You’ve probably heard about encrypting your emails and wondered whether or not it is really necessary. To be honest, I hear a lot of people wondering about email encryption so I decided to write this blog post.
Why do you need to encrypt your emails? If you’re sending confidential information over email, it must be encrypted to avoid data falling into the wrong hands.
How secure is email? Are emails automatically encrypted, or do you have to set up encryption manually? These are questions I’ll answer, as well as the advantages of encrypting your emails.
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How secure is email?
It’s common sense that you’d have antivirus software, complicated passwords, and the like. But people don’t really tend to think about the security of email. How secure is email, really?
Most emails are automatically encrypted during transmission, but are stored in clear text. This makes them readable by third parties, such as email providers. That makes email extremely prone to inadvertent disclosure of information.
Popular email services do not enable end-to-end encryption as standard. This means that people other than the intended recipients could read the emails. Consider this: would you send a postcard with a lot of personal information on it, or would you seal the letter within an envelope so prying eyes can’t read your private info? Sending an unencrypted email is like sending a postcard. So if you’re sharing confidential and sensitive information, you must ensure your emails are secured.
Email is secure enough for sharing basic information that doesn’t require confidentiality. For example, sharing information on an upcoming event that anyone is welcome to attend. But if you’re sharing anything that’s more sensitive, such as passwords or customer information, you must encrypt your emails.
What is email encryption?
It’s clear that email isn’t very secure. So what can you do about it? Encrypt your emails! What is email encrpytion?
There are two main mechanisms and examples of how email encryption might occur:
- Transport level/hop by hop: STARTTLS is one of the most commonly used email encryption extensions. If you haven’t heard of STARTTLS, it’s a TLS (SSL) layer over the plaintext communication. If both the sender and recipient email servers support encrypted communication, an eavesdropper cannot see the email contents. The main problem with transport-level encryption is that the message is revealed to and can be altered by intermediate email relays. This is because the encryption doesn’t occur between the sender and the recipient; instead, encryption takes place between SMTP relays. Anyone who breaks into the sender’s or recipient’s email system can read and modify the emails, because encryption doesn’t occur between end users. If you need the securest form of transmission, where the organisation controlling the emails shouldn’t be able to read and modify the email exchange, end-to-end encryption is needed.
- End-to-end encryption: End-to-end encryption is where the data is encrypted and decrypted only at the endpoints. In basic terms, this means that the email is encrypted by the source and then decrypted by the receiver. This means that the email is unreadable by providers and the organisations that look after the emails. There are various protocols that can be used for end-to-end encrypting emails, such as Bitmessage and GNU Privacy Guard. Using end-to-end encryption can be difficult, depending on the protocol that you use. For example, if you use OpenPGP you’ll need to set up public/private key pairs. This complicates things and makes sending and receiving emails a bit of a hassle. But depending on what you’re sending, it could be a necessary hassle!
Email encryption is all about encrypting or disguising the contents of email messages. It’s about protecting the contents of the email from being viewed by anyone other than the intended recipients. It’s absolutely essential in some cases, depending on the contents of the email. For example, if you work in the Healthcare sector and you’re sending a confidential email about a client, it’s vital that this isn’t read by anyone other than the person you’re sending the email to.
Depending on the type of email encryption that is used, your emails could be rendered useless even if someone managed to get access to your email account. This is true only if end-to-end encryption is used. If transport-level encryption is used, anyone accessing your email account would be able to read and edit the emails that you have sent and received. For example, your email provider could access your inbox and see all of your emails because they are stored as plain text when only transport-level encryption is used.
Why you should encrypt your emails
So end-to-end encrypting your emails can end up being a bit of a hassle. Should you bother encrypting your emails at all with that in mind? Yes, you should encrypt your emails. Here’s why.
- Protect business-critical information
- Prevent data leaks
- Enhance your reputation for reliability
- Guarantee secure communication with customers
Protect business-critical information
Encrypting your emails enables you to protect business-critical information. Obviously, communicating with your employees and customers is very important. But it’s crucial that the business information you’re communicating doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
How much business-critical information would someone have access to if they hacked your emails today? Contracts, passwords, customer information… frankly, it’s scary how much damage a hacker could cause to your business if they managed to get access to your emails. That’s why it’s best to encrypt your emails that contain business-critical information.
You don’t have to encrypt all of your emails using end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption is only really needed for the emails containing information such as passwords, for example. On the other hand, encrypting all your emails can make it difficult for hackers to determine which of your emails contain important information.
Prevent data leaks
Data leaks can be extremely detrimental to businesses for all the obvious reasons. According to Ponemon Institute’s Cost of A Data Breach Report 2020, organisations spend £2.9 million on average when recovering from a security incident such as a data leak. Consequently, your company needs to do as much as possible to prevent incidents such as data leaks.
Data leaks aren’t just embarrassing and reputation-destroying. They can cost your business thousands if not millions in loss of income, fines, and criminal procedures. Email hacking isn’t the only cause of data leaks. However, by encrypting your emails, you can reduce the chances of experiencing a data breach via this avenue.
Enhance your reputation for reliability
It’s important that your business has a good reputation. If it doesn’t, you’ll lose customers and ultimately revenue. How do you want your business to be seen? Do you want people to think that your business doesn’t care about cyber security, or do you want your brand to be known for taking cyber security very seriously? The choice is yours.
It goes without saying that reputation is extremely important for businesses. You can either reap the rewards of a good reputation, or your business can suffer because of a poor reputation. By keeping your emails as secure as possible through excellent encryption, you can build trust with your customers and be seen as a company that cares about keeping confidential data secure.
Guarantee secure communications with customers
Customers expect fast, easy, and secure communications. Customers really expect you to look after their data and keep it protected. By encrypting your emails, you can almost guarantee secure communications for your customers.
Depending on what your business does, ensuring you have secure channels for communication could be of paramount importance. As email is a very popular channel for communication, you must ensure that it as safe to use as possible for your users. You can do this using end-to-end encryption between your customer and the agent that is helping them.