What is Email Encryption and Why is it Needed?

Email encryption is a method of securing emails and preventing unauthorized access and it is an important security measure for businesses to implement. Email is extensively used by businesses for sharing information and communicating quickly. It is certainly convenient, but email was not developed with security in mind.

If emails are not protected with encryption, they are intercepted in transit and the content of the messages can be read. Emails can also be read by unauthorized individuals at rest in an email account if someone has access to the computer. It is also possible for an unauthorized individual to access emails on a company’s mail server or the recipient’s mail server. Email encryption is used to plug these security gaps and keep emails private and confidential, and will ensure that only the intended recipient of an email is able to view it.

Benefits of Email Encryption

Encrypting emails will not prevent all email data breaches, but it will reduce the risk of accidental disclosures of sensitive information, the interception of emails in transit, and can protect data at rest. Encrypting emails is important for compliance with data protection laws, will help to prevent email data breaches, and will reduce legal risk and prevent the costs and reputation loss associated with data breaches.

Protection Against Interception in Transit

As previously mentioned, if emails are sent without encryption, they can be intercepted in transit. Message level encryption is used to encrypt emails to make them unintelligible if they are intercepted in transit, but message-level encryption does not prevent messages from being intercepted. If Transport Layer Security (TLS) is used with message level encryption, the message is encrypted along with any attachments and the channel used to send the message is also encrypted. Many email service providers use TLS to protect emails in transit, including Microsoft and Google, but this will not protect emails once they have been delivered.

Protection From Unauthorized Access at Rest

Message level encryption with TLS is convenient as the recipient of a message will not need to take any actions to decrypt their emails; however, anyone with access to the user’s device will be able to view emails after they have been delivered. With end-to-end encryption, messages are protected in transit and at rest. In order for the message to be decrypted, the user must authenticate with the encryption solution which means that even if the account is compromised, the message cannot be read without first authenticating. End-to-end encryption is much better for security, but there is an additional step to take to view encrypted emails.

Protection Against Misdirected Emails

One of the most common ways for email data breaches to occur is for an employee to attach a file and accidentally send it to an incorrect recipient. When an email containing sensitive data is misdirected, recalling that message can be hit and miss. The recipient may open the message before the sender discovers the error, and the message recall will not succeed if the recipient uses a different email client, if the message has been moved out of the inbox, or if the email has been sent externally. Email encryption solutions help with the management of email, so if an email is misdirected, access to that email can be revoked. Naturally, if the email has already been read it can’t be unread, but at least further access can be prevented.

Disadvantages of Encrypting Emails

As with any software or security solution, email encryption has some disadvantages. First there is the cost. Enterprise encryption solutions for email solutions are not free of charge and can be expensive, time and resources need to be devoted to implementing, maintaining, and managing the solution, and management can be time consuming. Email encryption will not slow down email delivery, but having to perform extra authentication steps is a little cumbersome. When you encrypt emails, both the sender and receiver need to have the necessary tools to be able to decrypt messages, and there can be issues with compatibility with different email environments.

Enterprise Email Encryption

There are several methods that can be used for encrypting emails. The easiest option is to purchase an enterprise email encryption solution, as this will greatly simplify email protection. If you choose a solution that is based on TLS it makes it easy to encrypt emails and protect them in transit against interception. The process of encryption is automated, which means employees don’t have to learn how to encrypt emails and there will be no need to authenticate to read messages. These solutions typically work on all mail services.

Cloud-based email encryption services are the easiest to implement and most offer end-to-end encryption. Emails can be automatically encrypted in transit, and employees can decide whether or not to use end-to-end encryption when messages are sent via a mail client add-on. These solutions often come with several other security features such as instant message recall, and it is possible to place restrictions on emails to prevent recipients from forwarding or printing emails or copying and pasting the content. They also feature reporting dashboards for monitoring what happens to encrypted emails.

One of the most common ways to get around compatibility issues is to use a secure web-based portal for encrypting emails. The sender creates and send the message via their mail client as they would do with any email, but the recipient needs to login to a secure portal and authenticate to view the message. This is easy to set up, is technology agnostic, a full audit trail is maintained, and it is easy to use, although it will take additional time to access and decrypt messages than with message-level encryption with TLS. A combination of TLS for most emails and a secure portal for highly sensitive emails is therefore recommended.