Anything solar is a winner for the future!

Anything solar is a winner for the future!

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Private emailing

Sometimes we find ourselves sending some information in an email that we hope no one will intercept for malicious use.  It may be credit card details or personal contact information or other highly sensitive data that would create a minor (or major) disaster if it fell into the wrong hands.

Some may be familiar with strong SSL encryption which keeps out eavesdroppers when we browse a website or when we transact online at an online shop or a bank.  Look for the https:// in the web address to be sure it is operational to feel a lot safer.

What about email?  Most email is transmitted insecurely in clear, plain, readable text as it zooms across the internet from the sender’s PC, phone or internet-connected device to the recipient.  Anyone along the way (including anyone that piggybacks off your wifi) can snoop and read your email content as easily as they can read any text file.  It is also worthy to mention that the email content is ultimately stored in your email server’s databases and that of the recipient so any breach of either will expose your personal emails and their entire contents.

Enter PGP.  Also know as ‘Pretty Good Privacy‘, this technology can be used to encrypt email content quickly and easily.  The encryption strength varies based on the algorithm used and the length of your ‘passphrase’.  According to the BlueKrypt key strength comparison website, 4096bit encryption is not likely to be cracked until sometime between 2030 and 2060!  US and UK government agencies have indicated that they find it “nearly impossible” to access PGP-encrypted files and email content during cases in recent years so that in itself can attest to the level of email security which everyone can access  today if they so desired.

There are several ways to implement this potent technology for your everyday use right now at absolutely no cost other than a few minutes of your time.  Various tutorials and instructions around the internet seem overly complicated to follow so here is a quick and simple summary you won’t find anywhere else:

If you DO use the free Mozilla Thunderbird email client:

  1. Gnu Privacy Guard (aka GnuPG or GPG) is the free implementation of the OpenPGP standard as defined by RFC4880.  From their official site (www.gnupg.org), download the latest build for your platform (Mac, Windows, Linux etc) and install the first component only, the GnuPG engine.
  2. Install the Enigmail Addon into Mozilla Thunderbird (available from www.enigmail.net)
  3. From within Thunderbird, you can create a public & secret key pair for any email address that you use.  You can select encryption strengths of up to 4096bit (very very powerful) and enable an expiry date if you prefer.
  4. Send your public key ONLY as a file attachment or in the body of an email to your email recipients which they will use to encrypt email to you.  Keep the secret/private key safely stored away and do not send this to anyone.
  5. Import public keys that are made available to you by your email recipients (they could either send you their public key by email or you may find it in a public key server) into your Thunderbird key management/storage tool for emails that you will encrypt to send to them.

Now when you email anyone whose email address is associated with one of your imported stored public keys, simply use the OpenPGP button  that lets you choose to encrypt the email before sending an email to that particular recipient – easy.  The only point to note is that emails should be written in plain text format to avoid any trouble with the decryption process.

If you DO NOT use the free Mozilla Thunderbird email client:

  1. Gnu Privacy Guard (aka GnuPG or GPG) is the free implementation of the OpenPGP standard as defined by RFC4880.  From their official site (www.gnupg.org), download the latest build for your platform (Mac, Windows, Linux etc) and install 2 components only, the GnuPG engine and GPA (GNU Privacy Assistant).
  2. Go to a command line, type ‘gpg –gen-key’ and follow prompts to create a new key with encryption strength up to RSA, 4096bit and unlimited expiry date (recommended to also use a long/complex passphrase of course).  This bypasses the 2048bit limitation of the GPA GUI client.
  3. Start the GPA GUI client (in Windows use Start > Gpg4win > GPA). Right click on the key you created (it should be the only key appearing in the list right now) and export the public key to a text file.
  4. Email this file containing ONLY the public key to your intended recipients.  I also suggest using ‘Backup’ to create a copy of your secret/private key to keep somewhere secure (not to be transmitted to or viewed by anyone other than yourself).
  5. Type an email to your intended recipient as you normal would using any technique (in a webmail page, in any email client or even draft one in a text editor).  Immediately prior to sending the email, select/copy all the text and open the clipboard feature in GPA (GPA > Windows > Clipboard).  In the new Clipboard window use ‘Paste’ and ‘Encrypt’ Enter the passphrase you created in step 2 above when prompted then copy the encrypted text and paste back over your original email text and hit ‘Send’ (i.e. transmit the encrypted jibberish-looking text pasted into an email to your email recipient).

It might seem a bit convoluted at first glance, but with a little patience it won’t create too much extra work, especially going forward since you will only need to perform the last step for future emails.

Hope you enjoy a new level of peace and comfort when it comes to sending emails containing sensitive information.

 

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