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How to Send Documents Securely via Email (and Sleep Well at Night)

Will Cannon

One of the biggest concerns in our modern digital world is security: how safe are your digital assets? Companies must ensure their data is secure and protected from cyberattacks and data breaches.

In this article, we’ll cover how to safely send documents by email. We’ve outlined four strategies you can use. These include:

  • Password protection
  • Electronic signature software
  • Email encryption
  • Email attachment encryption

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Method 1: Password Protect Your Files Before Attaching Them

One of the simplest ways to ensure the safety of your documents is to password protect them. To do this, you assign a unique password to a single digital file or multiple files. The file or files cannot be read, edited, or deleted without the password.

When it comes to sending documents via email, using a password to protect your files is a great strategy to ensure they’re secure.

How to password protect your files

There’s no simple, universal way to password protect your files. Different file types will have their unique step-by-step processes. The operating system you use can also influence this.

Below, we’ll outline how to password protect every file type and operating system:

PDF file

The password protection process for a PDF file varies, depending on the operating system you’re using. You’ll find the specific how-to details for both Windows and Mac below: 

Windows

There are three ways you can password protect a PDF file on the Windows operating system:

  • Use Microsoft Office to create a new password protected PDF
  • Use Adobe Acrobat to password protect an existing PDF
  • Use a free tool like PDFEncrypt or PDF24 Creator
Microsoft Office

If you have access to Microsoft Office applications such as PowerPoint, Word, or Excel, you can save documents as PDFs. You can also password protect files easily.

To turn any document into a password-protected PDF with a Microsoft Office application, follow these instructions:

  1. Open the file in an appropriate Microsoft Office application.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Save As.”
  4. Change the file type to “PDF.”
  5. Select “More options…”
  6. Select “Options…”
  7. Select “Encrypt the document with a password.”
  8. Enter your password and confirm it.
Turn any document into a password-protected PDF with a Microsoft Office application
How to turn a document into a password-protected PDF with Microsoft Office
Encrypt PDF document
Password protected document

Alternatively, if the file is already in PDF format, simply follow these instructions:

  1. Open the PDF document in an appropriate Microsoft Office application.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Info.”
  4. Select “Protect Document.”
  5. Select “Encrypt with Password.”
  6. Enter your password and confirm it.
Encrypt word document
Encrypt contents of a file
Require a password to secure your documents
Adobe Acrobat

Another method is to use Adobe Acrobat Reader. You’ll need the paid version as the free one doesn’t allow you to edit PDFs.

Here’s how to use it to password protect a PDF file:

  1. Open your PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Protect Using Password.”
  4. Choose whether you want the document to be editable or just viewable.
  5. Enter your password and confirm it.
Protect your document using a password
Require viewer to enter a password
File protected using a password
Free Tools

The last option is to use a free tool. Here are some available options:

  • Adobe’s “Password protect a PDF” tool
  • PDFEncrypt

Adobe offers a free web tool that lets you password protect any PDF file. Simply drag and drop the file, then add a password of your choice.

How to protecta PDF using a password

PDFEncrypt is a free, open-source tool that makes it easy to password protect a PDF file. Simply choose a file, create a password, then encrypt it.

PDF encrypt
Mac

The process is far easier on Mac devices. All you have to do is use the default “Preview” application.

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Open your PDF with the Preview app
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Export.”
  4. Enter a file name.
  5. Select “Encrypt.”
  6. Enter your password and confirm it.
Export a secured document

Word document

When it comes to Microsoft Word documents, password protection is different for Windows versus Mac. Given this, we’ll consider both operating systems below:

Windows

The easiest way to password protect a Word document is to use the Microsoft Word application. The process is the same as outlined earlier with the PDF file:

  1. Open or create a document with Microsoft Word.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Info.”
  4. Select “Protect Document.”
  5. Select “Encrypt with Password.”
  6. Enter your password and confirm it.
Mac

On the Mac operating system, anything related to Microsoft is going to be a little more complicated. But it’s still possible to password protect a Word document.

macOS can run Microsoft Word. If you have access, you can simply password protect your file there. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open or create your Word document with Microsoft Word.
  2. Select “Review.”
  3. Select “Protect.”
  4. Select “Protect Document.”
  5. Enter your password and confirm it.
Secure your word document on MacOS
Password protect documents on Mac

Google Docs

Password protecting a Google doc is a little trickier than password protecting other file types. The Google Docs suite doesn’t currently allow you to do it directly, as in a built-in feature. There is a way around this, however. We’ll cover the method below:

Windows

The workaround requires you to download an add-on called Secure File Encryption. This allows you to add a password to a document you upload to your Google Drive. Whenever someone wants to access it, they’ll need to enter the password.

