Email Encryption for Small Business

In this article, we explain how email encryption for small business can be implemented without the complexity or cost usually associated with encryption and present an email encryption solution that is easy to implement and use and doesn’t have a negative impact on employee productivity.

Email Data Exposure is a Major Risk

Email is relied upon by virtually all businesses for communication. It’s fast, convenient, and cheap, but email is not a secure method of communication. Email accounts are protected with a password to prevent unauthorized access, but when an email is sent there are no safeguards that prevent unauthorized access in transit. By default, emails are sent in plaintext. Copies of emails remain on mail servers and can be viewed by anyone with access to the servers, network providers can spy on email communications, governments monitor emails, and cybercriminals access business emails to obtain corporate secrets and other sensitive information. The UK’s ICO reports that email-based data leaks are the leading contributor to security incidents.

Protecting email data in transit has never been more important. Governments are introducing privacy and data protection laws, numerous regulations require the integrity of emails to be maintained, and cyberattacks and data breaches are increasing every year. Small businesses implement email security solutions to block spam, phishing, and malware, yet often fail to protect emails in transit by encrypting their emails.

The process of encrypting emails converts plaintext messages to indecipherable ciphertext using a cryptographic algorithm. Once encrypted, emails are protected and can only be viewed if the correct key is applied to decrypt the text, and the key is only provided to the intended recipients of the email by the sender. When businesses encrypt emails they protect them against interception, hijacking, and accidental data exposure and ensure the confidentiality and integrity of emails are maintained. Without encryption, emails can be intercepted and tampered with in transit.

Email Encryption Protocols

There are several different ways to encrypt emails and multiple algorithms that can be used, but to keep things simple we will explain two different types of encryption: Transport Layer Security (TLS) and end-to-end encryption. Some email providers such as Microsoft and Google provide a degree of protection for emails by using TLS encryption, which protects emails in transit to prevent interception aka man-in-the-middle attacks. While this method of encryption is adequate for many people, for businesses TLS alone does not offer a high enough degree of protection as it does not prevent emails from being read at rest. If an email account is compromised, or someone has access to the email server, the messages can be read.

End-to-end encryption provides more protection than TLS encryption as a user must authenticate to view the message. The emails are encrypted by the sender using the recipient’s public key, and the recipient then uses a private key to decrypt the message. Large enterprises often implement their own encryption solutions, but setting this up is costly and complicated, and beyond the capabilities of most small businesses. Email encryption for small business is best achieved by using an off-the-shelf email encryption solution.

Easy Email Encryption for Small Business

Email encryption solutions for small businesses make encrypting emails simple. These solutions are usually provided as a cloud-based service with a software-as-a-service provider (SaaS), which means no hardware needs to be purchased. Depending on how you want to encrypt your emails software may not even need to be installed – if you want to encrypt all emails for example. Most solutions are supplied with an email client add-on that allows users to encrypt emails with the click of a mouse., and once set up, they will be prompted if they want to encrypt the message when they send it. Some solutions – EncryptTitan for example – support keyword-based encryption, where the solution will search the email and any attachments for the presence of certain keywords and will automatically encrypt messages if the administrator-defined keywords are found, which eliminates the potential for human error.

Many cybersecurity vendors offer email encryption for small business use, and often include useful features that give users a high degree of control over their email communications, allowing them to see if an email has been read, revoke emails, and prevent information in the email from being copied, or the email from being forwarded or printed.

One problem with encrypting messages is the recipient’s mail server must support encryption, otherwise, the encryption will fail. Some cloud-based email encryption providers have a failsafe. For example, if the recipient’s mail server does not support the latest version of TLS, the email will automatically be sent to a secure portal and the recipient will then be notified by email that they have an encrypted message and will be provided with a link to login and view that message in the secure portal.

Email encryption for small business is straightforward with these solutions. The encryption process is largely invisible, with all key actions occurring behind the scenes. They make encryption easy to implement and use but ensure that all email data is properly protected in transit. However, if you work in a highly regulated industry, you should ensure that the encryption algorithm and the method of encryption meet your organization’s encryption requirements and regulator standards.