How to Send a Secure Email in Gmail / Outlook?

Every other day we hear the news of cyber attacks or data breaches on some organizations. Cybercriminals never left any stone unturned to infiltrate any system or network. Generally, the data breaches are conducted through means such as social engineering attacks, phishing attacks, poorly secure email account, and similar techniques.

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Another way that is gradually being exploited for cyber crimes is the unprotected emails exchanged with business organizations. To get the sensitive information and attachments of any organization, cyber hackers are infiltrating email communication by exploiting weak security.

It is, therefore, becomes essential to send a secure email so that the contents of it remain unaffected from any spoofing attempt and the potential breach is avoided. The question is – how to send secure mail?

The best way to send a secure email is by encrypting it. In this post, we would know what Email Encryption is and how to send a secure email in Gmail or Outlook by encrypting its content.

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What is Email Encryption?

Email Encryption is the process of hiding the contents of the emails while sending them to protect them from being read, spied on, or manipulated by any unwanted third party. Most people share confidential information such as login credentials, bank details, social security numbers, health reports, organizational data, etc., via emails. Such sensitive information needs to be protected at any cost as, if they get into the wrong hands, it could cost a lot to the sender or the receiver. This is where Email Encryption comes to the rescue.

When an email is encrypted, its content is mixed and converted into a puzzle. The puzzle or the encryption can only be solved by the receiver who has a decrypting key. The emails are encrypted and decrypted through Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

Types of Email Encryption

There are two major Email Encryption types – S/MIME and PGP/MIME. Let us discuss both of them and know how they differ.

S/MIME Email Encryption

S/MIME (Secure/ Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) is the email encryption protocol that uses the central authority to pick the encryption algorithm. It is highly popular for email encryption because it is in-built available in most OS and iOS devices. Popular email service providers Gmail and Outlook also support the S/MIME.

PGP/MIME Email Encryption

PGP/MIME (Pretty Good Privacy/ Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) email encryption protocol relies on the decentralized trust model, unlike the S/MIME. In PGP/MIME, the senders get the flexibility on how well they want to encrypt their emails. However, since it is not built-in in most services, it requires a third-party encryption tool. PGP/MIME is supported on Yahoo, AOL, and Android Devices.

How to encrypt emails on Gmail?

Before moving any further, you must know that S/MIME is supported on the following editions of Gmail Enterprise editions; Education Fundamentals, Standard, Teaching and Learning Upgrade, and Plus.

The S/MIME is already in-built in all those Gmail editions, but both the sender and receiver need to enable it for the encryption to work.

Here are the steps to encrypt the emails on Gmail:

  1. Enable the S/MIME on your Google Account. To do that, follow Google’s detailed instructions on how to enable it.
  2. Compose the email and attach the files as you would typically do.
  3. You will find a lock icon on the right of the recipient. Click on it to enable the encryption.
  4. Click on “view details” to change the S/MIME settings or level of encryption.
  5. While changing the encryption level, you will notice three colors. This is what the colors mean:
    1. Green: it means the information is protected by S/MIME and can only be decrypted by a private key
    2. Gray: it implies that Transport Layer Security (TLS) protects the email. However, to make this work, both the sender and receiver need to have TLS enabled.
    3. Red: it means that the email has no encryption enabled.
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How to encrypt emails on Outlook?

As already mentioned, Outlook also supports the S/MIME protocol, but you need additional setup for enabling it. 

Here are the steps for that:

  1. To enable the S/MIME protocol on Outlook emails, you will first need to take a certificate or digital ID from your organization’s administrator and install S/MIME control. You can follow the Microsoft Support guide to enable the S/MIME on the Outlook web app.
  2. Now navigate to Gear Menu and click S/MIME settings. From here, choose to encrypt all messages and attachments or add digital signatures to them.
  3. Encrypt or remove individual messages by selecting more options (three dots) at the top of a message and choosing message options. 
  4. Select or deselect “Encrypt this message (S/MIME).” If the person you are sending a message to doesn’t have S/MIME enabled, you’ll want to deselect the box, or else they won’t be able to read your message.

Bottom Line

To avoid any online burglary and cyber attacks, today, organizations spend a lot of their annual budget. However, many of those organizations tend to ignore or forget to secure their email communication, making the organizations vulnerable to hacking and victim of confidential information theft. To ensure complete security, it is advised to enable Email Encryption and make your email conversation threat-free.

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