Have you ever had to encrypt the text of an e-mail? I often do and the process was often a task I’d rather not have to do over and over. Here’s how I used to do it:

  • Open up a terminal.
  • Write the e-mail using Nano.
  • Save the file.
  • Encrypt the file.
  • Compose the e-mail and add the encrypted file.
  • Send the file off.
  • Rest my fingers.
  • Wash, rinse, repeat.

I did that for years until I came across the Thunderbird extension Enigmail. This extension allows for simple encryption and signing of e-mails such that the process of encrypting and signing an e-mail is as quick as the click of a menu entry.  You can even have Enigmail set up to automatically encrypt and/or sign all outgoing e-mail.

And like any Thunderbird (or Firefox) extension, Enigmail is easy to install. Download the Enigmail install file, open up the Add-ons window, click Install, browse for the Enigmail installer, and click the Install button (after the timer counts down.) You will have to restart Thunderbird to finalize the process. Once Enigmail is installed, you will notice a new menu entry in Thunderbird: OpenPGP.

Enigmail also has a built in key management system that allows you to manually manage keys and automatically import keys (from attachments or from key servers).

This extension works with OpenPGP 2.0.x and 1.4.x and supports Mozilla’s Multiple Identities. It’s easy to install and even easier to use. And, with the help of Enigmail, you can even generate your key pair without having to touch the command line! This last feature, in and of itself, makes Enigmail a perfect encryption solution for Linux. Why? Because new users can enjoy the benefit of encrypted e-mail without having to touch the command line.

What I would like to see is more outstanding features like this to tightly integrate Thunderbird and Firefox into Linux while making various processes much easier. Prior to using Enigmail, if someone came to me asking how to encrypt e-mail, I would sit them down and walk them through the process. It wasn’t easy at times. Now I simply tell them to install OpenPGP and Enigmail and the rest is easy.

That’s more like it. If Linux continues enjoying applications such as this, newbies will become old-hatters much faster.