While email is used by millions of people every day, most people do not realize it is one of the least secure methods of communication. However, there are ways to secure the messages you send via Gmail. Depending on your privacy concerns, you can choose from a variety of protection methods.
Why Encrypt Your Emails?
If you are concerned about the security of your emails, you have good reason to be. Standards emails are sent over the network and stored on servers as "plain text", which just means that it is in a readable format. This means that anyone monitoring communications on the network through which your email passes on the way to its destination can view the contents of your email as if you had sent it to them. In addition, anyone with access to the email server where your messages are remotely stored will also be able to view your messages. To counter this, a number of third-party browser apps and extensions are available to encrypt your Gmail communications.
Secure Mail for Gmail (by Streak)
Secure Mail for Gmail (by Streak) is available from the Google Chrome Webstore as an extension that will add a layer of security for your Gmail messages. When used, it will encrypt the body of your email, ask for a password and give the option to provide a hint. The recipients of the message will be allowed to view the hint, but must enter the password to view the message. This ensures that only your intended recipient can view the email and not someone with unauthorized access to your recipient's Gmail account. The extension is free, however it will not encrypt either the subject line of your email or the attachments.
For an email encryption option that obscures email body text as well as the subject line and attachments, Virtru is available for Google Chrome. This extension will protect email body, subject line, and attachments while your email is en-route to the sender and on the server. There is a free version as well as a paid version which allows for expiration dates on emails, allows control over email forwarding, and is HIPAA compliant. A disadvantage to this extension is that it does not require the user to enter a password to view, making it vulnerable to viewers with unauthorized access to your recipient's Gmail account.
If you use Mozilla Firefox as your primary browser, Mailvelope is available as a free add-on for both Firefox and Chrome. Like Secure Mail for Gmail, it does not encrypt subject lines and attachments; however, it does give your greater freedom to select which encryption keys to use when encrypting your messages and requires the recipient to enter the password associated with that key. You can create your own personal keys to export, as well as import other keys from your desktop.