With the increase in email usage over the years, there has also been an increase in cyber threats. So, email security should be on top of your list of priorities. Encryption is one technique that has proven to be a game changer for many industries. Emails can undoubtedly benefit from this procedure, adding another security layer to your information. 

Along with a rise in phishing and fraud attacks since the Covid-19 outbreak, impersonation-based social engineering attacks have also risen. With the dependence of organizations on emails showing a continuous rise, their vulnerability to scams, malware, and ransomware targeting email data has increased.

Considering the ever-increasing threat to email security, it’s worth considering encrypting your emails. Does encrypting your emails help boost security, or is it overkill? Read on as we discuss how worthwhile encrypting emails indeed is. 

What is Email Encryption?

Email encryption keeps unwanted individuals from your messages and confidential information. It protects your correspondence by scrambling your shared information into an encrypted form. After that, no one except the intended recipients can understand what you meant. The intended recipient gets a normal message in plaintext. 

So, email encryption is crucial on occasions when you share highly sensitive information. However, most email providers already offer email encryption to protect their clients. HTTPS is the default encryption used by Gmail. Additionally, it uses Transport Layer Security (TLS), which prevents others from reading your emails. Luckily, most providers support TLS, meaning you will be secure even if you connect to someone outside Gmail. 

Furthermore, other email encryption techniques exist: 

  • PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). This type of encryption is usually chosen to encrypt communications between two people. It uses a public key associated with a user to encrypt emails. When that user sends an email, their private key gets used to decrypt that message. 
  • S/MIME. Gmail offers S/MIME to its G Suite Enterprise and G Suite Education accounts. It also uses a public-private key pair to send encrypted messages that only recipients can decrypt. 

How Does Email Encryption Help? 

Some assume the buzz about security vulnerabilities is no more than software vendors' and security consultants' ploy. Allegedly, they intend to scare people into buying their products or services. However, the potential for getting scammed should never be underestimated. There is no target too small for hackers or fraudsters. So, email accounts are one of the tempting targets for vicious people. 

Email encryption might not be a cure for all threats. Nevertheless, it is a powerful addition to your security mechanism. It essentially means encrypting all contents of emails. So, only the intended recipients can crack the code and see your message in plain text. Others will see a scrambled version of the information. 

If you are wondering about its benefits, the primary purpose of email encryption is to prevent data breaches. 

Are Emails Secure?

Most users believe that emails are likely the most secure form of online communication. Emails are indeed secure when they travel from the sender to the recipient. However, it all depends on the provider that users choose. 

With so many emailing services available, some messages could end up compromised. It is also possible that emails will be at risk through other means. For instance, recipients could screenshot messages or open their inboxes around random people. 

Another crucial factor is that some of the biggest malware or scam campaigns happen via email. Phishing refers to email messages sent by cybercriminals. Their aims might differ. One email might convince you to click on malicious links or download attachments. Others might try to trick users into revealing their personal information. 

Perform an Email Risk Assessment 

Many organizations erroneously think their current email security systems are up to the task of protecting them from phishing attacks from today’s more sophisticated, well-resourced, and targeted attackers. Unfortunately, many email security systems fall short and do not keep their organizations safe, despite having existing protection. 

To improve your organization’s email security strategy to defend against today’s advanced email threats, you must first understand your email risk, the effectiveness of your current email security strategy, and measures you can take to improve your email security posture. Conducting an email risk assessment can help provide you with these critical insights.

An email risk assessment refers to the process of using the email address as the basis for transactional risk assessment and fraud prevention. The process consists of building a comprehensive picture of the reputation and identity of the buyer by using data associated with an email address. 

This process equips fraud managers with intelligence for accurate evaluation and organizations with critical insights that they can use to expedite approvals, automate workflows, optimize manual review, make informed cybersecurity business decisions, and bolster their email security defenses to defend against cyberattacks and breaches.

How Does Email Encryption Work? 

