Whether its for personal or business reasons, email has become an indispensable method of communication in the modern world (and has been for quite some time). But thats exactly why emails are some of the biggest targets for hackers and cybercriminals. And its also why individuals, businesses, and all organizations are trying to send secure emails via enhanced email encryption.
The email encryption market is growing at a rapid rate and is predicted to rise to $1.5 billion per year by 2020. Its just one of the signs that major corporations are beginning to recognize the importance of email encryption. But how does email encryption work? How effective is it at preventing hacks? And how should I go about implementing email encryption technology within my own organization?
The concept of encryption has been around for centuries, but how it applies to email is dependent on potential threats, how technology will evolve, and the types of documents or files that a company needs to secure. From the basics of modern email encryption to selecting the right email encryption partner, keep reading for a breakdown of answers to five of the most commonly asked questions about email encryption.
1. What are the basics of modern email encryption?
On a surface level, the concept to encryption simply means organizing data in a way so that only the party youre sending data to will have access to the encrypted message. Encryption has been used for centuries, during World War II for example, when spies communicated using encrypted messages via a cipher in case the message fell into the wrong hands. Email encryption functions on the exact same concept but adapted in several ways to the modern digital communications environment.
There are two types of data that are typically at risk of being hacked and require a secure email provider. One is Data at Rest, and the other is Data in Transit. Data at Rest consists of files, documents, or any other data that might be stored in an on-premise server or even in the cloud. Data at Rest is simply location-static data thats not being shared, sent, or transferred from one user to another. Email encryption is designed to protect the second type of critical information, which is Data in Transit. Think of Data in Transit as data in motion, that moves from one location to another, whether it be over the internet or between users in a private network.
To protect data in transit, organizations often choose to encrypt sensitive data prior to it going in motion. They might also use encrypted connections (HTTPS, SSL, TLS, FTPS, etc.) to protect the contents of any data in transit. For data at rest, organizations can simply encrypt sensitive files prior to storing them, and/or even choose to encrypt the storage drive itself. While both types of data should be protected at all costs, data in transit (such as emails), present their own set of challenges that need to be addressed. In todays world, email encryption functions on the combination of both Private and Public Keys, which encrypt data so that only a verified keyholder can successfully access the contents of the email message.
If you want to send an encrypted email message, for example, simply use a Public Key to encrypt the message before sending. The person receiving the message then must have their own Private Key to view the message and knows that you are sender via authentication of your unique Public Key. Both keys are issued via a trusted third-party certification entity or authority, ensuring the authenticity of all keys.
Remember – Email encryption protects Data in Transit and operates on a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) using both public and private keys.
2. Why do organizations need email encryption?
With over 60 billion emails traversing the world each day, email privacy and security isnt something we necessarily think about anymore. However, email security shouldnt be taken for granted, especially in todays hyper-connected environment.
Therefore, businesses, corporations, governments, and organizations of all shapes and sizes need to consider email encryption for several key reasons. First, signs of email hacking are difficult to detect and are sometimes virtually non-existent. Unlike typical systems which are based on-premise or in the cloud and are constantly monitored for signs of hacking, the same efforts are difficult to achieve with email data in transit. Because of this, organizations now utilize email encryption so that even if a hacker does get ahold of the message, they wont have the requisite private or public keys to successfully access the data contained within the email.
Standard security tools like firewalls and anti-virus programs arent going anywhere. But those tools alone arent enough to protect private and sensitive emails as they travel over the Internet in todays high-risk climate.
Remember – Even if the majority of your business isnt consumer-facing, your emails are still at risk anytime you contact clients, vendors, or customers. Encryption should be a vital part of any sound cybersecurity strategy.
3. What threats do email encryption help guard against?
Whether youre in healthcare, retail, or financial services, virtually every industry in todays world communicates via email, much of the time with sensitive or private information that could potentially be targeted by hackers. Emails, in the form of data in transit, face a unique set of threat, challenges, and potential malicious actors than do many other forms of data. Potential email hacking normally comes in one of the following three varieties: Spamming, Phishing, or Viruses. Organizations need to understand the unique threats posed by each and implement an email encryption strategy accordingly.
Spam is much more of a threat than most organizations realize and goes far beyond simply receiving promotional emails that you have little to no interest in. Spam emails, if improperly opened, handled, or clicked, can result in serious damage to your business and technology systems, as well as losing sensitive or confidential information. One of the biggest threats that spam emails pose is that they contain malicious malware that poses as an attachment, picture, or link. If the user happens to download the file, a malware program is then activated. Once installed, the malware programmer or hacker on the other end can use the malware to spy on (or extract information about) the unsuspecting user. By using email encryption, receivers can authenticate that the message is, in fact, being sent from another verified user and not a spam account.
