How Can E-Mails Be Encrypted with PGP?

E-Mail Encryption with PGP

An e-mail is like a postcard. Whoever looks at it has the choice of reading it. Encryption keeps unwanted snooping at bay – and that’s not just your Internet provider analyzing your e-mails in order to send you personalized advertising. Secret services, the police, blackmailers, and con artists may also be very interested in your private affairs. The recent NSA scandal has demonstrated more clearly than ever how vulnerable the Internet is to large-scale snooping and content analysis. Encrypting your e-mails should be as natural a precaution as sealing an envelope.

Explained by video

(A click on the picture leads to Vimeo. The privacy policy of Vimeo applies.)


But How Does It Work?

A software-based encryption tool like PGP creates a pair of keys:

The first part is the Public Key that can be used by anyone. This key encrypts your e-mails, but it cannot decrypt them. You should make your Public Key widely available: E-mail it to your friends and family; post it on your websites; and upload it to a key server that is available to the public.

The second part is the Private Key, means your own secret key. This is the key for only you to decrypt the e-mails that others have sent you, and that’s why you always keep this key to yourself.

For encrypted emails between two people, they both need to have PGP configured and they need to have exchanged their Public Keys. Unknown Public Key can be found on Key-Servers, by searching for the  of the recipient.

This Sounds Very Technical.

Not at all. Anyone can set up encryption from within their standard e-mail program quickly and easily.

  1. Simply install a PGP plug-in such as Enigmail for Thunderbird, GPG4Win for Outlook, or GPGTools for Mac.
  2. The software will guide you through the setup and generate the pair of keys needed for your e-mail address.
  3. Your Private Key is itself protected by a password, which prevents unauthorized access in case your data is stolen or copied. Take care to remember this password!
  4. At the end of the installation procedure, the software will offer to upload your Public Key to a key server or to distribute it among your e-mail contacts.

Our FAQ guide contains step-by-step instructions about this as well as further in-depth information.


What is a Signed E-Mail?

In addition to encryption, you can also use your Private Key to sign your e-mails, essentially adding a digital signature. This lets the recipient verify that the e-mail was indeed sent by you, and thereby ensure that the contents have not been altered. It’s up to you whether you wish to make use of this option.


Does That Make Everything Fully Secure?

Yes and no. Due to technical reasons, the sender, recipient, and subject of an e-mail CANNOT be encrypted. To protect your privacy, mailbox.org sends your data via a secure connection whenever one is available. Nevertheless, it’s more reliable for you to seal your digital envelope yourself. Here at mailbox.org, we’d rather not even be able to read your e-mails.


Privacy made in Germany. mailbox.org.