How to Track Emails

March 19, 2019

10:00-11:00AM PST

We have read receipts for our text messages and certified delivery for important mailed items, so why don’t we have a similar reliable system for our tracking email address and messages? If you have ever wondered how to track email, you aren’t alone. The need for a comprehensive email tracking system is long overdue. With data breaches on the rise in nearly every industry, many people are turning to their email platform with fresh eyes towards security.

At the intersection of security and operational efficiency is email message tracking. There are a variety of reasons you might want to have detailed tracking of your emails. This includes recording exactly what was sent, who it was sent to, when they opened  and read it, and what device they opened it on. With an increasingly large segment of our business being done by email on a variety of different devices, understanding the answers to these questions is essential. You need to know that the information you are sending is ending up in the right hands, and isn’t accessible to other individuals or entities along the way.

Why Track Emails?

We are used to tracking important information when we drop it in the mail, so why wouldn’t we have the same expectation for information we send electronically? The truth is, we view emails differently than physical mail. This is despite the fact that an increasingly large portion of our business is conducted through email messages.

To find the answer to why we would want to track emails, let’s return to the analog example. Any one of us can drop a piece of mail off with the United States Postal Service (USPS) and have it mailed with a Certified Mail Receipt. Shipping Certified Mail allows the sender to be notified that their mail has been received by the client or recipient. The sender can also receive proof of delivery.

So, what are the advantages of knowing exactly when an email was delivered and having confirmation of that fact?

  • Security - Most often when we mail something via Certified Mail we are doing so because it contains sensitive information. We want to ensure that the sensitive information we placed in an envelope has arrived at its destination and wasn’t intercepted at any point. In this way, mail delivery receipts offer an additional level of peace of mind, by giving you an assurance that your item or package was delivered. Email is the same, except instead of a package you are sending data. If that data is sensitive and contains personally identifiable information (PII), you may have a regulatory obligation to ensure that information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
  • Proof of Delivery - You may have never thought about proof of delivery for emails before, but it holds many of the same benefits as it would for physical packages. If you are sending sensitive data across the internet, you need to be sure that it gets in the right hands. Up until now, there hasn’t been a service that provides the same level of proof that USPS does with Certified Mail. This proof allows email to take a more central role in document delivery for your business and operations.
  • Proof of Content - One major advantage that tracked emails with delivery proof hold over certified postal mail (FedEx or UPS) is that the content of the emailed message can be proven, where it can’t in postal mail or overnight delivery. Postal mail and overnight delivery is limited in that it can prove delivery, but not “what” was actually delivered. It can’t prove what was in the envelope. Electronic email tracking not only proves the certified delivery, but also the exact message content of what was actually delivered.
  • Operational Necessity - One reason that you might consider tracking your emails is out of operational necessity. Tracking your emails ensures that you know team members or outside business associated are getting the information they need when they need it. You’ll know if an email hasn’t been received or opened, which can allow you to follow up quickly to ensure that the destination was correct and the destination mailbox remains secure. If your operations depend on information getting to where it needs to go on time, every time, you may want to consider tracking your emails.
  • Enhanced Visibility - Once we send an email we lose sight of it. We have no idea what servers it has passed through on its way to the destination mailbox. Individuals have no idea that their mail has been intercepted until it is too late. Integrating email tracking into your day-to-day business enhances the visibility of your correspondence. You’ll know exactly when an email has been delivered, when it was opened, where it was opened, and who it was opened by. Combined with the 100% proof of delivery that Trustifi offers, this gives organizations and individuals a full-field view of their electronic correspondence.

Regulatory and Compliance Considerations

The security aspect of tracking emails is worth emphasizing. Email tracking is one facet of a comprehensive cybersecurity plan. Most organizations operating under regulatory requirements must encrypt certain types of data when they transmit it across networks. This includes electronic protected health information (e-PHI) and PII. Cardholder data should never be saved and transmitted across email, so it is less of a concern. However, protecting sensitive data through email is essential both from a compliance perspective and from a reputational and financial perspective.

