrypted message and displays the Mailvelope icon on top of the message. Just click on it.
If you have the private key, you will be prompted for your password which was used during the creation of Key Pair. Just type the password and press the enter button to see the decrypted message.
Send Secure Email Attachments in Gmail
Besides from the regular emails, you may sometimes need to send encrypted email attachments. Thankfully, you can use Mailvelope to send encrypted email attachments.
Encrypting and Sending Email Attachments
To encrypt file attachments, open Mailvelope settings page, navigate to “File Encryption.” Here, select “Encryption” on the left panel and then click on the button “Add.” One thing to keep in mind is that the attachment size should not exceed 25MB.
In this window, select the file(s) and click on the button “Open.”
Once the file has been added, click on the button “Next.”
In this screen, select the email address of the user from the drop-down menu, click on the button “Add” and then “Encrypt.” As you can guess, when you click on the “Encrypt” button, the file will be encrypted with that user’s public key. If you cannot find the email address you want in the drop-down menu then it simply means that you do not have the public key of that user you want to send.
The above action will encrypt the file. Simply click on the “Save All” button to download the encrypted file.
Once downloaded, add the encrypted file as an attachment in the email and send it.
Decrypting Email Attachments
Decrypting an email attachment is pretty easy. To start off, download the encrypted email attachment onto your desktop. Now, open Mailvelop options page and navigate to the “File Encryption” page. Here, select “Decryption” in the left panel and then click on the button “Add.”
Now, select and open the encrypted file.
Here, click on the button “Next” to continue.
If you have the right private key to decrypt the file, you will be prompted for the password. Just enter the password and click on the button “Ok.”
That’s it. The file will be decrypted and you can download it by clicking on the button “Save All.”
Hope that helps and do comment below sharing your thoughts and experiences about using the above method to encrypt emails in Gmail and Outlook.