Email encryption works with the help of PKI, also known as Public Key Infrastructure. It means that public and private keys are used for the encryption. So, parties exchange encrypted emails, and both have personal digital certificates. Public keys are used to encrypt messages, while private ones revert messages to their original form. So, anyone can encrypt a message, but only the party possessing the private keys can decrypt them. 

Of course, email providers use some form of encryption by default. For instance, Gmail employs TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol to protect each interaction. 

Types of Email Encryption

There are two main ways to encrypt emails: PGP or S/MIME. Let’s see how to enable such protection on different providers. 

How to Encrypt Emails in Gmail 

  1. Activate S/MIME through your Gmail account. Remember that the recipient needs to have S/MIME enabled for it to work. 
  2. Write a letter to your chosen receiver. 
  3. Click on the padlock icon. You should find it next to the recipient’s name. 
  4. Select “View details” to see which level of encryption has been set. Choose S/MIME. 

How to Encrypt Emails in Outlook 

  1. Outlook does not have built-in support for S/MIME. Therefore, you will need to get a certificate or a digital ID and install a S/MIME control. 
  2. Protect your email content by digitally signing messages. Do this by going to the gear menu and choosing S/MIME settings. You should find options to encrypt all emails and their attachments. 
  3. It is also possible to encrypt only specific messages. Click the three-dot button of an email you wish to encrypt. Then, pick an option for encrypting it with S/MIME. 

How to Encrypt Emails in iOS

  1. iOS devices come with support for S/MIME. 
  2. Open advanced settings on iOS and enable S/MIME. 
  3. Pick ‘yes’ for encryption by default. 
  4. Messages you send feature a lock icon. Click on it to ensure that the email gets encrypted. 

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Why Should You Encrypt Your Emails? 

Encrypting emails converts the information contained in them from the plain text that can be read easily into scrambled cipher text. The message can be read by only the recipient in possession of the private key matching the public key used for encrypting the message. 

It's quite like a post office offering the different means it does to track messages—posting the letter after certifying it, asking for a receipt on return, or ensuring the contents contained in a package. Encrypting your email is, therefore, the equivalent of securing your letter with the post office. Avoiding email encryption is like writing a letter on a postcard that all can see. 

Why Is It Important to Encrypt All Your Emails? 

To be safe, you should encrypt all your messages, not just those that are confidential or those that carry sensitive information. It's because when a hacker notices that 99% of your emails are not encrypted, and there’s a particular one that is, it gives out a loud signal to the hacker that the encrypted email contains sensitive information waiting to be hacked. 

On the other hand, encrypting all your emails would make it very hard for any hacker to sift through them and locate the one worth hacking. Even if hackers choose to invest some time on your emails, upon finding that even the ones carrying the most mundane of messages are encrypted, they shall likely give up. 

Importance of Encryption for Businesses 

The continuous rise in the use of mobile devices and the fall in face-to-face communication has made it that much easier for hackers to hunt down employee security habit vulnerabilities and weak email security mechanisms. Some basic security measures have been adopted by IT teams, which are no longer effective. 

In 2018, the FBI reported financial losses of $1.2 billion to businesses due to compromises on business emails. The costs are therefore high. Email breaches can hurt brand image, which could push customers to look for industry alternatives. In some cases, even employees might be more inclined to quit after devastating incidents. 

Companies can also be fined for non-compliance with statutory requirements. The EU has charged companies with millions for not meeting compliance requirements recently. Even corporate entities should encrypt their email communication to prevent costly information leaks and compliance issues.  

Protect Emails Further 

An easy way to boost email security is to download VPN apps. A Virtual Private Network transfers all data between you and the internet through an encrypted tunnel so no one can decipher the contents. It also prevents your online tracking by hiding your IP address. A VPN can be useful for adding another layer to your email correspondence. It can also be incredibly beneficial if you use an email provider that does not apply the necessary encryption. 

Conclusion

Encryption of emails boosts the security of your emails significantly. Encryption makes it difficult for third parties to decipher the content of your emails. It's wise to encrypt all your emails to ensure no hacker can locate which ones carry sensitive information. Encryption is an effective tool against hackers waiting to pounce on sensitive communication we should all take advantage of.

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