In light of the currently en vogue privacy debate raging all around the world and given the flippant stance of many of our often used communication platforms with regards to securing its users’ privacy, it is becoming more and more evident that if the user wants privacy online, he’ll have to snatch it, for it won’t be easily given.
Talking of communication, email comes to mind. Privacy begins with encryption. And encrypting email isn’t exactly an easy task. It is at best annoying. At worst it can be so cumbersome that most people don’t bother. You can use desktop clients and PGP keys, like Lifehacker details. The annoying procedure of making and handling security keys is also mentioned by Arstechnica here in its editorial about why most people don’t bother encrypting email.
So what do you do if you don’t want peeping toms and evil governments looking into your email? The best idea would be to go stone age and use smoke signals, but of course, we’re discussing technology here and I digress. A rather simpler alternative would be to encrypt the email text and share the password via other means. This is what the ingenious Google Chrome extension SecureGmail aims to do.
Let’s discuss the pre-requisites here before we begin encrypting our Gmail messages! You and your message recipient both will need the following:
- Gmail accounts
- Google Chrome
- The Chrome Extension SecureGmail
What does the extension do? The extension will create a new button beside the usual Compose red button. When you click on it, the new mail window box appears but this one is different from the vanilla compose box as whatever you type in here won’t be saved to Google’s servers. For the technically curious, SecureGmail uses an open source JS crypto library from Stanford available here.
On completing the message, click the Send Encrypted button. You’ll be asked to set a password for the message as well as a password hint. Your recipient will only see the password hint. If he doesn’t have the extension installed, he’ll see a link to install it. Otherwise, the password can be input right away and the email decrypted.
Only the encrypted copy is saved on Gmail’s servers. If you check your Sent items folders, you’ll see something like this.
The success of this method obviously assumes that you’ve sent your password to your recipient successfully via other means. Maybe it’s the first word on the 37th page of a certain book, maybe it’s an irrelevant word written as graffiti somewhere. Sci-fi movies will give you enough ideas to supply a hint.
What to do if you want to encrypt text with a password but don’t want to use a chrome extension? Googling for “encrypt text” will give you a slew of options.