The step-by-step process is as follows:

  1. Install Secure File Encryption from the Google Workspace Marketplace.
  2. Go to your Google Drive.
  3. Select “New.”
  4. Select “More.”
  5. Select “Secure File Encryption.”
  6. Upload the file you want to password protect, and confirm.
Secure file encryption
Password protect documents on Mac
Upload secure documents on Google Drive
Mac

The process to password protect a Google Doc is the same on macOS as it is on Windows. You’ll need to have a Google account, and you’ll need to have Google Chrome downloaded. Then simply follow the steps outlined above. 

Excel spreadsheet

Excel spreadsheets are a popular file type used by virtually every business. They usually contain vital data, like financial or customer information. It’s critical that you ensure these files are secure. Below, we’ll outline how to password protect an excel spreadsheet for both Windows and Mac:

Windows

The process to password protect an excel spreadsheet is very similar to the method used for a Word document. After all, Excel is also a Microsoft program. Here’s how to add a password to your file:

  1. Open or create a document with Microsoft Excel.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Info.”
  4. Select “Protect Workbook.”
  5. Select “Encrypt with Password.”
  6. Enter your password and confirm it.
Encrypt excel workbook with password
Encrypt excel workbook
Password protect excel sheets
Mac

Even though you’re using macOS, you can still use the Microsoft Excel program. With it, you can password protect your excel spreadsheets, just like on Windows. Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Open or create a document with Microsoft Excel.
  2. Select “Review.”
  3. Select “Protect Sheet.”
  4. Select what permissions you’ll allow to those with access to the document.
  5. Enter your password and confirm it.
Protect excel sheet
Control how much access a user has on your excel spreadsheet

Google Sheets

Some people prefer Google Sheets to Excel spreadsheets. There’s not that much difference between the two, but the process to password protect files is different. We outline the steps for password protecting both operating systems below:

Windows

Unfortunately, Google Sheets doesn’t have a built-in password protection feature present. Much like with Google Docs, you’ll need to work around the issue.

You could use the Secure File Encryption strategy we covered in the Google Docs section. That works for any file uploaded to Google Drive.

Mac

The process is the same on macOS as it is for Windows. As long as you have Google Chrome installed, plus a Google account, you can password protect a Google Sheets document. Simply follow the steps outlined in the Windows section.

Method 2: Use an Electronic Signature Software

The first method was very complex and can be rather confusing. A much easier solution is to use electronic signature software. These are applications that allow you to digitally sign, send, and receive documents, contracts, and agreements online.

Not only do these tools make it easy to add signatures, but they also ensure the documents are secure. Instead of spending countless minutes individually securing each file, you can save time with electronic signature software. The documents are automatically secured.

There are many electronic signature software options available. Signaturely is one of the best.

How to Use Signaturely to Send Email Documents Securely

A much easier solution is to use electronic signature software.

Signaturely is an e-signature solution that allows you to electronically sign documents online. You can create your digital signature — typed or drawn — and add it to easily uploaded documents. You can then send these documents to other contract parties.

With Signaturely, your data is safe. The application has robust firewalls in place to ensure no breaches occur. Your valuable information is hosted in Amazon-managed data centers. The platform also uses 256-bit encryption as another added security measure.

The process of signing and sending a document via email is really easy with Signaturely. Here’s how it works, step-by-step:

  1. Go to Signaturely.com and sign up for a free account.
  2. Select “Sign.”
  3. Select “Only Me,” “Me & Others,” or “Only Others.”
  4. Give your document a title and optional message.
  5. Upload a file.
  6. Add email recipients.
  7. Select “Fill Out & Sign.”
  8. Use the editor to add your signature and any additional information.
  9. Select “Send.”   
Prepare your signaturely document for signing
Upload files to Signaturely
Add your signature and required information in Signaturely
Send your document using Signaturely
The signed document is securely emailed to your recipient

Method 3: Encrypt Your Email

Email encryption is another method you can use to ensure your email documents are safe. When it comes to security, encryption is a step up from password protection. It’s a more advanced defense against data breaches. We’ll cover the details below:

How to send and open confidential emails

So, how do you send encrypted emails? Well, it entirely depends on the email service provider you’re using. The process is different in Gmail than in Outlook or Yahoo. Below, we’ll detail the specific steps for each one:

Gmail

The good thing about Gmail is that it has a built-in encryption feature. However, to send an encrypted email, both you and the email recipient must have the feature enabled. If the person you send the email to doesn’t enable the encryption feature, the email you sent won’t be encrypted.

