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Employees Must Know This: Email Encryption

Employees Must Know This: Email Encryption

Email remains as one of the most popular tools of communication and data sharing. Despite the rapid increase of other messaging and online file sharing solutions, email is still the most widely used tool for organizations to send and receive sensitive data. However, with greater and more advanced information security risks than ever before, emails are becoming an increasingly vulnerable target.

Because most free email services do not provide end-to-end encryption, hackers can easily intercept sent messages. They use email to target victims and steal data which they then use to commit crimes such as identity theft or fraud.

Therefore, when sending sensitive information via email, email encryption is extremely required.

Email Encryption: Definition

What is exactly email encryption?

Email encryption is a method of authentication that prevents messages from being read by unintended or unauthorized recipients. The original message is scrambled and converted into an unreadable or undecipherable format.

How Does Email Encryption Work?

Email encryption is based on a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which is typically a combination of a private key and a public key. Those sending encrypted emails would use the public key, while the intended recipient would decrypt those messages into a readable format using the private key. Anyone can use a public key to encrypt email in the PKI model, but each encrypted message can only be decrypted by a unique private key.

When you encrypt all email messages as a standard practice, hackers who want to access your personal information face a more difficult task. Decrypting email messages one by one in search of a single message containing sensitive information is a daunting and time-consuming task that even the most dedicated hackers may conclude is not worthwhile.

Benefits of Email Encryption

Privacy – Because a lot of private information and trade secrets are exchanged via email, it's critical to ensure that only the intended recipients see it. Encryption focuses on the CIA (confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility) triad's integrity aspect. Encryption protects information from being viewed by unauthorized individuals, whether it's intellectual property or classified information.

Cost-effective – It may save money depending on how your email encryption service is configured. Companies will not need to purchase another server for encryption if they use an email service that includes encryption built into the server.

Compliance – In many highly regulated industries, encryption is required in certain email communications. The GDPR strongly recommends encryption, while HIPAA, CJIS, and the CFPB require it. Although not all regulations require encryption, the majority state that if a risk assessment determines that electronic Personal Health Information (ePHI), Personal Identifiable Information (PII), or Nonpublic Personal Information (NPI) is at risk, companies must use encryption.

Efficiency – Employees don’t need to use additional security programs to secure their emails if email is encrypted in the email platform. Rather, the email provider bears responsibility. Employees can type and send messages more quickly instead of going through a multi-step process to securely attach files.

Authentication – Spam is still a thing, but encryption can help employees recognize a legitimate sender. Encryption combined with digital signing assures the recipient that the sender is genuine and that the message has not been tampered with. This method guards against spoofed emails infecting a company's system via an employee's account.

Types of Email Encryption

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) – PGP is a security program that uses digital signatures and file encryption techniques to encrypt and decrypt email messages. PGP encrypts data in motion by combining cryptography, data compression, symmetric and asymmetric key technology, and other hashing techniques. It also offers an opinion on public key infrastructure (PKI).

Secure Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extension (S/MIME) – S/MIME is a standard developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for delivering public-key encryption and digital signatures. It was created by RSA Data Security and is now included in most modern email clients. S/MIME is similar to PGP in terms of functionality, but it requires users to obtain keys directly from a Certificate Authority (CA).

Transport Layer Security (TLS) – The secure sockets layer was replaced by TLS, a cryptographic protocol (SSL). It allows messages to be securely transmitted over a computer network and is widely used for email and other communication formats such as instant messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). TLS aims to protect data integrity and privacy when communicating between computer applications.

Fortinet. (n.d.). What Is Email Encryption and How It Protects Your Enterprise. https://www.fortinet.com/resources/cyberglossary/email-encryption
L. (2018, September 4). 5 Benefits Of Using An Email Encryption Service. Ironcore Inc. https://www.ironcore-inc.com/blog/5-benefits-of-using-an-email-encryption-service

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