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How Does Email Encryption Work and Why Use It?

Posted by Trevagh Stankard on Tue, Dec 14th, 2021

Email is one of the most important and widely used business communication tools. Radicati research shows that there were around 320 million emails sent and received each day in 2021; this figure is expected to reach 347 million per day by 2023. Business emails often contain important and sensitive information that in the wrong hands can cause financial losses, embarrassment, and loss of customer trust in your company. An important mechanism that can prevent email content exposure is email encryption, but how does this form of encryption work and why should a company use it?


Why Encrypt Emails?

Research by the UK’s ICO shows that email-related data exposure is the biggest contributor to security incidents. A business runs on its ability to communicate effectively. But effective communication also means that information must be securely transmitted and maintain confidentiality and integrity. Mitigating this risk requires specialist encryption technology that protects emails during transit and continues to protect information once an email is received. The reasons for maintaining email security are many and include confidentiality and compliance with data protection laws.  

Email compromise can happen because of malicious intent or accidentally:

Email Interception and Hijacking: Cybercriminals use various techniques to hijack or intercept emails for nefarious reasons. Attack techniques include DNS hijacking, whereby emails are intercepted by hijacking the DNS MX record used to direct email to a web server. Stolen login credentials, obtained from previous data breaches or via phishing emails can also lead to compromised email accounts.

Accidental Email Exposure: Research has shown that 58% of employees have sent an email to the wrong person. Email misdirection causes an email to be sent to the wrong person(s). If that email contains sensitive or personal data, a company could be in non-compliance with data protection laws, and/or proprietary information could be revealed.

A robust email encryption solution can mitigate email hijacking and interception as well as helping to prevent email exposure through misdirection incidents.

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How Does Email Encryption Work?

Email encryption ensures confidentiality and integrity of email body content and attachments. When an email is encrypted, the entire contents of the email are made unintelligible unless the person who opens the email has the key to decrypt it. It is also protected against interception during delivery. An encrypted email can be sent, knowing that the content cannot be read by unauthorized persons or tampered with.

Email encryption solutions, such as EncryptTitan, typically offer two layers of email encryption:

TLS for Protection During Transfer: the encryption protocol called Transport Layer Security (TLS) is used to secure the sharing of emails as they are passed between sender and recipient. TLS is used to prevent Man-in-the-Middle and other interception attacks. Also, if the solution uses the TLS method known as TLS-Verify, the recipient does not have to take any additional steps to read the encrypted message, so improving the usability of email encryption.

End-to-end Encryption: this is used as an additional layer of encryption above and beyond TLS. When end-to-end encryption of emails is applied, the user is required to authenticate to decrypt the message to ensure only the correct recipient can read the message.

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What Features to Look for When Choosing an Email Encryption Solution

There are lots of email encryption solutions on the market. To make sure you choose the right one for your needs the solution should tick the following checkboxes:

Robust Encryption Implemented by the Solution: email encryption should be multi-layered, protecting against emails interception during transfer, as well only allowing decryption of an email by an authenticated recipient.

Encrypt Attachments too: email attachments, as well as the email body content, should be encrypted.

Ease of use for Employees: the ability to encrypt emails seamlessly is vital to ensure that employee productivity is not impacted. Some email encryption solutions, such as EncryptTitan, also offer Outlook plugins to provide user-controlled email encryption.

Ease of Administration and Deployment: cloud-based email encryption solutions mean that your organization does not need to set up and deploy on-site hardware. Cloud-based solutions are centrally managed and provide for massive scalability.

Cost-effective as well as Secure: solutions such as EncryptTitan are also available ‘as-a-Service’ from an MSP (Managed Service Provider) making them highly cost-effective.

Protects Emails Going to the Wrong Person: Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is a feature of some email encryption platforms, such as EncryptTitan. DLP allows administrators and/or employees to set up keywords that trigger automated encryption of sensitive emails. This prevents sensitive company information from accidentally leaking outside a company and potentially falling into the wrong hands.

Email Environment Agnostic: by their nature, email clients come in many forms and work across many environments. Any email encryption solution must be agnostic to email environments to be workable in the real world.

Email is a fluid body that carries, often sensitive data, outside of the enterprise. Email is also an attractive target for cybercriminals, as well as being a potential point of accidental data leaks. Email encryption, done well, however, provides a vital security layer that extends protection outside of the company boundaries to protect email-borne data. As employees encompass remote working, email encryption is a must have to build a protective but expansive wall around emails and the content they deliver.

Sign up for a FREE Demo of EncryptTitan to learn how email encryption works.

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