Elevating Your Online Privacy Through Email Encryption
The ways in which we communicate nowadays have been revolutionised by email. Gone are the days of snail mail, telegrams, or even faxes (remember them?)
Now we find ourselves in a world where email is the go-to form of communication in schools, businesses, and personal use.
As they say, however, with great power comes great responsibility. Every time you send an email, it doesn’t simply go from A to B; instead, it is routed through multiple mail and proxy servers which send and receive data, spam filters, and security measures before it reaches its final destination.
For this reason, it is vital to protect emails at every stage of their journey; this is where email encryption comes in.
What Are The Vulnerabilities of Unencrypted Emails?
Each stage of an email's journey is vulnerable to hackers trying to access the potentially sensitive contents inside the email. For this reason, it is vital to incorporate email encryption into your cyber hygiene practices to prevent the most common types of cyberattacks:
Popular cyberattacks include:
- Phishing: A cyberattack that relies on impersonating a trusted entity, such as a bank, to steal the victim’s information via email
- Viruses: Malicious emails can come with viruses attached as a way to infiltrate the system and damage the software or delete important files
- Spam: More annoying than malicious, you can send spam to a separate or temporary email to avoid spam altogether.
Despite these potential vulnerabilities, there are methods to protect yourself from these threats. Throughout this article, we will explain email encryption, why it's essential, and the benefits it can offer you or your business.
What Is Email Encryption and Why Is It Important?
Email encryption refers to transforming your email's contents from readable text (plain text) to unreadable text, commonly referred to as cipher text.
Plain text: Dear Mr. Smith
transforms to ciphertext: xPV0uv1C1E%d
So, if your email is intercepted during its journey, a hacker would only see the unreadable text and be unable to access your sensitive information. Once Mr. Smith receives the email, he will see it in plain text.
Email encryption is essential as it drastically lowers the chances of hackers getting hold of the sensitive information within your emails if they are in ciphertext form. For the sender and recipient, however, it is a crucial method to safeguard the confidentiality and integrity of the sensitive information they are sending.
How Does Email Encryption Work?
Luckily you don’t have to be a Matrix-level hacker to encrypt and protect your emails, as there are many email encryption providers out there for you to choose from.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to inform yourself about the types and functionalities of email encryption, as understanding this will help familiarise you with the importance of maintaining the privacy of your emails.
Transport Layer Security (TLS)
If your email provider is Google or Microsoft, then this is the method of email encryption they use. TLS is a cryptographic protocol that ensures the privacy of the email’s contents but only during transit.
While this encryption method ensures the protection of your emails while they are being sent, they are still vulnerable on the recipient's server, meaning they are not end-to-end encrypted and, therefore, more vulnerable to attacks.
This encryption method encrypts the email using a technique known as asymmetric encryption, which uses public and private keys.
When you send an email, you will lock or encrypt the content using the recipient's public key, which can only be read by the private key held by the person receiving the email.
The benefit is that as an email goes through different servers, the data will remain encrypted and protected from hackers, even if a server is compromised or intercepted.
What Are The Benefits of Email Encryption?
Email encryption benefits everyone and should be implemented whenever possible, especially if multiple parties send sensitive information. Here are some ways where email encryption can benefit you or your business.
Protecting Confidential Information
Personal information is a gold mine for hackers as they can use it to commit cyber crimes such as fraud or ID theft which can affect your personal or work life or, in more extreme cases, your credit rating and other financial records.
Encrypting this data is vital to maintain the confidentiality of important files, records, or personal data and to keep you safe online.
Preventing Data Loss
Any documents sent via encrypted emails are protected and thus safeguarded against being stolen by hackers if this data is compromised. Therefore, incorporating encrypted emails to transfer data will ensure they are sent safely and securely.
Enhanced Security for Remote Workers
The rise of people working from home is attractive to hackers looking to steal any sensitive company information or data sent via email.
Not only this, people who work using public Wi-Fi are at even greater risk, as hackers can intercept and gain access to an encrypted email in the middle of its journey due to the lack of security in Public Wi-Fi spaces.
Prevent Information From Falling Into the Wrong Hands
Email encryption verifies the authenticity of senders and can protect individuals or businesses from cyber attacks such as spoofing or phishing attempts.
Secure emails also help prevent human error and sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands and causing breaches in data or other impacts on security.
The Dangers of Neglecting Email Encryption
Without encryption, you put yourself and others' sensitive information at risk of privacy breaches, data loss, or legal consequences.
Furthermore, not only the contents of the email that are at risk but also login credentials or personal information shared could lead to social engineering attacks or even blackmail.
It is also essential not to take the risks of email interception lightly, as even the smallest amount of information stolen can lead to pieces of a much larger puzzle, resulting in a more significant attack on yourself or your workplace.
How Can I Implement Email Encryption?
Having gained knowledge about the fundamentals and understood the importance of protecting your emails for a private and secure digital life, you may ask yourself, how do I set up email encryption?
First of all, take the time to research the options available to you for your email encryption provider and choose the one that suits your personal or professional needs.
Look for providers that prioritise security, compliance, and robust encryption methods. A popular encryption program used for encrypting emails is Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which encrypts, decrypts, and authorises messages.
Another option is to research and utilise encryption software and plugins compatible with your email service. If you choose to do so, ensure that the software you use is updated regularly, as outdated software is prone to security attacks due to bugs or glitches in the software.
Education is an important step you have followed by making it this far in the article. Awareness is half of the battle, and now that you know the importance of email encryption and its benefits, you can take the following steps to implement it and educate your friends or colleagues to do the same.
Once you decide to incorporate email encryption into your tech world, the work still needs to be done. There are steps to take to ensure that your emails will remain secure against the ever-evolving threats they will come up against, so let’s look at them.
What Are Some Email Encryption Best Practices?
Effectively following suitable email encryption methods in your daily life requires good habit-building and consistency. First of all, you should ensure the following three things are encrypted:
- The connection from your email provider.
- Contents of the email.
- Stored, cached, or archived messages.
Remember, it is imperative to consistently encrypt any email messages you send every single time and encourage those you contact to do the same.
This way, encrypting every message gives hackers no idea which email has the information they want. If only sensitive emails are encrypted, this points the hacker to the emails they should target to steal this data.
Encrypting hundreds or even thousands of emails gives hackers a more daunting and tedious task they may feel is not worth it. So by remaining consistent in your email encryption, you ensure the highest levels and extra layers of protection for your emails.
Embracing Email Encryption in Your Future
Living in a world where email has become the primary mode of communication has opened up a world of possibilities for communication. However, we must protect the information we send not to expose ourselves to cybercrimes.
Email encryption, therefore, is easy to implement but is a crucial defence system that you can apply to your emails to render the sensitive information of these emails unreadable by external parties.