Just a few days ago, as promised, Microsoft rolled out new security features to Outlook.com. The company said earlier this month that its online email client would soon introduce email encryption and an email forward prevention feature to better secure messages for all Outlook.com users.
The rollout unsurprisingly arrives after Google unleashed a revamp of its web-based Gmail client. Now, Microsoft is also showing off some new features for Outlook's desktop, iOS, and Android mobile apps, as well as the Outlook.com webmail service. Many of these updates are geared toward business users, as they are Outlook's primary demographic.
On the security side, the new email encryption component essentially means the message remains encrypted from end to end, preventing hackers from reading your emails if they intercept and leak your communication. Recipients not using Outlook.com or Office 365 will receive a link to a trusted Office 365 webpage to either get a one-time passcode to read the message or re-authenticate with a trusted provider. Otherwise, messages can be decoded via Outlook.com, the Outlook apps for mobile, and Outlook for desktop.
"When composing an email in Outlook.com, sensitive information like social security numbers can be detected to provide you with a suggestion to send with encryption," Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said in a statement.
As for the "prevent forwarding" feature, this component puts a leash on your emails, preventing recipients from forwarding and/or copying emails you send through Outlook.com. Even more, all attachments sent through Outlook.com with the Prevent Forwarding feature switched on will be encrypted.
If a recipient downloads your attached file and sends it to someone else, it can't be opened. The same restriction applies if the recipient saves your email as a file and sends it as an attachment. This keeps the conversations and data exchanged between you and the recipient private and prevents sharing (unless by you, of course).
The two new features will appear on Outlook.com once you create a new message. The "encrypt" drop-down menu resides next to the Attach button and provides options to simply encrypt the message, or encrypt and prevent forwarding.
The news arrives after Google launched a revision of its web-based Gmail client. It's mostly an interface upgrade so you can manage your volumes of email faster and more easily. For instance, move the cursor over an email and see a new overlay with options to archive, delete, mark as read/unread, and snooze the message.
"Gmail will also 'nudge' you to follow up and respond to messages with quick reminders that appear next to your email messages to help make sure nothing slips through the cracks," Gmail product manager Matthew Izatt said.
Gmail currently doesn't provide an end-to-end encryption component, or does it prevent recipients from forwarding your email. To encrypt messages, Gmail users must install an extension in Chrome such as Secure Mail by Streak. The extension will insert a lock button next to the Compose button and require you to generate a password the recipient will need to open the message. The recipient needs the extension installed in Chrome as well.
The two new features added to Outlook.com are part of a larger security update to Office 365. New goodies include File Restore for personal OneDrive accounts, ransomware detection and recovery, password-protected sharing links, and more.
As far as the other updates go, Microsoft has added bill pay reminders to Outlook.com, which will be shown as calendar items should Outlook detect a bill received in an email. The due date will be added to your calendar automatically, and Outlook will send you a reminder email two days before payment is due. The calendar will also offer meeting location suggestions, and autopopulate these suggestions with data from Bing.
Similarly, Microsoft is upping the ante on RSVP and meeting attendance tracking -- you'll be able to see responses to a meeting even if you didn't organize it. Plus, users will soon find improved time zone support -- Outlook for Windows supports viewing three time zones, while the Mac version supports two. And in a particularly useful update, Microsoft is adding a feature that will warn you if you try to reply to an email upon which you were bcc-ed. That could avoid any number of embarrassing situations.