Using gMail Securely, Even on Wireless

If you see "http://" in the address bar for a website, that connection is unsecured. Anyone eavesdropping can access everything sent and received between you and the website. Which is no problem if you're reading tmz.com, but a big problem if you're on wamu.com.

If you see "https://" in the address bar, that connection is generally secure. In many cases, you can make an insecure connection secure by adding an "s" in the address bar and hitting "enter." (Whether or not it works depends on the site's web server configuration. Some aren't set up to support secure connections.)

Google redirects you to a secure https connection while you're logging in, but sends you back to http for everything else. So if you use Google Mail (aka gMail) without doing anything to secure it, any eavesdropper can read all your mail. This is not a huge problem on a wired connection, but if you're using any kind of wireless connection, you should be concerned -- and if you use an open wireless connection, you should be alarmed.

The "add an 's'" trick doesn't always work with gMail, as I've noticed it switching back to http seemingly at random. You can get around this by bookmarking https://mail.google.com/mail -- if you start there, Google will leave the entire session protected. Another solution is Mark Pilgrim's Grease Monkey extension to Firefox, GMailSecure. (Editor's Note: GMailSecure is no longer available or needed. See the end of this article for a modern replacement.)

With GMailSecure, your browser automatically redirects from http://mail.google.com to https://mail.google.com -- nicely solving this problem. Typing just "gmail.com" in the address bar first redirects to "http://mail.google.com/mail" (because of Google) and then redirects from there to "https://mail.google.com/mail" (because of GMailSecure).

Note From December 2014: Use the EFF's "HTTPS Everywhere" extension instead.