Much emphasis is put on whether an email service provider can keep emails secure and private with the minimal amount of effort on part of the email user. Achieving security and privacy is also the goal of many email providers. However, the only way to ensure the security of your messages is to manage the process yourself right from your computer, to the computer of your recipient.
What is encryption?
If you want your message to only be read by you and your recipient*, then you have to make sure the message looks unreadable to anyone else who sees it. The way to do this is to use encryption.
Fortunately there is a way to achieve this that makes encryption available to most people, and at no cost (unless you choose to donate to the projects that make this possible). Originally developed under the name Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) this led to an open standard known as OpenPGP. A number of software packages now offer encryption that complies with the OpenPGP standard.
*Note: In time computing power may be sufficient to decrypt any encrypted message, so if you really want to keep something secret forever, don’t share it! We will cover encryption strength when we get around to creating your first key pair.
How does encryption work?
Encryption works by installing software on your computer that lets you generate two digital keys. The one key is a public key that you can make available to anyone who might want encrypt a message and send it to you. The other key is the secret key that only you must ever have as it lets you decrypt messages you receive.
The software can also be used to digitally sign a message to safeguard against tampering/alternation of the message and to verify the sender. This is worthwhile in itself even if you don’t feel the need to actually encrypt the message.
There are various versions of encryption software that comply with the OpenPGP standard, some are commercial implementations, and others versions are Open Source Software that are freely available for anyone to download and use. It is an Open Source version of this software called GNU Privacy Guard (GPG for short) that we will focus on.
How easy is it to set up?
If you are already starting to think that this sounds like it could get very complicated, don’t worry. Installing and using GnuPG is quite straight forward and you should be able to install the software and get yourself up and running in a few minutes once you have read through the guides we have written.
There are two steps to getting GPG working.
1. Install GPG on your computer and generate the digital keys you need
2. Install a plugin for your email program so that it can use GPG now that it is installed
Which set up does Runbox recommend?
While it is possible to use GPG with a range of applications and in different ways, we have restricted ourselves to writing instructions for getting it working with some of the most common email clients. We have done this because:
1. There is no cost to the user, unless you wish to donate to the various providers (not Runbox), and we would encourage you to do that if you can
2. We are confident that the set up we describe is generally stable and easy to get working
Set Up Guides and Other Information
Step 1: Installing GPG on your computer
Step 2: Using GPG with your Email Client
Thunderbird with Enigmail