Email Encryption

Email encryption involves encrypting, or disguising, the content of email messages in order to protect potentially sensitive information from being read by anyone other than intended recipients. Email encryption often includes authentication.

It’s not just those who may email sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, login credentials, or bank account numbers, who need to encrypt their email. Hackers who gain unauthorized access to an email account can access attachments, content, and even hijack your entire email account.

Email is a vulnerable medium, particularly when emails are sent over unsecured, or public, Wi-Fi networks. Even emails sent within a secure company network can be intercepted by other users, including your login credentials. Encryption renders the content of your emails unreadable as they travel from origin to destination, so even if someone intercepts your messages, they can’t interpret the content. 

When sending an email with sensitive information, you can use encryption. Email encryption refers to plain text being converted into scrambled cipher text. The email can then only be read by the recipient that has the private key that will be used to decode the email. 

Email Encryption Architecture

Email encryption solutions do not typically follow a standard architecture but rely on gateway software that enables the enforcement of policy-based encryption. This enables organizations to implement policies that define which emails need to be encrypted and in what circumstances messages should be encrypted. For example, organizations will typically specify that any email message containing personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, or other sensitive information sent by any user be encrypted.

Some email encryption software will be in the form of a client installed on users’ computers, laptops, or mobile devices. This service can use policy-based encryption to protect specific email messages or enable users to choose which emails to encrypt, or a combination of both. Other email encryption solutions may focus on protecting the device rather than the email gateway, which targets potential security threats on local networks.

But there is increasingly no requirement for users to install email encryption services on their devices. Instead, they can now access web-based interfaces that decrypt and read encrypted messages. These email encryption solutions will either be hosted privately by the organization or, increasingly frequently, a cloud-based service through an email encryption software vendor.  

Types of Email Encryption

Email encryption software typically uses three types of encryption formats. These include the following email encryption types: 

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)

  • SSL is an application layer protocol developed by Netscape for managing the security of a message transmission on the Internet.
  • It uses RSA asymmetric (public key) encryption to encrypt data transferred over SSL connections.

Transport Layer Security (TLS)

  • TLS is a protocol to establish a secure connection between a client and a server and ensure privacy and integrity of information during transmission.
  • It uses the RSA algorithm with 1024 and 2048 bit strengths.
  • TLS Handshake Protocol: It allows the client and server to authenticate each other, select encryption algorithm, and exchange symmetric key prior to data exchange.
  • TLS Record Protocol: It provides secured connections with an encryption method such as Data Encryption Standard (DES). 

It uses symmetric key for bulk encryptionasymmetric key for authentication and key exchange, and message authentication codes for message integrity.

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) 

  • PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is a protocol used to encrypt and decrypt data that provides authentication and cryptographic privacy.
  • PGP is often used for data compression, digital signing, encryption and decryption of messages, emails, files, directories, and to enhance privacy of email communications.
  • PGP combines the best features of both conventional and public key cryptography and is therefore known as hybrid cryptosystem.

PGP uses RSA(asymmetrical) for computing digital signatures and MD5 for computing message digests. 

Who Should Use Email Encryption?

Email encryption solutions are ideal for organizations that host their own email services. Any enterprise that transmits sensitive information can be at significant risk of a cyberattack or data breach if they send unsecured email messages. So paying for an email encryption service to secure email is a far more cost-effective approach than the potential financial and reputational damage resulting from a breach.

Organizations that hold highly sensitive data or are subject to stringent regulatory compliance standards must deploy the best email encryption to protect their incoming and outgoing communications. 

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