The costs of data breaches are becoming greater every year. The widespread prevalence of data breaches is owed largely to the increasing value that sensitive data holds for malicious threat actors. A key area of vulnerability for emails isn’t just in-transit, but also when it arrives in the destination email inbox. How do you know if the individual opening your email is the correct individual? After all, email accounts are highly vulnerable. This is not only due to the fact that many people fail to employ rigorous security measures like complex passwords and two-factor authentication, but also because we access our emails from multiple devices and on public networks.

The end result is that sending sensitive data over email is high risk. Minimizing that risk is imperative given the cyber threat landscape that many organizations face today. One aspect of minimizing the level of risk that is associated with sending sensitive data through email is to utilize a tracking service.

How Do You Track Emails?

Email tracking in some form or another isn’t exactly new, but most services use it without the client or recipient ever realizing the fact. Email tracking today predominantly occurs in the realm of advertising. Advertisers and merchants can learn a great deal about their clients by getting a full picture of when they open emails, what devices they open them on, and what products are contained in those emails. This data can be used to shape future advertisements, creating a feedback loop that results in increasingly accurate targeted advertisements.

Tracking email itself is quite difficult to do accurately. In order to get around this, most advertisers simply embed a small image into an email. This image is typically 1x1 pixel, making it too small for a person to see. Once the email is opened, the sender that is tracking the email can see which computer the image was downloaded on and when it occurred.

The method that advertisers use is less than ideal for sensitive documents or where a high degree of accuracy is needed. One alternative is to track emails through Trustifi Postmarked Email®. This service provided by Trustifi has the approval of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and acts as a cheaper, digital alternative to analog methods of sending sensitive information via Certified Mail.

Other Considerations to Email Tracking

Email tracking offers organizations enhanced visibility for their correspondence and an assurance that the data they sent is being viewed by the correct person. This is an enormous security advantage for organizations in today’s landscape of varied, persistent, and sophisticated threats. However, email tracking should be utilized alongside other services to ensure that malicious actors don’t gain unwanted access to sensitive data.

Email encryption is a great option for keeping your private information safe. Too few organizations consider encrypting emails that contain sensitive data. The perils of this approach are many. Email is becoming less secure every day as threat actors have access to more sophisticated tools and data breaches become increasingly common. Email tracking is a great service for ensuring that the correct recipient opens an email as intended, but how do you secure an email while it is in transit? The answer is by encrypting it.

Modern encryption is powerful enough to ensure that malicious actors can never gain access to an email even if they intercept it. Consider the fact that Trustifi utilizes AES-256 bit encryption, which is the same level of encryption used by Governmental Agencies and the U.S. Military. If a malicious actor hoped to intercept an encrypted email and break that encryption using a so-called “brute force” method, it would literally take billions of years before they would be successful. Even if future quantum computing hardware advances are developed, this encryption standard would still provide adequate security.

In this way, encryption and email tracking tools work together to ensure that emails stay secure and are delivered to the intended email recipients.

Final Thoughts

An email tracking service can offer important levels of value to modern organizations. Rather than dropping sensitive information in the mailbox, you can instead send it virtually with the same assurance that it will get to the intended recipients. This is important from both a security and compliance perspective. For organizations that operate under regulatory requirements to protect sensitive data such as PII or e-PHI, transmitting that data requires high security measures. Minimizing the level of risk associated with emailing sensitive data comes down to utilizing the right tools. One level of this is encrypting that data so that even if it were intercepted it wouldn’t be able to be accessed. A second level is by attaining verification that shows exactly when, where, and by whom that email was opened.

To find out more about how to track emails with Trustifi and how an email tracking tool can help augment your business operations and cybersecurity, please contact Trustifi today.

Sources

  1. https://www.wired.com/story/how-email-open-tracking-quietly-took-over-the-web/
  2. https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/03/22/1444177/0/en/Trustifi-Launches-Secure-Email-Platform-a-Federally-Approved-Digital-Substitute-to-U-S-Postal-Service-s-Certified-Mail.html
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/18/globe-newswire-trustifi-announces-addition-of-healthcare-distinguished-veteran-to-board.html

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