Secondary to spam is the possibility of email phishing, which spam could potentially be utilized for. Phishing is any fraudulent attempt to obtain confidential or sensitive information. This can include (but is not limited to) usernames, passwords, credit card details, and even direct access to money. A malicious phishing attack is normally disguised as a trustworthy email, and have become extraordinarily sophisticated and manipulative. Just in 2016, email phishing attacks increased by 45 percent, with over 1.2 million attacks for the entire year. Hackers may send an email from a valid seeming source, asking the user to send over their password information for a seemingly legitimate reason. They may even make a follow-up phone call for verification as part of the scam. With email encryption, users can send secure emails, and the receiver knows for sure that its not a phishing attack because theyve authenticated it with the proper keys before even opening it.
Finally, viruses present perhaps the biggest threat when trying to send secure emails and keep hackers on the outside. Cybercriminals employ viruses for one of several reasons, such as network or service disruption, harvesting confidential information, or spying on a network. Computer viruses sent via email, just as in nature, are designed to replicate and spread to other hosts as quickly as possible. Users can contract email viruses in many different ways, such as a hoaxed promotional campaigns, email attachments, or even HTML script within the body of the email. This is precisely why using a secure email provider with encryption is so vital, to prevent users from contracting one by the simple act of opening and reading a malicious email from an unverified source.
Remember – Spam, Phishing and Viruses are three of the biggest reasons that organizations use email encryption. Hackers are becoming more clever these (and other) methods, so its important to implement an encryption program sooner rather than later.
4. What sensitive data should be email encrypted?
Depending on your business or organization, different types of data, information, and documents will need to be constantly secured via encrypted email when sent back and forth.
Here are just a few of the most vulnerable documents that are typically sent via email, which encryption helps guard against falling into the wrong hands:
- Financial spreadsheets
- Sales data
- Customer information
- Marketing plans
- Vendor agreements
- Medical information
- Employee information
- Board meeting minutes
It should also be noted that email information is most vulnerable when the intended recipients are employees, or when employees are emailing messages to suppliers or customers. Weve grown so accustomed to emailing these kinds of files and documents on a daily basis, that many of us simply dont realize the risk of data in transit being hacked or stolen. If youre a financial company, for instance, using email encryption for cardholder data is essential to keeping your customers vital data safe and secure.
5. What kind of email encryption tool should you use?
When selecting an email encryption software, tool, or partner, youll want to take a holistic view of all your cybersecurity needs. Depending on the size, industry, and customer base of your organization, youll need to select an email encryption tool that covers all the bases. Email tools can basically be categorized into three types of solutions.
1) Individual & Small Business
Whether youre just a private citizen who wants to secure email correspondence with friends and family or a small business that deals with a limited number of employees and customers, there are basic email encryption solutions that address this market segment. Many free tools and plugins are available in places like the Google Chrome Store, CNET Download, and on open source software exchanges. These tools are limited in their ability to deploy effectively across an organization and often operate on a freemium model.
2) Medium Sized Business
For larger businesses that are growing, are strong regional players and require more scale and size of deployment. Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMB), deal with an array of employees, customers, vendors, and contractors through which sensitive information is sent back and forth through email on a daily basis. These solutions often offer a more sophisticated range of features, such as administrator dashboards and real-time monitoring, at a higher price point. Medium-sized encryption software often operates on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, in which the provider also works with the company to ensure a successful implementation.
3) Large Enterprise Businesses
Large businesses, governments, and multinational organizations necessitate the highest level of email encryption security. Companies and organizations of this size are spread across the globe with thousands of employees, millions of customers, and sensitive information being sent from one place to another via email around the clock. They require complete end-to-end solutions that not only encrypt emails but has advanced features such as secure e-signatures and automated compliance.
Remember – Before reaching out to potential vendors or partners for e-mail encryption, have a good idea of what kind of solution segment your business is in. Also, have any documentation about past email breaches or hacks to review with your partner in order to prevent the same instances.
One such email encryption solution provider, Trustifi, offers an easy to use military-grade encryption service that works with Microsoft Outlook, Gmail and other email platforms. With the click of a button you can securely send an encrypted email that is delivered right to the recipients inbox for a hassle-free experience. The added bonus of the Trustifi service is that the recipient is able to securely reply back to your email in an encrypted manner, and you’re able to track the opening of the email with Postmarked delivery, in cases where you need to prove email delivery and compliance. No matter what secure email provider you choose, by now you should understand why email encryption is important for anyone who uses email communications, how it works, and what threats it helps guard against.