Given this, you must make sure that they’ve got encryption enabled on their end.

Enabling encryption on Gmail is a rather drawn-out, 4-step process. Google has a helpful guide that covers this.

Gmail Encryption

After both you and the email recipient have encryption enabled, here’s how you send an encrypted email:

  1. Select “Compose.”
  2. Select the lock icon to the right of the recipient.
  3. Select “View details.”
  4. Select the appropriate level of encryption.

Outlook

Like Gmail, Outlook requires you to go through a lengthy process to enable encryption. Here’s the official Microsoft how-to guide to do it.

Once that’s out of the way, here’s how you encrypt a single email:

  1. Compose an email.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Properties.”
  4. Select “Security Settings.”
  5. Select “Encrypt message contents and attachments.”
  6. Select “Send.”

Yahoo

Unfortunately, when it comes to Yahoo’s email service, there’s no specific built-in encryption feature. The only way to encrypt an email on this platform is with the use of third-party plugins. One plugin you can use is The GNU Privacy Guard.

Even with this plugin, the process of encrypting emails is technical, long, and complex. We recommend you use one of the other methods outlined in this post to save time and effort. 

Hotmail

Given that Hotmail is now Outlook, the email encryption process is covered in that subheading.

Method 4: Encrypt Your Email Attachments

Even if you’re able to encrypt your email, it’s not guaranteed that your attachment will be encrypted. It’s usually the files attached in our emails that are of most concern when it comes to security.

How to send a secure email attachment

There are several ways that you can encrypt your email attachments. It depends which email service provider you’re using. All popular platforms will be considered below:

Gmail

As with method 3, you need to activate Gmail’s built-in encryption feature. To do so, follow the information outlined in Google’s how-to guide.

After you’ve done that, follow these steps:

  1. Select “Compose.”
  2. Select the lock icon to the right of the recipient.
  3. Select “View details.”
  4. Select the appropriate level of encryption

Outlook

To encrypt your email attachments on Outlook, you’ll need to enable encryption. You can follow this complex process by using Microsoft’s official how-to guide.

Once you’ve done so, here’s the step-by-step process to encrypt the email attachment:

  1. Compose an email.
  2. Select “File.”
  3. Select “Properties.”
  4. Select “Security Settings.”
  5. Select “Encrypt message contents and attachments.”
  6. Select “Send.”

Yahoo

Yahoo doesn’t allow you to encrypt emails, let alone attachments; there’s no built-in feature at present. The only way to selectively encrypt your email attachments is to use a third-party tool or feature.

Hotmail

As stated earlier, Hotmail is now Outlook. Refer to the earlier subheading for more information.

FAQ

What is the importance of sending documents securely via email?

Sending documents securely via email is important because of potential cyber threats, such as hackers. Data security is a huge concern; businesses must ensure their contracts, payrolls, and customer information is secure.

What is the safest way to send a document via email?

The safest way to send a document via email is by using encryption. This can be done by encrypting individual emails as well as email attachments. However, an easier way is to use electronic signature software, such as Signaturely.  

What is the easiest way to send a secure document via email?

The easiest way to send a secure document is to use electronic signature software such as Signaturely. These applications make signing and sending contracts and agreements easy; they also ensure they’re secure. 

Password protection is also another great option. You can do this with Microsoft Office applications like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. If you have Adobe Acrobat, you can also do it with that. There are also several free password protection tools available. 

Can I send a secure email document for free?

Yes, you can send a secure email document for free. Many of the strategies outlined in this post can be used for free, such as the free PDF tools.

Conclusion

Businesses must ensure their data is secure from cybeattacks and data breaches. Documents like customer information, payroll, and contracts must be kept away from outside, prying eyes. 

In this article, we covered four methods you can use to ensure the documents you send via email are secure. These strategies will keep your company’s vital data under lock and key.

Are you looking for an easy, safe, and secure way to send documents by email? Try Signaturely for free today.

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