As more and more businesses and their employees turn to email as their main method of communication, the security and invulnerability of email communications become exponentially crucial. Email encryption makes a strong effort to address this issue of data, file, and messaging security, and entails “encrypting, or disguising, the content of email messages in order to protect potentially sensitive information from being read by anyone other than intended recipients.” Although sensitive information shared via email like Social Security numbers, log-in credentials, and bank account numbers benefit greatly from email encryption, “it’s not just those who may email sensitive information” who are advised to invest in email encryption. As relied upon as email may be, it is quite a vulnerable form of communication; “particularly when emails are sent over unsecured, or public, Wi-Fi networks.” And any email account can be vulnerable to the attack of a hacker, putting their attachment, content, and sometimes the entirety of their email account at risk of being compromised.
Earlier this year, Tony Bradley of LifeWire made an incredibly thoughtful and insightful analogy to help individuals better understand the importance of email encryption for data security: “If you are on vacation you might send a picture postcard to a friend or family member with a quick "wish you were here" sort of message. But, if you are writing a personal letter to that same friend or family member, you would be more inclined to seal it in an envelope.” One method of email encryption -- a personal email certificate -- “digitally signs your messages, reducing the [number] of spam messages that can be sent using your name and email account.” A personal email certificate’s digital signature confirms to recipients that the sender did in fact send the message that was received. An added bonus of utilizing a personal email certificate is that it provides users with “help to stem the tide of spam and malware being distributed in [their] name.”
Through email encryption, “the sender [is equipped] with a comprehensive set of tools that gives them an unprecedented level of control over the[ir] content.” A private email key, “stored on your computer,” is utilized to unlock emails and decrypt original messages. In other words, “each person with an email address has a pair of keys associated with that email address, and these keys are required in order to encrypt or decrypt an email.” One such key is deemed a “private key,” and is housed within a keyserver, linked with your name and email address, and any individual can access it. Contrastingly, your private key is yours alone and access cannot be shared. Thus, senders encrypt using the public key, “while the intended recipient would use the private key to decrypt those messages into a readable format.” This system of keys is known as public key infrastructure (PKI) and it is the most common form of email encryption.
There are several variations of email encryption protocol, but the most prevalent are:
- OpenPGP, which is a method that utilizes “both symmetric and public-key encryption,” and is often recommended for large businesses, as it provides individuals who may have never met in-person to “exchange encrypted messages” without the use of private keys.
- S/MIME, which is a method that “relies on a centralized authority to pick the encryption algorithm and is a popular method of encryption simply because it’s already built into some large party email platforms such as Google, iOS, and Outlook.”
Oftentimes, to avoid any difficulties for individual employees, companies will opt for automatic email encryption using an email encryption service. Such services typically supply software that configures emails to “pass through a gateway appliance that is set up to be compliant with the company’s security policies.” That being said, it is important to point out that cloud-based email encryption offers individuals added ease of use, convenience, and economic savings. While maintaining the utmost email security, the cloud-based format gives users more flexibility and command over the ways in which their messaging, files, and data are interacted with via email. Moreover, cloud technology provides businesses and individuals with opportunities for increased scalability, reduced IT costs, collaboration efficiency, flexibility, improved access updates, and stronger business continuity.
Email encryption services are multipurpose when it comes to securing vulnerable information.
- In encrypting the connection between email providers, hackers are prevented from intercepting both outgoing and incoming messages advancing from server to server. As a result, this “prevents unauthorized users on the network from intercepting and capturing your login credentials and any email messages you send or receive”.
- An email’s content (including attachments) can be encrypted, making even intercepted emails unreadable to the human eye. The encryption of emails prior to them being sent out into the world, in other words, renders them essentially useless and void of any information.
- Encrypting old and archived emails will stop attackers from gaining access to emails that are not in transit. If hackers gain access -- despite password protection of your accounts and even your device -- to backed-up emails, email encryption guarantees that the contents are indecipherable.
Consistently encrypting all emails, sent and received, will ultimately result in the best outcomes in terms of email data, file, attachment, etc. security and protection. In saving email encryption for emails containing delicate information, a flag is raised for hackers, “pointing them directly to the messages that are most likely to contain valuable, sensitive information – the very information you’re trying to prevent outsiders from gaining access to in the first place.” And so, a full-scale, holistic approach to email encryption will undoubtedly create a greater, multi-layered barrier to entry for hackers, as even the most dedicated data sleuths will find a one-by-one email examination process too burdensome and daunting.
Even emails sent via a seemingly secure company network are not entirely safe from hackers. No matter the pre existing security measures provided by a given network, “encryption is an important added security measure that makes sure that even if a message is intercepted, its information cannot be accessed.” A strong and thorough email security approach, like email encryption, can help to prevent hackers from conducting breaches, as they “rely primarily on email to distribute spam, malware, and other threats.” And as employees -- from entry-level to executives -- rely more heavily on the flexibility of their technology security services, the demand for cloud-based email encryption is sure to skyrocket.
Bradley, Tony. “Here's Why and How to Encrypt Your Email.” Lifewire, Lifewire, 30 Jan. 2020,
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