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How to Password-Protect Messages in Gmail

Alessio has reported security vulnerabilities to Google and Apple. He also has a past as a web developer and web server administrator.

This article will explain how you can send a password-protected email with Gmail.

This article will explain how you can send a password-protected email with Gmail.

The Advantages of Email

Social networks and instant messaging apps revolutionized the internet, allowing people to chat with others quickly. Another timeless tool, email, represented one of the best tools for individuals and companies to communicate. Email is:

  • Universal, meaning it doesn't require two users to have a mailbox at the same provider;
  • Safe, provided that you pay attention to phishing and spam;
  • Comfortable: It allows you to save a message as a draft and think twice before sending something, attach files, schedule messages, and take your time to read something without the anxiety of the messaging apps' blue ticks;
  • Professional: If you bind a custom domain name to your email address, you distinguish yourself from the competitors who rely on free email addresses.
Gmail App on iPad

Gmail App on iPad

Email can also be a perfect tool for sending confidential and password-protected messages.

You may protect your emails if:

  • You process sensitive data: for example, a health facility should password-protect emails sent to patients and make sure only authorized people can read them;
  • You work with confidential information and have signed an NDA with a company;
  • You submit works of your intellectual property to someone and want to ensure nobody else can access them.

Confidential Emails in Gmail

Gmail is one of the most popular email services worldwide due to its ease of use, powerful anti-spam filter, and friendly interface. One of its most exciting features is the ability to send confidential emails, and this consists of a set of options that allow you to:

  • set expiration for your message so that the recipient can't view it after a specific date,
  • disable the ability to print, download, or forward emails, and
  • require a passcode sent via SMS to open an email.

How to Password-Protect Emails in Gmail

If you want to send a password-protected email by using Gmail's native confidential mode, you can perform these steps:

  1. Open the Gmail web interface;
  2. Click on the confidential mode button, as seen in the first picture;
  3. Enable protection with a passcode, and set an expiry date between one day and five years (it is mandatory);
  4. Compose your message and send it;
  5. Type the recipient's phone number, then click Send again.
Enabling Confidential Mode

Enabling Confidential Mode

Confirming Recipient's Phone Number

Confirming Recipient's Phone Number

The recipient must receive a temporary OTP code to his phone number before opening the email, as with multi-factor authentication for accounts.

Alternative Ways to Password-Protect an Email

While Gmail's confidential mode is a well-made feature, you may want, in some situations, to rely on alternatives to password-protect an email. For example, you may:

  • use another email provider,
  • set up a unique password without having to type the recipient's phone number, or
  • send an email without having to select an expiry date.

In these cases, Gmail's confidential mode may not suit your needs. Below you will find some alternatives you can consider to password-protect an email.

1. Send a Password-Protected PDF Document

This is the most common way to send a confidential document. By doing this, you

  1. write the text of your message in a text document you will convert to PDF,
  2. set PDF password protection, and
  3. attach the file to a new email whose body will be empty, or present an invitation to open the attachment.
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Adobe Acrobat's Password Protection Feature on iPad Devices

Adobe Acrobat's Password Protection Feature on iPad Devices

This solution has the following advantages:

  • any email provider and client universally support it,
  • almost everyone can read PDF documents, and
  • PDF format supports advanced customization, modules, digital signature, and other advanced features.

It also has these cons:

  • someone can easily crack PDF password protection,
  • it requires more steps than just protecting the body of your message, and
  • PDF protection only applies to documents but not to other kinds of attachments.

2. Send a Password-Protected Compressed Folder

This solution is similar to the previous one, but in this case, you attach a ZIP, RAR, or another compressed file you will password-protect using specific software, such as WinZip or WinRar.

By doing this, you have two advantages:

  • universal support, and
  • the ability to enclose several attachments in a single ZIP file.

This solution may work well, especially if you need to attach several files. On the contrary, like PDFs, password-protected compressed folders may be easily cracked, even if, in this case, choosing a complex password may help to make it hard for someone to try.

Compressed folders are useful for grouping several files and saving space, and they are also suitable for adding multiple attachments to an email.

Compressed folders are useful for grouping several files and saving space, and they are also suitable for adding multiple attachments to an email.

This is a techier solution; still, it can be an interesting alternative for sharing sensitive documents without attaching them to an email.

To proceed in this way, by using only Google services, you can:

  1. Create a new blog at Blogger, set it up with a basic template, and get it online in a few minutes;
  2. Set the blog as private so that nobody can view it;
  3. Add your recipient's Gmail address to the blog's allowlist;
  4. Create a blog post or page with the content you want to share with your recipient;
  5. Share the link in the email.
The "Reader access" setting allows you to limit access to a blog. Setting "custom readers" means allowing access only to specific accounts.

The "Reader access" setting allows you to limit access to a blog. Setting "custom readers" means allowing access only to specific accounts.

The "Invite more readers" feature allows you to add the recipient to your blog's allowlist once they approve your invitation.

The "Invite more readers" feature allows you to add the recipient to your blog's allowlist once they approve your invitation.

By doing this, your recipient can view your post only by signing in to your temporary blog with a Google Account.

An evident disadvantage of this solution is its complexity, both from your side and your recipient's. Moreover, this solution doesn't protect your message from screenshotting or copying and pasting it.

Conclusions

There are several ways to send confidential emails to someone, but nothing will give you total safety against your content being shared with unauthorized users. Even Gmail's native confidential mode doesn't prevent users from taking screenshots.

With this in mind, you may consider choosing the simplest solution to discourage a recipient from sharing private documents with others, which is Gmail's native confidential mode. Still, legal enforcement through NDAs is the best solution for people who need to transmit confidential material and want something safer than simply a technical measure.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Alessio Ganci

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