Curious about how to encrypt Gmail? Encrypting email on Gmail can be one of the more simple things you do with your online accounts. What you want is a secure connection between you and Gmail's web-mail through your browser. To tell if your connection is secure, simply look at the address bar while you are in Gmail (the white space at the top of your browser that has the name of the website you are on) and see if there is an "http://" or an "https://" before "mail.google.com." That little "s" stands for the secure protocol of http (hyper text transfer protocol, for those taking notes).
- If you don't see that, there's a simple fix. Go to your Gmail web-mail using your favorite web browser. At the top-right of the page is some tiny text that is the third word from the right labeled "Settings." Click that link and the very first tabbed area you see is the "General" section. You need go no further. The section is broken into areas with lines running under each. The one you are looking for is the fifth one down, titled "Browser connection." Click in the little circle (called a "radio button") next to the words "Always use https." That's it! Now no matter whether connecting to a sketchy coffee-house wi-fi or using a friend's ganked-up, social networking STD-laden computer, you are protected from prying eyes—unless they have a key-logger going on, but that's a story for another time.
- What's that? You wanted the super-secret-squirrel, government standard encryption? Well, you could go through the extra measures of installing PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption software. You would then want to use the Firefox browser and install the plugin FireGPG to work with PGP. You could also use PGP with your email program of choice. Thunderbird has supporting pluggins for PGP, but it isn't the easiest thing to set up in any email program. These softwares are all free, which is good and bad. There isn't a lot of support and setting up the keys and making things work in general is a bear.
- If you do set up an email program rather than using your browser, it is necessary to go back into the settings of Gmail and choose the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab. In the "POP Download" section, check one of the radio buttons marked "Enable POP." Which you choose is up to you: "all mail" could take a while, but "mail from now on" won't download messages from the past that contain needed info. Configuration instructions are linked at the bottom of that section, however, setting up your particular email client (as opposed to server, what Gmail is) has many of its own pitfalls.
In the end, even the most paranoid conspiracy geek finds the secure protocol of web navigation to be just fine. If you want something to worry about, look at how ads are directed to the content of your individual emails in Gmail and think about who gets to look at that info about your messages. But it has to be safe, right? After all, Google's slogan is "Don't be evil." On that note, sweet dreams and safe surfing.
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