How to Use PGP with Thunderbird

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Email encryption provides security for the contents of your messages as they travel between you and your recipient. Thunderbird email client can be configured to enclose your electronic mail in a cryptographic scrambled package that prevents people other than the intended recipient from reading it. To use Thunderbird with the PGP encryption algorithm, you will need to install a simple interface plug-in between your keyring and Thunderbird.

  • Download and install GnuPG (GPGP), which is the version of PGP the Thunderbird Enigmail extension is able to interface with on your computer. GnuPG is available in versions for Windows, Linux and Mac and may be downloaded directly from the official website at http://www.gnupg.org/. When visiting the website, click on "Download" in the left navigation column of the page. On the download page, scroll down to the section named "Binaries" and click on "FTP" to the far right of the description for your operating system. Follow all installation instructions as presented and remember where the installer says it is installing GnuPG.

  • Download and install the Thunderbird Enigmail extension version that matches your version of Thunderbird mail client (see Resource). At the download page, use the drop-down menus to select your operating system and the version of Thunderbird you have installed on your system. Notice that the download link text below the drop-down boxes changes based on the selections you make. When finished, click that download link to download and install Enigmail. Wait for the package to complete installation before continuing.

  • Start Thunderbird email client. Once loaded, look at the bar at the top of the program screen and note that a new selection labeled "OpenPGP" is available. Click on it to open the configuration window. Configure the extension by telling it where the installer installed GnuPG on your computer. If necessary, use the extension's file browse utility displayed before you to browse through the directories on your computer. Locate the GnuPG folder that was installed, then double-click on it to complete this step.

  • Create a new GnuPG key pair using the same OpenPGP configuration screen. Now that the extension knows where GnuPG is installed, it can use it to do this automatically for you. Simply click the "Key Management" tab. In the Key Management configuration screen, select the "Generate" menu and then click "New Key Pair." Choose the email address to which this key will belong using the email selection box on the same screen. Press the "Generate" key and wait until the program says the new key pair has been created successfully.

  • Add the public keys of your contacts who use PGP to the GnuPG keyring that was created on your computer. To do so, click "OpenPGP" in Thunderbird, then choose "Key Management," then click on the "Keyserver" menu tab. Choose "Search" and enter your contact's email address in the search box. Press "Enter" and wait for your contact's public key listing to display. Double-click the key and then, in the add box, click "Import to Keyring" to complete the importation of your contact's PGP key.

  • Notify your contacts that you have created a new PGP key and that they need to import your new public key from the Keyserver as well, so that they are able to exchange email with you.

  • Compose emails as normal with Thunderbird, but note that a small key icon now appears on the screen. Before clicking the send button after composing each email, click on the key icon to have Enigmail encrypt the email for you right there in Thunderbird. When encryption is complete, click the "Send" button to send your encrypted email.

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  • Photo Credit Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images
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