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What is Email Encryption? Definition, Types & Methods

Email is perhaps the most renowned means of communication in the present day. Averagely, one person sends nearly 40 business emails in a day. When mission-critical information is shared with an email, its security can’t be taken lightly. 

The use of an appropriate method of encryption is the optimal email cybersecurity strategy for all businesses and individuals as per the top experts. It’s here to make your email protected and sound. 

Not sure how does it work, and what choices do you have? Know everything about encrypting an e-mail.

What is Email Encryption? Definition, Types & Methods

Email Encryption: The Definition

Plain e-mails are easy to decode and access.

The solution? Email encryption. 

It indicates processing an e-mail message via an algorithm to safeguard your data. The algorithm, when applied competently, makes the data scrambled during transit. So, you may consider it as an approach of applying an algorithm that will make data in transit or at rest guarded against any unwanted access. 

Only those with a decryption key will be able to comprehend what information that respective data is carrying. This way, data becomes safe to share via internet or in the public domain.

The Importance

Emails are the first means of communication in today’s digital era. They might feature highly sensitive information. As mentioned above, emails are not encrypted inherently, and sharing crucial details in such a manner has a high risk of:

  • Cybercriminal invasion
  • Data theft
  • Blackmailing

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If a piece of vital information goes into someone's unauthorized hands, there is no end to the misery. People have even faced money stealing from bank accounts because of the unencrypted email exchange.

By encrypting an email, an admin will reduce the chances of the above-mentioned incidences. Such encoding makes data tough to understand and tougher to modify/distort. It helps an organization safeguard the information’s integrity and meet with certain compliances.

How Does It Work?

Understanding the modus operandi of a technique promotes its effective usage. Hence, admins and security engineers must be aware of it. Let us help you out. 

The main functional aspect is the algorithm, which is of two kinds.

  1. Symmetric

It involves using only one discreet key all along the process. There is no need to have distinct keys to decrypt & encrypt. One can just create and share a discreet key with the aimed receiver o safeguard the end-to-end communication.

  1. Asymmetric

Its algorithm is popularly called public key cryptography algorithm too. Two distinct keys are used in this process. A public one for data to be sent (for encrypting), while a different private one by receiver (for decrypting). The method is considered more secure.

How Does Email Encryption Work
How Does Email Encryption Work?

3 Types of e-mail Encryption

The above classification (in the previous section) explained how the use of keys determines the type of encryption. next, you will see how the use of protocols/layers or the process/algorithm makes a difference.

Came after SSL, TLS is an application layer protocol and features TLS handshake and records. TLS encryption is a cryptography-based protocol and IETF standard. It ensures message delivery is secured and controlled. 

Along with emails, it’s also used in VoIP and instant messages. But, if a hacker manages to access the receipt account, it’s not enough to stop him/her from accessing the email data.

Considered the best, PGP or Pretty Good Privacy is a decentralized method that banks upon informal methods for the creation and allocating the public keys. The approach permits end-users to create distinct public/private key pairs and share out the distinct public key. Because it uses a unique merging of symmetric & asymmetric keys, data compression, and cryptography keys. 

  • Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME)

Commonest among all, it is offered as in-build option for webmail services and mobile devices. The method deploys PKI or Public Key Infrastructure for creating, validating, and distributing public keys.  

It’s basically an IETF standard useful for secured delivery of digital signatures, along with public-key encryption. RSA Data Security holds the credit to generate it.

With time, it became famous for its effectiveness, and, at present, it’s behind almost every cutting-edge app or tool. Functionality-wise, it’s very much similar to PGP. But, it involves public key procurement only from CA or Certificate Authority. 

Various Methods to Perform Encrypt your e-mails

There are many ways to bring e-mail data encoding into action. Know more about the top available techniques in this section.

  • Encrypted PDF

If the email text doesn’t feature any sensitive information and has an attached document, carrying critical information, you must encrypt the PDF, instead of the email text. All file formats, including PDF, Word Doc, Office file, or zip file, are compatible with this algorithm.

When you encrypt an email attachment, e.g., a document, you ensure safe and secured access to them. The end-user either has to enter a secret key or a password to open or download the attached document.

Once downloaded, you may easily save these documents on the end user's device.

This method for encrypting e-mails is easy to implement yet offers considerable protection. However, this isn’t a flawless method as there is no way to trace email delivery and it’s not possible to control the future email forwards.

  • TLS Encrypted Email

The protocol ensures that emails are not readable before they are delivered to the recipient and after they are sent. E-mail service providers, such as Microsoft and Google, use TLS-encryption to safeguard the email during transit. 

It’s preferred by non-technical users and they don’t have to do anything extra. Its adoption is wide because of its seamless deployment. But, it has some potential drawbacks as email servers can easily intercept email messages.

Also, there is no way to find out whether encryption is properly enforced. If one tries to apply encryption manually, it’s not possible. 

  • Web Portal Encryption

Usage-wise, this method is the most widely used option. In this method, emails are forwarded or delivered to the receiver over a pre-secured web page/browser/email client. 

For instance, the sender will use an email client like Outlook or Mailbird to forward the emails. The email client will m automatically apply encryption to every email. Hence, no added efforts have to be made by the end-user.

People loved this approach because of its straightforwardness. Also, this method encrypts the message at every stage and audits are possible. The only thing that sounds bothersome of a few is the mandatory login. The recipient won’t be able to view the email and included messages without login.

Advantages Of Email Encryption

When implemented correctly, email encrypting holds the potential to improve an organization’s security and privacy. It brings benefits such as:

  • No unauthorized access or usage of email data. Encrypted emails are not easy to decode which improves data security and privacy. 
  • It promotes authentication all across the email journey. Only those having acceptable private keys will be able to access the email. This is a great initiative to reduce email-spoofing incidences. 
  • In the wake of data compliance and regulation, many countries have made it mandatory to take appropriate data privacy measures. By encrypting your emails, it’s easy to achieve regulatory compliance.

Using Email Encryption in Business

The effective implementation of e-mail encryption in business demands effective email risk assessment. One must find out the dangers imposed on the emails beforehand. Only TLS email encryption is not enough for enterprises. Every incoming and outgoing email should be protected. Cryptographic keys are highly secured and help businesses to enjoy high-end email data protection.



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June 4, 2024
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