ITS Service Desk

How To Send Messages and Documents Securely

There are a number of aspects to sending email or documents to someone securely. This article explains options to address several situations that we've been asked about.

Email

Email in general should never be used to send sensitive or private data. While Gmail encrypts messages in transit, there is no way to know where your email message will end up. The recipient may not be using any kind of encryption on their end. Or even if they do, they have the ability to forward your email to other recipients. Additionally, once they receive it, your message may remain in their Inbox for a very long time.

Gmail Confidential Mode

Gmail allows you to send an email to someone confidentially. This mode offers features that limit certain actions by the recipient:

  • the recipient is not able to print or save a copy of the message
  • your message will no longer be available after the expiration date/time that you set
  • the recipient can be required to enter a password that you provide

More details are available from Google about how to send and open confidential emails. Note that Google offers this warning:

Although confidential mode helps prevent the recipients from accidentally sharing your email, it doesn't prevent recipients from taking screenshots or photos of your messages or attachments. Recipients who have malicious programs on their computer may still be able to copy or download your messages or attachments.

To use confidential mode in Gmail, click the "Compose" button to start a new email message. Then click the small lock/clock icon at the bottom of the window.

Fax

Faxing a document is generally more secure than sending an email, simply because it is sent over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). While not 100% safe, hacking into this network requires direct physical access to the telephone line, something that a hacker in a foreign country, for example, may not have. Faxes also cannot have viruses and malware attached to them like an email message can.

A traditional fax machine can also tell you that the transmission was indeed received by the other machine (something a simple email message can't do).

However, there's no way to know what actually happens to your document on the recipient's side. It could be converted and automatically emailed to someone. It could be sitting out in the open on the machine itself, available to anyone who happens to walk by. Or it could be stored securely in the machine until someone releases it with a password.

DocuSign

We have a contract with DocuSign that allows a certain department to send documents and have the recipients sign and return them electronically. This is not available campuswide (at this time).

Let's Talk

In this article, we have intentionally not recommended a particular solution, because in order to do that, we'd really like to talk to you about your situation. The solutions above are provided so that you have an idea of what's available. Please contact us if you'd like to discuss your need.

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