Encrypt Thunderbird Email with Enigmail

Jack Wallen
Mar 1, 2009
Updated • Jul 8, 2014
Email, Thunderbird

Sometimes email contains sensitive data which must be encrypted. You can handle this two ways, manually encrypt the data or use an exceptional Thunderbird Extension called Enigmail. This extension uses gpg and makes the encryption/decryption as user-friendly as it gets. With keys installed in Enigmail (either manually or from a keyserver) encrypted email is automatically decrypted and signatures are checked for validity. This makes using encryption for email a task even the new user can master.

If you do not have a key pair generated, Enigmail can even do this for you. So with this extension you can encrypt/decrypt email without having to touch the command line. Pretty sweet. Let's take a walk through this system.

I am going to assume you know how to install an extension in Thunderbird (I am also going to assume gpg is installed). Knowing that, install the Enigmail extension. Once this extension is installed (and you have restarted Thunderbird), you will notice a new menu entry called OpenPGP. This is where you take care of the setup of Enigmail.

Generate your key pair


The first step is to generate your key pair. This can be done either from command line or from Enigmail itself. From within Thunderbird click the OpenPGP menu and click the Key Management entry to open the key manager window (shown in the image to the left.)

Click on the Generate menu and select New Key Pair to open the key generation window (shown below to the right.)

Keygen Window
Keygen Window

From within this new window you have a number of options to consider (which are all fairly self explanatory.)For most instances the defaults will work. The only change you might make is if you do not want the key to expire click the Key Does Not Expire checkbox.

As the window says, during the generation process you will want to go about the business of using your PC in order to help randomize the process of key generation. This even holds true when you are generating keys via the command line in Linux.

If you already have a key on your machine (generated from the command line or some other tool) you can import that key from the same key manager tool shown above. Just click on the File menu and select Import Key from File.

Once your key has been imported into (or generated by) Enigmail you are ready to use Enigmail to encrypt your messages.

Encrypt and Sign a Message

Start composing a new email and you will notice the OpenPGP menu entry has been added. Once you have completed composing your email click on the OpenPGP menu and select Encrypt Message and/or Sign Message to encrypt and/or sign your outgoing messages with your key.

Default Encryption Options
Default Encryption Options

This brings up an issue. If you do not configure Enigmail to not encrypt/sign by default all of your outgoing messages are going to be encrypted and signed. This is a problem when the recipient doesn't have your key. I highly recommend configuring Enigmail to not encrypt/sign by default. To set this click on the OpenPGP menu entry in the MESSAGE COMPOSITION WINDOW (not the main Thunderbird window). From there click on the Default Composition Options sub menu and then select Signing/Encryption Options. A new window will appear (shown to the left.) Make sure you de-select all of the options in the Message Composition section. Now you have to manually choose to sign and encrypt each message. It's one extra step but your non-geek friends and family will thank you for it.


Like send mail, you have two options for receiving mail. You can have encrypted mail automatically encrypted or you can do it manually. Of course for either options you have to have the senders' key imported into the system.

If you click on the OpenPGP menu (in the main Thunderbird menu) you will see an entry for Automatically Decrypt/Verify Messages. If this is checked all incoming encrypted/signed mail will be decrypted/verified. If it is not checked you will have to do this manually by selecting the encrypted/signed email and then clicking the Decrypt/Verifyentry in the OpenPGP menu.

Final Thoughts

And that's it! Simple email encryption in Linux with Thunderbird and Enigmail. You can, of course, do this manually from the command line, but why make things difficult? If you have needs to encrypt/sign outgoing or incoming email, Enigmail is the perfect solution for every Linux and Thunderbird user. And for those BSD, Solaris, OS/2, Mac, or Windows users there is an Enigmail for you as well.


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. JMGG said on January 19, 2012 at 8:25 am

    You said that Outlook isn’t your main email client, so which is your main one?

    1. BalaC said on January 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

      I think its thunderbird

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

      It is Mozilla Thunderbird.

  2. Salaam said on September 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Awesome! This actually solved my problem… what a stupid bug.

  3. Claud said on December 19, 2012 at 2:08 am

    If this is the same bug that I’ve encountered, there may be another fix: (1) hover over open Outlook item in Taskbar, cursor up to hover over Outlook window item, and right-click; (2) this should give you Restore / Move / Size / Minimize / Maximize — choose Move or Size; (3) use your cursor keys, going arbitrarily N/S/E/W, to try to move or size the Outlook window back into view. Basically, the app behaves as though it were open in a 0x0 window, or at a location that’s offscreen, and this will frequently work to resize and/or move the window. Don’t forget to close while resized/moved, so that Outlook remembers the size/position for next time.

    1. Lynda said on February 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      THANK YOU Claude!!! I could get the main window to launch but could not get any other message window to show on the desktop. You are my hero!!!!

    2. Chad said on November 20, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Solved my issue! 6 years later and this is still problem…

    3. Ivan X said on January 21, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Fantastic. Thank you. Size did the trick.

  4. Andrew said on October 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

    This solved my Outlook problem, too. Thank you. :)

  5. Charles said on December 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you so much, this started happening to me today and was causing big problems. You are a life saver, I hope I can help you in some way some day.

  6. garth said on November 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    You are a god – thank you!

  7. Faisal said on February 9, 2015 at 10:09 am

    thanks a lot…. work like charm.. :-)

  8. Simon said on March 24, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Yah…thanks Claude. I’ve been having the same problem and tried all the suggestions…your solution was the answer. It had resized itself to a 0/0 box. Cheers

  9. Olu said on April 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent post. This had me baffled even trying to accurately describe the problem. This fixed it for me.
    Thank you

  10. Coenig said on July 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thanks a lot for the article. Don’t know why it happenend, don’t know how it got fixed, but it was really annoying and now it works :-)

  11. Fali said on January 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks a lot. I was facing this issue from past 3 week. I tried everything but no resolution. The issue was happening intermittently and mainly when I was changing the display of screen ( as i use 2 monitors). The only option i had was to do system restore. But thanks to you.

    1. MIki said on January 10, 2019 at 11:54 am

      I’ve been tried to sole this problem for 12hours. Your comment about changing the display of screen helped me a lot!! Thanks!!

  12. Christina said on January 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you…don’t know why this happened but your instructions helped me fix it. Running Windows 10 and office pro 2007

  13. Oz said on July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Great tip! Thanks!

  14. Tracy said on September 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Worked for me, too – thank you!!!

  15. shawn said on September 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    It’s Worked for me, too
    thank you very much!

  16. Jari said on October 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I had a similar issue with Outlook 2013 on Windows 10 and this helped me to fix it. Thank you very much!

  17. Michel H said on November 30, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you so much. Solved!
    Considering you published this in 2012, incredible not been debugged by Microsoft.
    Thank you again. M

  18. Ziad Bitar said on January 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    This problem was faced by only one user logging to TS 2008 r2 using outlook 2010.The issue was resolved.


  19. Anonymous said on February 15, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Great tip. Thank you!!!! If it helps, I had to use the Control Key and the arrow keys at the same time to bring my window back into view. Worked like a charm.

  20. Rochelle said on March 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, this worked !!!!

  21. anom1234 said on May 20, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Man, you are a fucking god. Thanks a lot, what an annoying bug!!

  22. JC said on October 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Awesome, this post solved the issue. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.