Email revolutionized communication, especially at the workplace. Distributing faxes and digging through piles of mail to weed out the unimportant junk are no longer issues. While spam still exists, employees can now categorize emails, block content/senders, and even send out automatic responses. But with this reliance on email comes a responsibility to maintain the integrity of electronically distributed information.
Do you need to send sensitive data through email? Learn about the benefits of email encryption to get started today.
What is Email Encryption
It ensures that the content of an email is only read by the intended audience. If emails are sent in “in the clear” (not encrypted) and intercepted, a hacker has access to any information in that email. However, if the email is encrypted, only those with the decryption key can access email. This is often called end-to-end email encryption. In end-to-end encryption, the sender uses the recipient’s public key to encrypt the message and then the recipient uses a private key to decrypt the message.
Why Use Email Encryption
The conversation around encryption often involves how companies store data. Do companies encrypt credit card numbers? Are health records encrypted? But as companies implement more security to data, hackers will likely turn to target data in transit, making email accounts a prime target. Stealing sensitive data via email can severely impact a company because a compromised chain of communication limits a company’s ability to interact not only with customers but also with its own investors and employees.
Five Benefits of Email Encryption
Privacy – Encryption targets the integrity aspect of cybersecurity’s CIA (confidentiality, integrity, accessibility) triad. Every company and the government wants their information to remain private. Whether it be intellectual property or classified information, utilizing encryption protects information from being viewed by unauthorized individuals.
Cost-effective – Depending on how your email encryption service is set up, it could save money. If companies use an email service with encryption integrated into the server, they will not have to purchase another server for encryption purposes.
Compliance – Many compliance guidelines require encryption. HIPAA, CJIS, and CFPB require encryption, while the GDPR strongly recommends it. Not all regulations explicitly require encryption, but most state that if a risk assessment finds electronic Personal Health Information (ePHI), PII, or Nonpublic Personal Information (NPI) to be at risk, companies should implement encryption.
Efficiency – If email is encrypted in the actual email platform, employees don’t have to use additional programs to secure their emails. Rather, the responsibility lies with the email provider. Instead of following a multi-step process to securely attach files, employees can type and send their messages more quickly.
Authentication – Spam is alive and well, but using encryption can help employees identify an authentic sender. Utilizing encryption in conjunction with digital signing shows the recipient that the sender is authentic and the message untampered. This method prevents spoofed emails from infecting a company’s system through an employee’s account.
Is Any Type of Encryption Acceptable?
Not all encryption methods are the same. When it comes to email encryption, end-to-end encryption should be the goal. So what kind of encryption should you avoid with email? SSL/TSL encryption shows up when you see https in from of the URL and indicates that the connection between you and the server behind whatever program you are using is encrypted. However, this means that the company running the server has the decryption key, not the user on the other end. For example, if a person is using Gmail, Google has the decryption keys rather than the recipient of the email. Thus, it is not end-to-end encryption. Another issue is SMTP over TLS (STARTTLS) encryption. Not all servers use the same type of encryption; thus, if a Yahoo user sends an email to a Gmail user, they have to accommodate for different kinds of encryption, like SMTP over TLS. This can become a hassle when working with multiple parties. Choosing a versatile service that is compatible with other email providers will be infinitely helpful.
Common Types of Email Attacks
Email attacks can affect people, data, and access. While encryption alone won’t tackle all of these threats, it’s good to understand what your security team is up against.
Consider how your email automatically logs you into numerous platforms at work and at home. Email services often come in package deals with other work programs. This setup enables hackers to sift through personal and work files if your email is compromised, and from there, infiltrate coworker accounts or misrepresent themselves to your coworkers.
Phishing attacks continue to grow in popularity, mostly because they are so successful and take minimal effort on the attacker’s part. Phishing manifests in different forms including pharming, deceptive phishing, and spear phishing. With pharming, a threat actor redirects a user to a malicious website by changing the IP address associated with the legitimate website. Deceptive phishing threatens people under the guise of a legitimate website and with the goal of getting money. Spear phishing, commonly associated with malicious emails, deceives people into revealing personal information. Moreover, spear phishing can trick employees into sharing intellectual property to unauthorized individuals. Using encryption can help employees identify fraudulent email addresses.
Unlike phishing attacks, viruses involve more planning on the attacker’s part. Your email usually isn’t the direct target of a virus; rather, it is the door that lets attackers infiltrate and incapacitate a company’s system. For example, many malicious emails use attachments with viruses. When an unsuspecting user opens and downloads the attachment, it triggers the virus.
Nowadays, most people deal with so much spam they might even have a separate email account to field the numerous advertisements and subscription emails they receive. Not all spam is malicious in nature, but it can be used to overwhelm a system, debilitating a company’s communication chain. Another problem is if a threat actor uses a company email address to send out spam. This may result in a PR nightmare and legal repercussions.
If you're interested and would like to switch to encrypted email, with our encrypted open source email service, contact us or get your own.