How do I use PGP Desktop Encryption to encrypt email?

PGP Desktop Encryption has integrated email functions, but the UIC license doesn't include them. However, the PGP Viewer is part of the UIC PGP Desktop Encryption installation. PGP Viewer decrypts, verifies, and displays encrypted or signed files. So if you save an encrypted or signed email message to a file, you can decrypt or verify the saved file with PGP Viewer. PGP Viewer also has the option to copy the decrypted, plain text version of the message back into your email inbox, provided it is an email program that PGP Desktop Encryption supports. The PGP Desktop Quick Start Guides has also has instructions.

A Question of Keys

But, and this is a big but, the UIC version of PGP Desktop and PGP Viewer  will only work with PGP Universal Server keys.  PGP Viewer could not find the keys to decrypt an email message that had been signed with PGP keys that are held on the MIT PGP public server. PGP Viewer can process email and PGP Zip files that were encrypted with PGP Desktop; even email from the support people at PGP Corp, who are not on our PGP Universal Server. So, does your correspondent use PDP Desktop? Then maybe you can go this route.

But if your correspondent does not use PGP Desktop: here is one way fill in the gap: Install GnuPG and Enigmail for the Mozilla Thunderbird email program; it will work along with your PGP Viewer to allow you to use PGP signatures, encryption, and decryption on for both types of PGP keys. (This has been tested on Windows 7 and it works.) GnuPG is Gnu freeware; see GPG / PGP modules and plug-ins for links to modules, add-ons, and plug-ins like Enigmail for various Windows, Mac, and Linux mail client. These add-ons make it easy the GnuPG. Most of them are freeware. (Note that GnuPG will ask you to make another key pair when you install it; it will not see your Universal keys.)

These instructions assume that you have or can get your correspondent's Public Key and that your correspondent can get your Public Key.


  1. Write a note as usual.
  2. Copy the entire text of the note to be encrypted or to be decrypted to the clipboard (with File, Select All and then File, Copy or whatever you normally use).
  3. Open PGP Desktop.
  4. Click whichever of the Encrypt, Sign, Encrypt & Sign, or Decrypt & Verify buttons is appropriate for your task.
  5. Don't select a file; instead click the Clipboard button.
  6. If you're encrypting a note to be sent, paste the encrypted text back in your note. (Replacing the unencrypted text in the process, of course!)

Mac OS X

  1. Write a note as usual.
  2. From the menu beside the Apple menu (the one with the application's name), select Services, PGP and then select whichever of the Encrypt, Sign, Encrypt & Sign, or Decrypt & Verify buttons is appropriate for your task.
  3. Send the message.

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Last updated: 

August 29, 2013

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