Illustration by Arvida Bystrom.

Illustration by Arvida Byström.

Encryption is a method of scrambling online information to protect people’s privacy and data. It’s mostly been used for higher security stuff like online shopping and banking. Encryption has also been blocked in countries that limit online freedom and anonymity. You can encrypt an email so that it’s for your eyes, or a certain person’s eyes, only—kind of like writing in a digital diary with a little padlock on it. You might be thinking, Pshhhhh, I don’t need a super high level of privacy. Wrong! Talking online is like talking in a room full of people—somebody could listen to you if they wanted. It’s important to protect your online privacy, and to be aware of who can read what you’re sending through email.

I’m going to show you an easy way to encrypt an email, using an app called Mailvelope. I suggest testing it out with a friend. Soon, you’ll be exchanging secure email and feeling like spies!

1. Visit Mailvelope and install the application. The installation varies by browser; I’ll be following the steps for the Chrome Extension.

2. Once installed, this tiny key and lock icon should appear at the top right side of your browser’s address bar:


Click on the icon, then select Options > Generate Key > Create your account. Fill out this form:

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When choosing your password, make sure it is a completely new and unique password that you have never used anywhere else! This will be your password when opening encrypted emails. Hit the Submit button.

3. Once you’ve made your account, click the Display Keys button on the left-hand side of the screen. Your primary account should appear in the Key Management list:

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Now you have an encrypted email key!

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4. Next, you’re going to export your Public Key. This step is VERY important. Be sure you are exporting only your Public Key, and not the private one. If you ever accidentally give someone your Private Key, it’s best to delete your account and start over with a fresh key. (Your Private Key won’t necessarily decrypt all your emails, because it would still require your password, but it gets someone a step closer to getting in if they did know your password.)

In the Key Management list, click on your name. Then, click Export, and copy your Public Key:

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Paste this big chunk of text into an email, and send it to your friend!

5. Now have your friend do the same thing with their Public Key, so you can import it into your Key Management list! Copy and paste their big chunk of text, then click on Import Keys:

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Paste the code where it says Paste key text here, then hit Import!

6. Now you’re ready to send an encrypted email! Go into your email account to compose an email. A tiny pencil and notepad icon like this should appear:


Click on it and start composing your very first encrypted email:


It’s important to only type inside the box provided for you—all other drafts are saved into your email account, where they will not be encrypted. When you’re done writing, hit the Encrypt button. Search for your friend’s email address in the drop box, and click Add. You’ll see a big block of code and a Transfer button. Click on that button to send!

When you receive an encrypted email from your friend, it should like this:

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And your cursor will automatically be changed into a cute little key! This will allow you to unlock their email with your password.

*Extra Step* If you want to customize the color of your locks, click back on the tiny key and lock icon at the top right side of your browser window and hit Options > Options (yep, Options again) > Security. Here, you can change the angle, scaling, and color of the locks! Mine are purple :)


Enjoy sending and opening encrypted emails in style, and feeling fully secure! ♦

Ambar Navarro is an L.A.-based artist and animator. She holds a BFA in Experimental Animation from CalArts. Originally from San Antonoio, Texas, she currently resides in Echo Park with her cat named Gravy.