In Linux, this is an easy task to accomplish, thanks to the presence of an easy-to-use key-generation program and a capable email client. Evolution, the default email client for the GNOME desktop, is a very capable contender to Thunderbird. For GNOME users, Evolution offers the desktop integration (for both GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 (other article)) that Thunderbird cannot offer by default. So for some it may be advantageous to use Evolution.
In order to be able to sign and encrypt your email, you will need to create your own key set. For instructions on that, you can read one of our other articles that covers the topic. Signing your email only requires your own key, while encrypting your email requires that both you and the recipient have each others’ public key. Remember, you use the private key to encrypt, others use your public key to decrypt.
To get started, open up Evolution and go to your Preferences in the Edit menu. Double click on the account you want to enable PGP Security and go to the Security tab. In there, you’ll be able to enter the Key ID of your key set so that Evolution knows which key to grab when you write with a certain email address. Remember, you can have multiple email addresses on the same key, which is recommended to avoid confusion. Ideally a person should use one key, or two if they want to separate personal from business. If you wish, you can also set the defaults below, whether you would like to have certain options enabled each time to write a new message.
That’s all you have to do to set it up. When you write a new message, you can change the options that you have set my default in the Options menu, so if you don’t encrypt your email by default (as you probably don’t have a key from everyone you send an email to), you can still enable it for that specific message.
If, let’s say, the person receiving the message is also using Evolution, he or she will see a message like this:
You see a message like above (“Signature exists, but need public key”), that means that the message is signed, but you have not imported the public key of the person who sent it. This can be done in the program that handles keys.
Encrypted messages won’t have a specific message, but will be decrypted on-the-fly provided that all the keys needed are available.
Protecting your email communications is a great thing to do in a world where almost anything unencrypted can be sniffed. However, not only do PGP keys help encrypt email, but they can also simply sign email so that you can verify that the email truly came from the party they claim to be. Doing that can often times be enough to feel safe about the emails you receive. Why companies that are constantly used in scams, such as banks and PayPal, aren’t using it to prove that the emails actually came from them, I do not know.
Do you think PGP signing/encryption is or will soon be a necessary security step? Are you already following this practice or will be in the future? Let us know in the comments!
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