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Securing Your E-mail – Part 1

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by | Filed Under: Security Help
 
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Securing Your E-mail – Part 1

Did you know that when you send an e-mail, it’s not secure? I’m sure you’ve heard people say you should never send personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers and sensitive files through e-mail, but do you know why? Well, today, I’m going to explain all of that and give you options for sending e-mails that are safe for sensitive data. Here we go!

Let’s first talk about why it’s not safe to send a regular e-mail with sensitive data. When you send an e-mail, the information inside is sent just as you see it. The actual text you type is sent across the Internet. When something goes across the Internet, it doesn’t just go from point A to point B. It actually goes through an average of six to 10 computers before it reaches its destination. Most of the time, the e-mail will be delivered without anyone seeing it, but there’s always the chance a bad person could intercept the e-mail and read the contents. Since the e-mail isn’t scrambled or encrypted, it’s very easy to read and your information could be stolen.

Now that you understand the troubles of unencrypted e-mails, let’s discuss e-mail encryption. When an e-mail is encrypted, it’s scrambled using a special “secret key.” The key can be used to descramble the e-mail and it’s only known by the computer receiving the message. E-mail encryption is great! It secures e-mail so that no one can read it. It’s nearly impossible to steal and it makes it so that very sensitive data can be sent in an e-mail with no worries. There is one problem though: if encrypting e-mail was simple, everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, there are a couple requirements when it comes to e-mail encryption.

1.) You must be using an e-mail client, such as Outlook Express, MS Outlook, Thunderbird, etc. No Web based e-mail programs support e-mail encryption.

2.) In order to send an encrypted e-mail to someone, the person you’re sending it to needs to have already shared their key with you. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain that more if you keep reading!)

Now, I understand that number 2 may have thrown you off a bit, so here’s how it works. Like I said earlier, e-mail is encrypted with a special key that only the recipient can unscramble. That means, in order to send an encrypted e-mail, the person you’re sending the e-mail to needs to have an encryption key installed. That’s why hardly anyone encrypts their e-mail. To have truly safe e-mail communication, both people sending and receiving the e-mail need to have an encryption key.

So, how can you get a key and how do you use it?

Well, here’s the good news: getting an e-mail encryption key is free and easy! If you get a key, people can then send you encrypted e-mails if they’re sending the e-mail using Outlook Express, Outlook or Thunderbird. Here’s how to do it:

1.) First, head on over to this Web site.

2.) Once you’re there, choose the option to get your free certificate.

3.) Fill out the form to get your certificate. Also, make sure you use the correct e-mail address and choose the high-grade size.

4.) An e-mail will then be sent to you. That e-mail will have directions on how to use the certificate. Click on the button to install the certificate.

5.) After the certificate is installed, you’ll have the ability to digitally sign e-mails. That means you can send e-mails to people and they’ll know for sure it’s coming from you. After you send someone a signed e-mail, they can then send encrypted e-mails to you as well.

Okay, I’m almost done! The last part of this is how to actually sign and encrypt the e-mail. In Outlook Express, when you write a new e-mail, you should see a button that says Sign. Just click on that button and then send your e-mail like normal. If you have a signature from the person you’re sending to, just press Encrypt and the e-mail will be protected.

Now, I know some of you are saying, “What do I do? I want to encrypt an e-mail to someone who doesn’t have a certificate.” Well, there’s a way to do that too, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. In tomorrow’s newsletter, I’ll show you a free download to use with Outlook Express or Outlook that will allow you to send encrypted e-mails to anyone. So, until tomorrow, stay safe out there, my friends!

~ Gary

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