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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: After you hit send

The precautions described above will help ensure that prying eyes don't view or access the email on your PC, and protect your messages from being intercepted en route, but what about protecting the privacy of your email even after you send it? Perhaps you have something of a sensitive nature to communicate, and you want to make sure that the recipient doesn't forward or share the message.

Microsoft Outlook has information rights management (IRM) features that let you exercise some control over your messages even after you hit Send. When you are composing an email in Outlook 2010, select Options on the menu bar, then click the arrow under Permission, and check the Do Not Forward option. Recipients who are not using an email client that supports Microsoft's IRM must download the Rights Management Add-on for Internet Explorer to view restricted messages.

Some businesses manage the IRM features from their own servers, but for individuals or businesses that don't, Microsoft can manage IRM credentials and authentication for you. The first time that you use the IRM features, Microsoft will automatically prompt you to register to use the service (to see the IRM screen, click the thumbnail image below).

Selecting the Do Not Forward option for your email message makes the message private between you and the intended recipient. It lets the recipient receive and view the email, but it prevents the message from being forwarded, printed, or copied.

Another way to restrict the use of your email message and protect your privacy is to set the message to expire. You can define an expiration date and time for the message, after which the recipient will no longer be able to open or view it. However, this functionality only works in business settings built around Exchange Server and Group Policy. Setting an expiration for an email sent to an external Yahoo mail account will have no effect.

Be careful never to assume that anything you send digitally is one hundred percent private. There is a saying that you should never say anything in an email - no matter how private you might think it is - that you wouldn't want plastered on a public website. But, if you follow the guidance outlined here, you can take proactive steps to safeguard your privacy and at least minimise the chances that unauthorised prying eyes will see your messages.

See also: 14 ways to get more from Gmail

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