How to encrypt email (Gmail, Outlook, iOS, Android)
Published: November 19, 2021 4 min read
Email encryption safeguards your personal emails and data to prevent unwanted access. Consider this your go-to guide on how to encrypt email across your accounts.
The advent of emails allowed individuals to remain connected regardless of their time or location differences. However, as time has passed, we’ve come to use our email accounts for a lot more than just messaging with friends and family. Banking, billing, and other types of sensitive information are likely sent to your inbox to keep you updated on the status of your accounts.
Which means learning how to encrypt email messages has never been more important. It is a precautionary step you can take if you need to send someone personal or sensitive information via email.
Recognizing the importance of protecting the data transferred in and out of your inbox, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to encrypt email messages from different providers like Google and Outlook, as well as on mobile iOS and Android devices. It also answers popular questions like “How do you encrypt an email?” and “Should I encrypt my email?” in addition to email security best practices to keep in mind.
What is email encryption + how do you encrypt an email?
Email encryption is a method of safeguarding your personal emails and sensitive data to prevent unauthorized access. It works almost like a magic trick, scrambling the plain text of the email so that the only person who can read it is the recipient. Any unauthorized eyes taking a peek will only find unrecognizable nonsense, making the message invaluable.
The importance of email encryption
If you’re wondering if you should encrypt your email, the answer is yes. Email encryption can help protect you from data breaches and other forms of cyberattacks frequently carried out by hackers today. Within the past year alone, there were more than 19,000 email compromises involving individuals and businesses alike. Investing the time to add that extra layer of protection now could pay off in the long run.
Types of email encryption
Knowing how email encryption works can help you understand its importance, but so can learning about the different types of encryption protocols used to send secure emails. Here are the two types of email encryption protocols used to protect information from unwanted cyber predators.
S/MIME encryption Secure/Multipurpose
Internet Mail Extension (S/MIME) is an email encryption protocol often already built into OS X devices and major web-based companies like Outlook and Gmail. It relies on a centralized authority to decode its encryption algorithm.
With this form of encryption, the sender can verify the message’s security by providing an S/MIME certificate. The recipient can use the provided certificate to verify the safety of the message received to ensure the safety of their device and network.
Pretty Good Privacy/Multipurpose Internet Extensions (PGP/MIME) is another encryption protocol used to send secure emails. Though it provides the same amount of protection as S/MIME, this protocol only uses the recipient’s private and public encryption keys, eliminating the need to use a certificate authority (CA) to verify its legitimacy. PGP/MIME also provides more control and flexibility in regard to how well you want your emails encrypted, but sometimes requires a third-party extension.
How to encrypt an email in Gmail
Now, Gmail loyalists might be wondering, “Can I encrypt an email in Gmail?” Though Gmail does support Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption tools like S/MIME, only Google Workspace enterprise accounts have the ability to send encrypted email messages.
For everyday users, though, there is a “confidential mode” within the Gmail app that can serve as a way to send secure email. This adds an expiration date and password to an email, so the recipient has a specific window of time to view the contents within the message. They will also need to know the unique password created to gain access.
In your Gmail home screen, select the “Compose” email button.
Tap the “More options” icon sometimes represented by three vertical dots.
Select “Confidential mode” when additional email settings appear.
Review the expiry date and password settings before hitting the save check mark.
How to encrypt an email in Outlook
It’ll probably be reassuring to know that Outlook makes it easy to send encrypted email messages. However, before following the instructions for encrypting emails using Outlook, know that you must be using a paid Office 365 subscription.
In your Outlook home screen, press the “New Email” button. Select “Options.” Locate and select “Encrypt,” then compose and send the email as normal.
How to encrypt an email on an iOS device
The security measures installed on iOS devices allow for S/MIME encryption. Although, it is important to note that you'll have to purchase and download an S/MIME certificate before you can successfully encrypt email messages. These steps may also vary depending on the specific device you’re dealing with.
Open settings and click on your Apple ID account at the top of the screen.
Continue to the next screen and select the “iCloud” button.
Select the “Mail” button.
Locate the “Advanced” button at the bottom of the screen.
Enable the encryption setting and make sure S/MIME details are correct.
How to encrypt an email on an Android
Android devices are similar to iOS devices in that they can support an additional encryption extension to protect emails. However, these devices require a PGP/MIME extension and the use of third-party apps to send secure emails. Luckily for you, there are several popular encryption tools and services available.
Email encryption tools/services
While there are some email providers that make it harder than others to send encrypted email messages, there are also some third-party tools you can use to help send secure emails. GPGTools, Mailvelope, and GNU Privacy Guard are just a few of the free apps available to send and receive encrypted email messages.
5 email security best practices
Knowing how to encrypt email messages is a great start to making a secure email ice cream sundae. Keeping these email security best practices top of mind can be the cherry on top.
1. Create strong email passwords
Online users should know that cyberattacks and data breaches are not only carried out using brute force. Today’s cybercriminals are also using strategic methods, like credential stuffing, to gain access to sensitive information. Having a well-thought-out and unique password can lessen the likelihood of you falling victim to these kinds of cyberattacks.
2. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA), a type of multifactor authentication, adds another step to your login process to ensure that no unauthorized users can gain access to your account. Email providers like Gmail and Outlook are already using these tools. An example of this would be being asked to provide a biometric fingerprint or unique code before logging in. These login requirements are usually inaccessible to everyday hackers and make their job much harder.
3. Beware of phishing emails
Hackers use phishing scams to gain access to people's private information. They send emails embedded with links leading to malicious websites, looking to trick you into entering your login credentials. Those credentials are then saved and used to access your actual accounts. Always verify that you're on the site’s proper URL, and try to avoid opening emails that appear to be suspicious.
4. Avoid accessing emails via public Wi-Fi
One of the first lessons you should learn when trying to prioritize your email security is to avoid accessing your account on public Wi-Fi. These unprotected networks are easy for cybercriminals to hack and siphon off information from everyday people, because they’re often unencrypted. If you are using public Wi-Fi, consider downloading a VPN to put a protective shield over your device.
5. Always log out when finished
This may seem like a given, but you should always log out of your email account after you're finished using it. This applies to when you're on both unfamiliar and familiar devices. Should a hacker somehow find their way into your already protected network, you don’t want them to have a clear pathway toward the information they’re looking for.
Protecting your data, privacy, and identity is undeniably important. Taking the time to learn how to encrypt email messages is a great step toward protecting your data from unwanted intruders. Use the instructions and best practices provided to build a Cyber Safe environment for yourself and your beloved devices.
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.
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