How to Send a Secure Email in Gmail

July 22, 2022
How to Send a Secure Email in Gmail
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

The title may have taken you back somewhat; after all, aren’t all emails secure? Honestly, that depends on what you consider ‘secure.’

If you use your email to send pictures of your trip to Italy to friends and family, you’re probably fine with the email you’re already using.

However, if you’re someone that receives sensitive documents, like a journalist or business owner, you’re going to need something more robust.

Why would I need to send a secure email?

There are lots of reasons you may need to send a secure email. As a business owner, you may want to keep aspects of your business private, such as new product design.

If you’re ill, you may want to communicate securely with the doctor handling your illness.

In these scenarios, you’ll want to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to your email and its attachments.

Can you remember a time you forwarded a work email with confidential attachments, only for that information to get forwarded to unintended recipients as well? Sending a secure email prevents that.

What is a secure email?

A secure email means only you and the person you sent it to can see the contents. You might be confused. Isn’t that all email? Well, not exactly.

Most popular email providers (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, etc) provide email service that’s secure to an extent. Let’s take Gmail as an example.

When you send an email through Gmail, it’s sent encrypted and arrives encrypted.

That’s only if both of you have Gmail accounts, though. If you send an email to someone who uses another service, things start to get problematic.

What does that mean? Let’s talk about encryption.

What’s encryption?

Think of encryption as a lock for your emails. It prevents those you aren’t sending to from reading them. That encryption also comes with a key.

You have a key and the person you sent the email to has a key. For them to see that email, they unlock the encryption with the key on their end.

A truly secure email has what’s called ‘end-to-end encryption.’ As described earlier, this is where only you and your recipient can read the email.

Gmail, while relatively secure, is not end-to-end encrypted. Google holds your emails on its servers and can, technically, access them anytime it wants.

Worse, once you send an email to someone using another email provider, your email leaves Google servers, where Google is not able to protect it with encryption.

The workaround: Confidential Mode

Google has outfitted Gmail with a feature called Confidential Mode. Confidential Mode works by allowing your recipient to view—rather than receive—a copy of the email.

The email itself remains on their server, where they have complete control over it. It remains encrypted and cannot be read by anyone else—besides Google, of course.

Gmail Confidential Mode users also have the option of setting an expiration date for emails and a passcode that the recipient receives through text to get access to the email. This adds an extra layer of safety to your email.

With Gmail Confidential Mode, you can prevent recipients from forwarding, copying, printing, or downloading the email.

We’ll show you how to use Gmail Confidential Mode to send secure emails when you need that added layer of protection.

Using Gmail’s Confidential Mode

What you’ll need to send a secure email in Gmail

  • A computer
  • The Internet
  • A Gmail account
  • An email you need to send securely

Step 1: Compose your email

Write your email as you would normally. Include your recipient’s address. Also, add any attachments you’d want to send at this point.

Step 2: Locate the Gmail Confidential icon

Once you’ve composed your email, look for the Gmail Confidential icon at the bottom of your Compose screen (it looks like a clock and a lock combined). Click on it.


Step 3: Select the expiration date of your email

After clicking the icon, you should see the window below.

Here, you will have the option of setting the expiration date of your email. When you do this, your recipient will only be able to read for up to that time.

You also have the option of removing your recipient’s access to this email before the date you set with Gmail Confidential.

To do that, go to your ‘Sent’ folder. Find the confidential email that was sent to your recipient. As you can see in the picture below, there’s a ‘Review Access’ button. Click it.

Your recipient will no longer have access to the email.

Step 4: Set up passcode and verification for non-Gmail users

If the person you’re sending the email to uses a service other than Gmail, they’ll get an SMS or text message. This helps them verify who they are and allows them to see the email.

To do that, you have to select the ‘SMS passcode’ option on the right side of the window (shown below).

This will open a window that will allow you to input your recipient’s cell phone number.

Once you set this, Google generates the passcode and sends it to your recipient.

Step 5: Send your email as you would usually

If you’ve followed the steps up to this point, you should be ready to send your email.

If you are the recipient of a Confidential Mode email, you should be able to open it right away. You should note that you are not able to print, download, or forward neither the email nor any of its attachments.

If you use a service other than Gmail, you should receive an SMS that will allow you to view the email and attachments.

Additional notes about Confidential Mode

You can turn Confidential Mode on or off for a specific organization, department, or domain.

You would need to have a Google Workspace (G-Suite) account to do this, as well as administrator access to that account.

There’s also the option to block incoming emails that are using Confidential Mode. If you’re not familiar with blocking, here’s a helpful guide.

Google Workspace allows users to send a truly encrypted email with S/MIME software. To use this, an administrator has to turn on the option for you. This works only if you and the recipient both have S/MIME enabled. If not, your emails are sent unencrypted.

S/MIME lets you see if messages you’ve sent and received are encrypted. In your email settings, you’ll see either a green icon, a gray icon, or a red icon.

If you see a green icon, your email is encrypted. A gray icon means standard encryption was used. A red icon means that an email is unencrypted.

Confidential Mode is not without flaws

When using Gmail’s Confidential Mode, never forget that you’re not sending end-to-end encrypted emails.

There are other considerations Google itself wants you to be aware of. For instance, even if your recipient can’t forward, print, or download your emails, they can still take pictures of them and pass them on.

Additionally, Confidential Mode does not stop malware on your recipient’s computer from accessing your emails.

The fact that you’ve set an expiration date on an email doesn’t mean Google will delete the information on that date. Keep in mind that the email remains in your ‘Sent’ box where it can still be seen until you delete it yourself.

In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns users that Confidential Mode provides a false sense of security, as they do not provide encryption-level protection.

YAMM makes sure your information is secure

Email security is a priority, but you may be unsure if your mail merge service makes your security its priority. Luckily, with YAMM, you never have to worry about that.

YAMM never has access to more data than we need to execute our functions, whether that’s sending bulk emails or tracking the results of your latest email marketing campaign.

This means we don’t know your Google Account information and other sensitive data. We also cannot access your recipient’s confidential information either.

No need to wait for a secure mail merge option! You can sign up for a free version of YAMM today.

Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to The Yet Another Mail Merge Blog
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in
You've successfully subscribed to The Yet Another Mail Merge Blog
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content
Success! Your billing info has been updated
Your billing was not updated