When you encrypt anything, from a personal device to a financial transaction, you’re essentially protecting it from unauthorized access. It is most often used with digital messages or communications of one kind or another. And though you might not be accustomed to encrypting your emails in Outlook, it is very important to do so, especially if you exchange sensitive information via email.
But if you’ve never worried about encrypting Outlook messages before, you probably have a lot of questions. For example, what actually happens when you encrypt an email in Outlook? How does encryption keep out prying eyes? Why is it important to secure your emails with encryption? What’s the process for encrypting emails in Outlook? Finally, where can you get help with Outlook from trained IT experts?
In today’s guide, we will answer all of these questions and more, so let’s get started!
What Happens When You Encrypt An Email In Outlook?
As previously mentioned, encryption is a way to keep those who are not authorized to view an email from accessing it. There are a few different ways to encrypt emails in Outlook, and depending on the method you choose, the results may be a little different.
Generally speaking, encryption is considered an enhanced form of cybersecurity. Setting passwords is always a good idea, but it’s not a foolproof way to protect an email. For example, a hacker could read the contents over an unsecured internet connection. However, if you encrypt an email in Outlook, you ensure that the contents (including any attachments) are completely unreadable without the proper decryption key. When you receive an encrypted email in Outlook, it will usually display a padlock or similar icon to indicate that it is encrypted.
Types of Outlook Email Encryption
There are several ways to encrypt Outlook emails, and the method used can affect how the email can be accessed. Here are the two most common ways to encrypt emails in Outlook:
- Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) – S/MIME uses something called a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), or a process to use digital certificates for encryption. This requires that both you and the recipient are using Outlook or another email application that supports S/MIME. Additionally, you both must exchange digital certificates beforehand. As an extra layer of protection, you can digitally sign your emails so that the recipient knows that they really came from you.
- Office 365 Message Encryption (OME) – This method is only available if you subscribe to Office 365. OME allows you to send an encrypted email that can be decrypted using instructions included with the email. It’s important to note that the recipient does not need to be an Office 365 subscriber for OME to work. Typically, as long as the recipient is using an email service that is integrated with OME, they will just be directed to a web portal where they can sign into their Microsoft account or use a one-time passcode to view the decrypted message.
The Importance Of Sending Secure Emails
These days, cybersecurity is a top concern for both individuals and organizations. Whether you’re emailing a recipe to your aunt or exchanging sensitive data with a coworker, you’ll want to make sure that your emails and your information are protected. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider adding the extra protection that encryption offers when sending emails in Outlook:
- Protect Sensitive Data – While it’s generally advisable to exclude sensitive data from emails, it’s not always avoidable. Sometimes you need to exchange personally identifiable information or data that is exclusive to your employer. Regardless of the kind of data included in your email, encryption can greatly reduce the risk of any information falling into the wrong hands.
- Avoid Identity Theft – Identity theft is a frightening prospect, and many people aiming to steal identities use emails as their main source of information. If someone accesses your emails and gains enough information to steal your identity, they can open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, and make large purchases in your name.
- Prevent Organizational Data Breaches – If you’re sending work emails, you’ll want to be extra careful to keep your business or organization’s data safe. Sending unprotected data could not only put your job at risk, but it could risk an organization-wide data breach that could make the personal information of employees and clients available to unknown agents. Securing your emails with encryption greatly reduces the chance of a data breach caused by exchanging information with clients, vendors, or others inside or outside of your organization.
- Reduce the Risk of Using Public WiFi – When you sign into WiFi at a cafe, library, or any place that allows pretty much anyone to log in, you’re automatically putting your data at risk. Public WiFi is notoriously unsafe in this regard, so sending emails from a public network makes it far easier for unauthorized parties to intercept your communications. Using encryption and tools like VPNs can greatly reduce the risk associated with public WiFi.
- Regulatory Compliance – Many businesses and industries have cybersecurity protocols in place to minimize the risk of stolen data. The healthcare sector relies on HIPAA, while the financial sector abides by various rules under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. In any case, sending encrypted emails is often required under these regulatory acts, so encrypting your emails by default can help keep you compliant with the rules of your industry.
- Authentication – Though you may not think about it that often, it’s not always easy to know when you’re getting an email from someone you know or someone who is merely pretending to be someone you know. With S/MIME and similar encryption methods, you have a way to verify who the sender is before you ever open the message.
How To Send Encrypted Email In Outlook
Now that you know what email encryption looks like and why it’s important, let’s see how you can actually send encrypted emails in Outlook. Remember that for the encryption to work, you need to have either an S/MIME or OME-integrated email application installed.
The process for S/MIME is a little more involved, but here are the steps you’ll need to follow:
- In Outlook, go to the File tab
- Go to Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings
- Click on “Get a Digital ID” (follow the instructions to get your certificate)
- Select “Import/Export” to import your ID
Once you have your digital certificate set up, you can follow these steps to encrypt your emails:
- Acquire the digital certificate of the recipient and share your digital certificate with the recipient
- Open Outlook and click on “New Email”
- Go to the Options tab
- Select the Encrypt menu
- Click “Encrypt-Only”
Now, you can send an encrypted email to recipients with whom you’ve shared your digital certificate.
Alternatively, if you’re an Office 365 subscriber, you can skip the steps involving a digital certificate and send encrypted messages to anyone by following these steps:
- In Office 365, start a new message
- Go to Options > Encrypt
- Choose the encryption restrictions you want
- Send your message
Need help from dependable email experts? Reach out to Geeker today for on-demand IT and software solutions!