Product Reviews

Encryption for the Masses

ZixMail simplifies secure, encrypted messaging.

Nearly everyone you ask nowadays has an email address. I can tell when something has become mainstream when my dad (who doesn't know how to turn a computer on) has it. As most administrators know, however, email is insecure. Anyone with a bit of mail systems knowledge can send email posed as another user.

To address this problem, larger organizations use the process of signing and sealing email--the same process used for writing a letter several hundred years ago. If you wanted to ensure that the letter arrived at its destination untampered with, you'd sign it, melt wax over the envelope, and place a seal, that only you had, in the wax. The recipient receiving the letter with the wax seal intact; then knew that the message in the envelope was, in fact, from you. With email, a digital code is attached that can be use to authenticate the sender.

The process of signing and sealing email is an expensive one, from both a cost and processing power standpoint. Although larger organizations can afford this solution for their users, many smaller businesses and individuals cannot. Enter ZixMail, a utility that lets you send encrypted messages that can only be opened by the desired recipient. One of ZixMail's strengths is that it works with any existing email system.

Sending a message with ZixMail is easy. First, download the 2M program from the Web site, install the application, and register with ZixMail. Run ZixMail to create a new message.

When you're ready to send the message, simply click on the Send button. You're then prompted to select the delivery method and the Signature Phrase (created when ZixMail was first installed and registered). Clicking on the OK button encrypts the message and sends it to the recipient.

The encrypted message is delivered to the recipient as an attached file with the .zix extension. To read the message, the recipient simply double-clicks on the attachment. This opens the encrypted message in the ZixMail application and prompts the user to enter the Signature Phrase. If the Signature Phrase is valid, the e-mail message will be unencrypted and displayed. [A new version of ZixMail was released soon after this review was finished; it doesn't require ZixMail in order to read the encrypted messages.--Ed.]

With ZixMail you can store messages for delivery at a later time, create contacts and groups, which lets you send encrypted messages to a mailing list, and you can certify both the delivery and read status of sent messages.

All in all, ZixMail is a great tool for encrypting email. It's easy to install, configure, and use. And, considering some of the features promised for the future, such as integration with Microsoft Outlook, a Lite version that fits on a floppy disk, Macintosh and Unix versions, and a Web-based version, ZixMail may become a standard for sending encrypted messages.

About the Author

Barry Shilmover, MCSE+I, MCT, owns Shilmover Consulting Services, a Microsoft Solution Provider specializing in Windows NT/2000 and Exchange 5.5/2000 solutions. He has co-authored books that include Windows 2000 System Administrator’s Black Book and Exchange 5.5 Exam Cram, both from Coriolis Press.

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