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How to keep your emails private and secure

If you aren't careful, messages could be intercepted

Email is one of the most widely used forms of communication today. However, your message could be intercepted midstream, and you might never realise it. Here are some steps that will secure and protect your email messages.

Secure your email: Encrypt your email

No matter how you lock down your PC, or what precautions you take to ensure that nobody can access your email messages locally, the messages still have to travel from point A (the email server) to point B (your PC). As the digital message traverses the internet, those emails could potentially be intercepted by unauthorised users.

You can prevent your messages from being compromised by using encryption. As long as your messages are encrypted, an unauthorised user that intercepts a message would not be able to actually read it. Without the proper decryption, the content of the message would just be digital gibberish.

For web-based email like Gmail, you can use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. Most users recognise SSL-encrypted web pages by the little padlock icon displayed on the browser page, or by the fact that the URL begins with 'https' rather than 'http'. For example, if you connect with Gmail via SSL, the connection between Google's servers and your PC - and the message traffic over that connection - is encrypted and protected from being intercepted en route.

Microsoft Outlook can also send encrypted email messages, but instead of using SSL, it relies on a system of public and private keys. The message is encrypted using your private key, and only recipients that have the associated public key will be able to view the email. The public key can be shared with any recipient, whether they use Outlook or not.

Guidance on the Microsoft Office site explains: "Sending and viewing encrypted email messages requires both sender and recipient to share their digital ID [digital ID: Contains a private key that stays on the sender's computer and a certificate (with a public key). The certificate is sent with digitally signed messages. Recipients save the certificate and use the public key to encrypt messages to the sender.], or public key certificate. This means 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. Once both parties have shared certificates, sending and viewing encrypted email messages between them is the same as with any other email messages."

NEXT PAGE: After you hit send

  1. Messages can be intercepted
  2. Protecting web-based email
  3. Encrypt your email
  4. After you hit send

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