In this day and age, email encryption is more important than ever. Whether you're a businessperson sending or receiving confidential information or a streamer with personal messages to your fans, keeping your communications safe and secure is crucial. And yet, most of the emails sent on a daily basis are not encrypted. In fact, email clients don't automatically encrypt messages, so it's no wonder why very few people know how to open an encrypted email or what email encryption means, for that matter.
If you're here because you're having issues opening an encrypted email or don't know how to view an encrypted email, don't worry, we've got you covered. We'll break down what email encryption is and how it works on a practical level on the most popular platforms. Let's dive in!
What Is Email Encryption?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to open encrypted email messages, it's important to know what email encryption is and how it works. This is the process of transforming readable data (plaintext) into an unreadable format so that only the intended recipient can read and decode it back to its original state. The main purpose of encrypting email is to protect sensitive information from being intercepted by third parties.
Types of Email Encryption
There are three types of email encryption: public-key, symmetric-key encryption, and TLS. Public-key encryption is the most common type and is the one used in most email encryption solutions. Symmetric-key encryption is the fastest type and works without any overheads on CPU resources, while TLS is the standard for email encryption.
Public-key (asymmetric) encryption uses two keys, a private and a public one. The operation of maintaining and preserving public encryption keys is referred to as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). The sender in this form of encryption which uses S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) technology has both a public and a private key. The private key is also known as a digital ID, digital signature, or certificate, validated and issued by a Certificate Authority acting as a third party.
With PKI email encryption, the recipient already possesses the sender's private key on file. Basically, the digital ID is sent to the recipient before the encrypted email, so when the actual encrypted email arrives, the recipient can verify that the two keys — the public and the private one — are a match and open the encrypted email or file.
This type of encryption uses a shared key that both the sender and receiver have access to. Symmetric-key encryption works with a single key that is used to both encrypt and decrypt the message, which is why in order for it to work, the two parties must have the appropriate key. This type of encryption has exhaustion problems, and unless a key hierarchy is maintained or effective key rotation occurs, any time the key is used, it could potentially leak information that can be used to recreate the secret key. Regardless of this, it is widely used by the defense and military sectors.
Transport Layer Security
Otherwise known as TLS, transport layer security is a mix of symmetric and asymmetric encryption used to establish an encrypted link between a server and a client and keep messages safe while in transit. This means that all the data that passes between the two parties during an active TLS connection is encrypted and cannot be intercepted by third parties. TLS is nowadays recognized as the standard for sending and receiving secure email messages.
*Note that many email viruses come in the form of encrypted messages, so it is always a good idea to practice caution with protected messages and only open the ones that come from a known sender.
Opening an Encrypted Email
Now that we’ve gone through the basics of email encryption let's get into how you can open encrypted messages with the most popular email clients.
How to Open an Encrypted Email in Outlook
Opening an encrypted email in Outlook is actually quite simple. First of all, when you receive the protected message, you will see that it has a banner informing you that the message has certain restrictions. It will read "message was protected with Microsoft Office 365."
The next thing you should do is just click the area where it says "click here to read your message." And then you will be sent to your decrypted message. Regardless of whether you are using Outlook Desktop/Browser or Mobile App, the message should open without requiring you to do anything special.
The procedure of opening a protected email in Outlook using a single-use code is a bit different. So, once you've received the message, to view the encrypted email, you need to:
- Select "read the message."
- You will be directed to a web page where you need to sign in to get the single-use code.
- Once you've received it, enter the code and click "continue" to read the encrypted message.
And that's it! You've successfully opened and are now able to view and read the encrypted email in Outlook using a single-use code.
How to Open Encrypted Email in Gmail
The option to send and open encrypted emails is available with Gmail's confidential mode. This mode also allows you to set expiration dates and issue or revoke permissions at any time.
So, how do you open an encrypted email in Gmail? There are two ways of opening a message sent with confidential mode on Gmail, depending on whether the sender requires an SMS passcode or not.
For SMS passcode protected emails, you will need to select "Send passcode," wait for the passcode to be sent to you, and once you've received it, insert it and click "Submit." If the code provided is correct, you will be directed to your message so you can read it. The procedure is the same if you are using a different email client than Gmail.
If the sender does not require you to have an SMS passcode, you will be able to see the email as soon as you've opened it. The procedure is the same for web or mobile Gmail apps. However, if you are using a different email client to open the encrypted email, you will have to go to the link provided in the message, sign in with your Gmail password, and only then will you be able to read the message.
Note that while Gmail's confidential mode protects your messages to some extent, it does not restrict recipients from taking photos or screenshots of the message.
How to Open an Encrypted Email on iPhone
In relation to the setup and OME (Office 365 Message Encryption) capabilities your organization has enabled, there are two different options to open an encrypted email on your iPhone or iPad.
The newer version of OME doesn't require any action from you. The message will show up like any other email, and you can simply open it and read the content. In other words, if you are using the latest version of Microsoft 365, the encrypted email will be decrypted before it reaches your mailbox.
For the older version of OME, you first need to select "Click here to view protected message." You will then be prompted with a login screen where you should select your organization and sign in. After signing in, you should be able to view the encrypted email.
Email encryption has grown in importance for both companies and individuals because of the ease with which emails can be hacked. And, considering that in over 90% of the cases, malware reaches targets via email, it’s no wonder why encrypted email services are always coming up with new ways to safeguard your data. Hopefully, by the time you pick the appropriate solution, knowing the basics of email encryption will keep you safe from unscrupulous individuals.
How do you open an encrypted message?
To open and view an encrypted email, you take the following steps:
- Click on the email or message.html attachment.
- A new page will appear in your web browser informing you that you have received a secure message.
- Two options will appear — "Sign in" and "Use a one-time passcode."
- If you are the only user receiving the encrypted email, you have to "Sign in," but if you want others to see the message, you should select "Use a one-time passcode."
- If you're using the "Sign in" option, by doing so, you will be immediately directed to your message.
- If you've chosen the second option, you will get a message with two numbers, the email the code is intended for and the code itself. Once you've inserted the code in the encrypted message browser, it will direct you to your message.
You are now free to view your encrypted email.
How do you open an encrypted email attachment?
In order to open an encrypted email attachment, you need to use the same process as you would for opening an encrypted email. The only difference is that instead of clicking on the message, you click on the attachment, which will open it in your web browser.
If the attachments have been protected by encryption software you as the recipient must use the same software as the sender along with a unique key or code in order to open it.
How do you open an encrypted zip file?
If you know how to open an encrypted email, then you know how to open one that contains zip files. Zip files can also be password protected, which means that you will need the password to extract the content of the file. As with any other email, the sender must provide you with the password in order for you to be able to view the files.
If the zip file is not password protected, then you can open it by double-clicking on it and extracting the content to a location of your choice.