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 for your own digital privacy. Even with Section 215 of the Patriot Act out of the picture, there are still plenty of threats to your email privacy, and not just from bulk surveillance. Email encryption provides an extra layer of protection between you and any hackers or cyber criminals trying to access the rich quantity of personal data you likely have lurking in your inbox. 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 to protect their personal data security and privacy (and we feel pretty strongly that everyone has a right to privacy). But before recently, figuring out how to encrypt an email has taken a combination of tech smarts, tons of frustration and sometimes plenty of money.
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 use Virtru to quickly and conveniently encrypt your email. Let’s take a brief look at each option, and what it entails.
PGP is a popular way to encrypt 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 keypair (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 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, and the yearly fees can rack up quickly if you’re deploying it as an enterprise solution for many employees. Here’s how to encrypt an email using S/MIME:
1. Switch to a desktop email provider if you’re using webmail. Most webmail clients (e.g. Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo) don’t support S/MIME.
2. Purchase and install your certificate.
3. Import that certificate into your desktop email client.
4. 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.
5. If your recipient hasn’t purchased a certificate to exchange with you, once again resign yourself to the fact that your email messages with that particularly contact will be less than completely secure.
6. Select the “Encrypt” option from within your desktop email client, then send your encrypted email message.
Here’s a thorough step-by-step guide to setting up Virtru email encryption, from soup to nuts:
1. Go to Virtru.com
2. Download Virtru (it’s free!)
3. Sign into your webmail account as usual.
4. Click “Compose Email.”
5. Toggle the “Protect your message with Virtru” to turn it on.
And that’s it. Really.
Not only is learning how to encrypt an email with Virtru an already simple process, but once you’ve signed up for Virtru and downloaded the free browser plugin, you’ll get an automatic tutorial on how to use Virtru once you’ve logged in to your email account.
Unlike PGP and S/MIME, Virtru 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 simply hit an on/off switch. Plus, Virtru is completely free, though you can sign up for a Pro account for additional features like email revocation, forwarding control, email expiration, SLA support and more.
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 mobile 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? Download Virtru for free today.
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