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Gmail is making ‘confidential mode’ the default

Confidential mode is exceptionally useful if you're sending some information that needs to have an extra layer of protection around it. It allows you to set an expiration date on the email (so it can't be opened past a specified date) and have two-step verification to ensure that the person opening your precious information is definitely the chosen recipient.

Confidential mode is exceptionally useful if you’re sending some information that needs to have an extra layer of protection around it. It allows you to set an expiration date on the email (so it can’t be opened past a specified date) and have two-step verification to ensure that the person opening your precious information is definitely the chosen recipient.

You can send messages and attachments with Gmail’s confidential mode to help protect sensitive information from unauthorized access. You can use confidential mode to set an expiration date for messages or revoke access at any time. Recipients of the confidential message will have options to forward, copy, print, and download disabled.

Google

This is actually not that new (though you might just be hearing about it now) and has has been available to Gmail users for a while – the [big] change here is that effective from the 25th June 2019, it is on by default for G Suite customers. And that is a big deal for businesses using Gmail for their work email.

Options for recipients to forward, copy, print or download this email’s contents will be disabled.

Google

It does this using built-in Information Rights Management (IRM) – much like the technology that allows or prevents you from playing music or films that you don’t have access to (i.e. haven’t purchased, or it’s not available to you in your country). If you’ve ever tried to use BBC iPlayer abroad, or you may notice that Netflix has different options for you while you’re traveling, but not when you get home.

Using Confidential Mode in Gmail

So using it is really easy, and I’ve put this step-by-step guide together so you know exactly what you’ll need for each step.

Tap the lock/clock icon to activate the feature.

Here you can set when you want the email to expire (recipients will lose access to the content after this date). Also, whether you want there to be additional security by enforcing that the recipient may only open the email with an SMS generated passcode (text message).

For this demonstration I enabled the SMS feature, so you could see it working.

You may notice that while writing in confidential mode, the header changes to blue and you’ll see a banner advising the details you’ve chosen when configuring the settings.

As we’ve chosen the SMS option here, we need to provide the phone number details of the recipient (so the text message can be sent to unlock the email’s content). Now you get to choose this as you’re the one enforcing the security – so you need to provide the phone number.

If Google does it at the other end, and prompts the recipient to enter their own number, it won’t actually enforce any security in and of itself.

The recipient receives an advisory email including the information that you entered in the subject line (so don’t put anything sensitive there).

Upon opening the initial email, recipients see this note. Detailing the subject line again and advising that the content will expire on the chosen date.

I additionally tested how this content was received by a Microsoft Outlook user and the content looks the same, so you can use this feature to email anyone, it’s not limited to Gmail users.

So upon opening the email, we’re advised about the additional layer of security and the recipient must initiate the SMS passcode.

After a couple of seconds, the passcode is received – like any two factor authentication system, the code is entered and you click submit.

Boom! There is it, my genuine, definitely-not-made-up sort code and account information.

It’s worth noting that I sent content to a 3rd party and had them try to forward the content to a different account again and then try to open it – they weren’t able to. Only the intended recipient was able to actually open the protected content.

That said Google themselves mention that even with this extra layer in place – as with similar expiring content like with SnapChat – there’s nothing technically stopping someone from taking a screenshot or other similar recording of the content. Which is worth bearing in mind, but you know, no system is infallible.

As always, let me know what you think below. Is this a useful feature – will you be using it?

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