FireGPG Firefox Plugin for GnuPG

I have been an avid Firefox user for the past several years. While I do use Firefox every day, I am not a heavy consumer of Firefox extensions. There are thousands of Firefox extensions available but I find that the browser suits my needs in its stock form. I don't like getting used to having a lot of extensions installed, as when I use someone else's computer I will be relying on functionality that is not available.

There is one extension that I do use on a regular basis. FireGPG is a Firefox extension that allows for integration with GnuPG. The extension has a number of features, including allowing the selection of web page text and then encrypting it via a right-click context menu.

The killer feature of this extension, however, is its integration with Gmail. The problem with web based email systems is that they are inherently insecure. Regardless of whether or not the HTTP connection is encrypted with SSL, all of the mail content is being stored on a remote server.

Sending encrypted emails to web email services has always been possible, but it's painful in practice as the encrypted email must be copied out of the web browser and into a local text file and then decrypted. That is not an efficient workflow, and so very few people with web mail accounts actually use encryption.

FireGPG has support for Google's Gmail. When you have FireGPG installed, the Gmail interface is subtly modified to include options to sign, encrypt, and decrypt emails. When an encrypted or signed email comes in, the software automatically recognizes it and decrypts or verifies the digital signature. The integration is very subtle and over time I forget I have it. Until I'm on another computer and realize I can't verify digital signatures.

The downside to encrypting web based mail is that the encrypted version is stored on the mail service provider, which makes the web mail's search functionality unusable. I find that I still don't send much encrypted email, but the ability to see verified signatures is very handy and does not prevent my mail from being searchable.