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How Does TLS Email Encryption Protect Your Organization

Posted by Trevagh Stankard on Thu, Jan 20th, 2022

In 2021, email was the chosen weapon of cybercriminals being used in 91% of cyber-attacks. The reason for this is simple: email is the ideal attack vector because it acts as a gateway into a corporate network. Email often contains sensitive or proprietary information.

This makes email not only an attractive proposition for a malicious interception but a source of accidental data leaks. If this gateway is not protected it becomes an open door that allows mistakes, abuses, and cyber-attacks to become data breaches.

It is, therefore, critical to protect emails from attack, misuse, or misdirection. TLS email encryption is used to provide this protection.

What is TLS and How is it Used to Protect Emails and Data?

TLS or Transport Layer Security is a security protocol developed specifically to protect data that is transmitted over an internet connection, e.g., email content. TLS was developed as part of the activity of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It is a replacement for the earlier Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol that began life in the mid-1990s as the commercial internet took off. It has taken ten years to perfect the TLS protocol, which was released in August 2018 and is now in version 1.3.

TLS security is based on encryption. Any data, such as a password, financial information, email content, etc., sent via TLS will be encrypted. The encryption works end-to-end, in other words, any data that is transmitted using the TLS protocol will be protected during that transmission. If any person or thing tries to intercept that encrypted data, they will not be able to decrypt it unless authorized to do so.

The TLS protocol works using a mix of asymmetric and symmetric encryption to optimize for speed and security. This encryption is based on digital certificates and creates something known as the “TLS handshake”, pairing matched TLS certificates to perform a secure decryption process. A TLS certificate is behind the padlock security symbol and the S in HTTPS that signals to users that a website is secured using TLS.

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Why Should an Organization Use TLS Email Encryption?

Email continues to be a significant source of data leaks. Recent research found that 83% of data breaches could be traced back to an email and 95% of IT leaders believe that email is a significant threat to data protection. A 2020 study found that 93% of organizations had suffered a data breach due to compromised outbound email.

Email security is vulnerable in many ways from misdirected emails that end up in the wrong hands and cause embarrassment to malicious interception of sensitive company information by hackers. Wherever the vulnerability lies, TLS encryption helps to minimize this risk significantly.

How EncryptTitan Uses TLS to Protect Email

TLS is a critical part of a holistic approach to protect corporate email. As a recognized standard it is maintained by the industry and is widely adopted and supported by all major browsers and apps. Without using this standard protocol-based end-to-end encryption, email messages are vulnerable to interception and data exposure. EncryptTitan uses this standard protocol as a basis for its email protection platform.

One of the common vulnerabilities inherent in security systems is human error. Often, security systems fail simply because the human operator, e.g., an employee, forgets to enable the protection. EncryptTitan avoids this by automating the use of email encryption so that messages are always encrypted before sending to the recipient(s).

EncryptTitan offers two types of email protection, via TLS Verify or a Secure Portal. Both use TLS to encrypt the messages end-to-end but use different methods to allow secure access to a TLS encrypted email after receipt.

How do Recipients Access a TLS Encrypted Email?

TLS encrypts email during its transmission between webserver and email client, i.e., the email content is protected using end-to-end encryption. Once an email is received it can be further protected by requiring authentication credentials to access it.

Some advanced TLS email encryption services, such as EncryptTitan, offer secure, seamless, automated access to encrypted email by creating a web of trust, this is called TLS Verify.

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Access Using TLS Verify

TLS Verify automates the process to encrypt email messages, and in doing so, EncryptTitan avoids human error. TLS Verify also, importantly, ensures that your data security standards meet the requirements of state and federal regulations for sending private information over email. TLS Verify uses secure confinement, creating a web of trust, to seamlessly share encrypted email messages.

When a recipient receives an email message encrypted using TLS Verify, they can access that message using this shared secure environment. The decryption process then being seamless and invisible to the user.

This works because TLS Verify connects via the recipient's mail host, associated with the domain's MX record(s), using TLS version 1.2 or 1.3. The mail host's name must match the common name (CN) of the digital certificate used to facilitate TLS - this match ensures secure access.

Access via a Secure Portal

If an organization decides not to facilitate seamless encrypted email access, they can alternatively use a ‘secure portal’ method. In this scenario, the encrypted message is sent to a portal area for secure access.

A recipient receives an email notifying them the secure message is waiting for them in the portal. To access the message the recipient typically enters two-factor authentication to enter the portal. This additional layer of authentication adds further security.

Secure Portal vs. TLS Email Encryption

Secure portal-based and end-to-end email encryption models use TLS to protect emails during transmission. However, secure portal based encrypted messages are more secure than TLS email encryption as they require a further layer of authentication to access the email. However, in doing so, they are not as user-friendly as the seamless TLS Verify method, requiring employees to perform extra clicks and enter authentication credentials to access emails.

Ideally, an organization should use both types of email encryption and choose when to use one over the other. For highly sensitive emails, the secure portal method is the preferred method. However, for day-to-day email exchanges between employees and partner companies, TLS Verify is the best option as it offers a more seamless but secure way of exchanging email-borne information.

EncryptTitan for TLS Encryption

Encrypt Titan offers both seamless encrypted message access using TLS Verify and Secure Portal access. This best of both worlds approach to protection emails means that the balance of security and usability is achievable. To see how email encryption can make your business communications more secure check out our demo of EncryptTitan.

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