Email Encryption – it should be easier. Much easier.
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I’ve been doing a little research into encryption, specifically using tools
like Gnu Privacy Guard, or GPG, to encrypt email. The technology is very cool,
very powerful, and in all honesty, I’d expect to see it used more than it
And that’s what has me confused. I must be missing something.
While there are a lot of mail clients that support it, the email
clients with massive market penetration don’t seem to. Aside from the
Enigmail add-in for Mozilla Thunderbird, integration of
digital signatures and encryption into mainstream email clients seems to be
either incompatible, unusable for the average user … or missing completely.
Microsoft’s Outlook and Outlook Express both seem to go into what I would
call commercial overkill for the average user. The native encryption and
signing support has you purchasing a digital certificate from a authority like
Verisign to enable the feature. It’s unclear if email clients other than
Outlook or Outlook Express could even interpret the resulting signature or
message. That’s great if you have money to spend, and are running an
Outlook-based shop. But what about the rest of us?
GPG public key encryption has been around for quite a while, and certainly
in tech circles it’s not uncommon to see signed email wrapped in the “PGP
SIGNED MESSAGE” indicator. But if you’re an Outlook user there’s no real
integrated validation, decryption, or for that matter creation of signatures or
encrypted messages using this technology. Yes, I know, there’s a plugin for
Outlook that looks like it’s headed in the right direction, but it hasn’t been
updated in over three years, and in my opinion still isn’t ready for the
Now, many people bash Outlook and Outlook Express, and Microsoft for that
matter, as being big, bloated and insecure and whatever negative adjectives you want
to throw at them. But the fact is that for better or worse, a LOT of people use
Outlook and Outlook Express. Telling them to move to another email client is
simply not a realistic solution. Ain’t gonna happen. Adding a simple, user
friendly, open source interface for either or both would go a LONG way towards
mass acceptance of encryption and digital validation of email across the
But I must be missing something fundamental. I don’t get why that doesn’t
Until it does, I’m afraid that encrypted email will remain, largely, in
the realm of corporations willing to pay for the Microsoft approach, or the
technical folks who’s circle of correspondents use compatible tools. The rest
are left out in the cold.
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