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How to Encrypt an Email: The Easy Way and the Hard Way


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    If you’re already here, we probably don’t have to work too hard to convince you that learning how to encrypt an email is one of the best things you can do to protect the sensitive information you need to share. Email encryption provides an extra layer of protection for the rich quantity of data you store and share via email: Names, addresses, phone numbers — your email server is a veritable gold mine for bad guys with hacking chops.

    Simply put, everyone should learn how to encrypt an email, because we all need to share sensitive information at some point, whether it's a business document or your personal tax forms or a mortgage application.

    Thankfully, now we have a few more options. You can learn how to encrypt an email the hard way, by using tools like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) or S/MIME, or you can encrypt email the quick and easy way, with Virtru. Let’s take a brief look at each option, and what it entails.

    How to Encrypt an Email the Hard Way: PGP

    PGP email encryption is a popular legacy method of encrypting emails, and it does provide decent security for your inbox. If you’re interested in using PGP, however, you’ll have to do some homework.

    Here’s how to encrypt an email using PGP:

    1. Download and install one of the available implementations of PGP.
    2. Download a separate program that enables you to use PGP encryption with your webmail client.
    3. Within that second program, generate an encryption key pair (one public key, one private) to use with one of your contacts, then export the key to save it somewhere safe.
    4. Configure your webmail client to use these keys (this step could honestly become its own separate guide).
    5. Contact the person with whom you intend to share encrypted email, and have them repeat steps 1-4.
    6. Share your public key with that person, and ask that they share their public key with you.
    7. Repeat this process for everyone you intend to share encrypted email with. If they don’t feel like going through the trouble, resign yourself to the fact that your email correspondences with them won’t be as private as you’d want them to be.
    8. Make sure to organize your keys to keep track of which key goes to whom, and create a backup and recovery plan should you lose your keys in a hardware or software failure.

    How to Encrypt an Email the Hard Way: S/MIME

    S/MIME email encryption is another popular way to encrypt email, and unlike PGP, S/MIME uses digital certificates, so you don’t have to manage your own keys. However, you have to pay for your certificates, which becomes cumbersome — especially if you are managing cybersecurity for a large organization with high turnover or change in users and recipients.

    Here’s how to encrypt an email using S/MIME:

    1. Select an email provider that supports S/MIME encryption (for example, S/MIME is the required method of Google Client-Side Encryption for Gmail). 
    2. Purchase and configure your certificates within your email client.
    3. Ask the person to whom you intend to send an encrypted email to send you a digitally signed email, so that you can obtain their certificate.
    4. If your recipient doesn't have their own certificate to exchange with you, once again resign yourself to the fact that your email messages with that particular contact may not be complete secure or end-to-end encrypted.
    5. Select the “Encrypt” option from within your desktop email client, then send your encrypted email message.

    How to Encrypt an Email the Easy Way: With Virtru

    Here’s a thorough step-by-step guide to setting up Virtru email encryption, from soup to nuts:

    1. Go to Virtru.com.
    2. Get Virtru for Gmail or Virtru for Outlook.

      If you are using Virtru for your organization, you'll need to purchase licenses for your users through our quick and easy sales process — contact our team to get your Virtru licenses or see a demo. If you're using Virtru for personal use, you're in luck: You can download the Virtru Chrome plugin free for personal use. 
    3. Sign into your email account as usual.
    4. Click “Compose Email.”
    5. Toggle “Protect your message with Virtru” to turn it on. You'll also have options for additional controls, but they're not necessary.

    And that’s it. Really.


    Virtru Email Encryption vs. PGP and S/MIME

    Unlike PGP and S/MIME, Virtru email encryption takes almost no time and no configuration. You don’t have to manage your own keys or certificates, and you don’t have to get all of your contacts to opt-in, in order to protect your inbox. You can send a protected email to anyone, right away: You simply hit an on/off switch.

    Virtru also provides additional features like email revocation, forwarding control, email expiration, SLA support, auditing, and more. If you need to meet heightened compliance regulations, we've got your back with support for CMMC, GLBA, CJIS, ITAR, and requirements from A to Z. 

    Get Started with Email Encryption and Virtru

    We get it — sometimes, making life unnecessarily hard on yourself can have its own sort of appeal. Cleaning your entire bathroom with a toothbrush might not be efficient, but we’ll admit that it gets the job done and likely instills a strong sense of self discipline. Walking your 15-mile commute to work instead of taking a car or even a bike might set you back a few hours, but there’s no doubt you’ll have great physical endurance and strong legs.

    We think there’s a better way, though. And when it comes to encrypting email, it’s Virtru.

    With Virtru, you don’t have to be a tech genius to learn how to encrypt an email. And heck, even if you are a tech genius, you can spend more time and talent developing a disruptive new app or inventing life-changing technologies. With a quick download and the flick of a switch, you can enjoy all of the protection of more difficult encryption tools like PGP and S/MIME, but with none of the hassle or added expense.

    Ready to get started? Contact our team for a demo.

    Editorial Team

    Editorial Team

    The editorial team consists of Virtru brand experts, content editors, and vetted field authorities. We ensure quality, accuracy, and integrity through robust editorial oversight, review, and optimization of content from trusted sources, including use of generative AI tools.

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