Email Encryption – What is it?
An email is a wonderful invention and we have been sending them since 1971! Who would have thought that one day we will be able to send mail electronically?! In fact, we can send text, files, images, and other attachments to anyone anywhere in the world with a valid email address. That being said, a lot of times the content we share via email is private and not meant for everyone’s eyes. So what can you do when you want to protect the privacy of an email message? Encrypt it!
Encrypting an email message in Outlook means it’s converted from readable plain text into scrambled cipher text. Only the recipient who has the private key that matches the public key used to encrypt the message can decipher the message for reading. Any recipient without the corresponding private key, however, sees indecipherable text.
What happens if the recipient doesn’t have the corresponding private key? The recipient will see this message:
- “This item cannot be displayed in the Reading Pane. Open the item to read its contents.”
And if the recipient tries to open the item, a dialog box opens with this message:
- “Sorry, we’re having trouble opening this item. This could be temporary, but if you see it again you might want to restart Outlook. Your Digital ID name cannot be found by the underlying security system.”
Sending and viewing encrypted email messages requires both sender and recipient to share their digital ID, or public key certificate. This means that you and the recipient each must send the other a digitally signed message*, which enables you to add the other person’s certificate to your Contacts. You can’t encrypt email messages without a digital ID**.
If you send an encrypted message to a recipient whose email setup doesn’t support encryption, you’re offered the option of sending the message in an unencrypted format.
Any attachments sent with encrypted messages also are encrypted.
Stay tuned for our next Tech Tips to learn more about Email Encryption!
*A digital signature attached to an email message offers another layer of security by providing assurance to the recipient that you—not an imposter—signed the contents of the email message. Your digital signature, which includes your certificate and public key, originates from your digital ID. And that digital ID serves as your unique digital mark and signals the recipient that the content hasn’t been altered in transit.
**A digital ID—also known as a digital certificate—helps prove your identity and helps prevent message tampering to protect the authenticity of an email message.