It’s time to face reality: Pursuing digital security should be as much of a no-brainer as locking your door before you leave the house. Identity theft, corporate security breaches and an increased interest in personal privacy are forcing some changes. Many of us are choosing stronger passwords and changing them more often, locking down social media accounts and being more conscious of how we communicate. If you haven’t taken these steps, you should.
But one of our favourite forms of electronic communication email remains one of the hardest to secure. Security experts say email is a lot more like a postcard than a letter inside an envelope, and almost anyone can read it while the note is in transit. The government can probably read your email, as can hackers and your employer.
What’s the solution? Make your email more like a letter inside an envelope. The best way to do this is with a process known as encryption, which scrambles a message into unreadable code that needs a key to be unlocked, providing a layer of protection if someone intercepts your email.
The downside to encryption tools is that they are usually difficult to install and use. In addition, they require the person on the other end to be using the same tools. Thanks to a renewed focus on privacy and security, however, new tools are arriving regularly that should make it easier to encrypt email.
One promising new encryption tool is Virtru, a feature that can be added to Chrome and Firefox browsers or installed on the Mail program on the Mac and for Outlook on Windows. One of Virtru’s big selling points is that it works with web-mail services like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail. There are also apps for iOS and Android.
Another big benefit of Virtru is that recipients don’t have to be using the service or any other encryption program to see your email. They receive an email that contains a link to your encrypted message. Once they click a button to verify their email address, they can read the unencrypted message in a separate web page and reply.
Their responses won’t be encrypted unless they also use Virtru, but your original email won’t be included in the response, so it remains hidden from prying eyes.
While Virtru is not a completely seamless experience, it is a walk in the park compared with some of the other options, which require signification coordination with the recipient of your messages.
To install the browser plug-in, click the Get Virtru button on the company’s website and it will detect what browser you’re using. Click to download and the extension will install itself, all quickly and easily. You don’t even have to restart your browser. (The company says support for Internet Explorer and Safari is coming soon.)
The next time you compose a new email, you’ll see a blue bar at the top of your email window with a little toggle button that lets you turn Virtru encryption on or off and access other options. Then, type your email normally and hit send. Emails and attachments are encrypted on your computer or mobile device and decrypted on the other side so-called end-to-end encryption, which means they can’t be read in transit and they can’t be decrypted without a key if they are intercepted.