6 Things You Need Know About Email Encryption.
Assuming this isn’t your first time on the Internet, I’m sure you’ve heard of email and you use it daily to communicate with online services and other people. But you will be surprised to know that emails are not as secure as you thought.
For example, let’s take the old school script “sending information by mail.” To send a simple greeting card to a friend, all you have to do is write a warm message, add their address, post a postage stamp and send it. However, if you are writing about your personal life or submitting sensitive information such as accounting data, tax returns or checks, you enclose this letter in an envelope, make sure all openings are sealed, and then send it with someone you trust. … … Simply put, the more sensitive your data is, the more precautions you take.
It’s the same with your emails. However, there are a few misconceptions and unknowns about email encryption. So, here are a few things you should know about email encryption.
Related: Find out if the email you sent was open or not
Is Email Really Safe?
Yes and no. Most emails are encrypted by default.
By default, almost all major email services like Gmail, Outlook, GMX, Yahoo, etc., use SSL / TLS to encrypt email messages. In fact, when you try to access the webmail client of any email provider, you will see the letters “HTTPS” and a secure padlock icon in the address bar. If you see this, your email is encrypted and no one on your network can eavesdrop on your messages. Even when you use desktop email clients, all major email service providers use SSL / TLS for encrypted communication, so you have nothing to worry about.
As good as it is, this type of encryption is not as secure. Let’s take a look at email.
- You enter a message on your device.
- After you click Submit, a message is sent from your device to an email server.
- It then moves between multiple email messages. server until it reaches the recipient server.
- Finally, the message is sent from the recipient’s mail server to their devices.
Related: How to Send Encrypted Emails in Gmail and Outlook
Now, if you take a closer look, there are a few loopholes here. For instance;
1. Let’s say if someone has access to the sender’s or recipient’s phone, they can open the Gmail app and see everything.
2. Again, there is no guarantee of encryption if you are sending email to another email provider such as Gmail for Outlook.
3. At the request of the government (for terrorist activities or national security), each email service provider will be required to execute and decrypt your emails.
4. And we also have an email provider that scans your emails for potential ads or spam.
So, you see, your emails are not as secure as you thought. In part because, like the World Wide Web, emails weren’t designed specifically for what we use today. Email was invented back in the 1960s as an easy way to communicate; No one knew that 50 years later, this would be the biggest way to communicate online.
Your emails are mostly safe. Government and corporations are not interested in spying on your email. However, if you are submitting sensitive data (we do not judge), the good news is that you can also use email encryption on your end. And that’s not bad.
Related: How to Add Business Email on Android
2. What is email encryption
Simply put, email encryption is a means to hide the contents of an email from prying eyes and to authenticate the real recipient. Other than the intended recipient, no one, including the actual email provider, government, or even interceptors, can access the content of your email.
Typically, when a user who is not the actual intended recipient tries to access the content of an encrypted email message, all he sees is random text (cipher) that makes no sense. However, the real recipient can easily decrypt this random text using the private key to access the contents of the email.
This is how an encrypted email will look like in Gmail. (see screenshot below)
3. How does email encryption work
There are several methods for sending encrypted emails, such as signing emails with your personal email certificates, PKI (Public Key Infrastructure), etc.
However, the easiest and most secure way to encrypt email is to use the OpenPGP standard. The PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) standard is an end-to-end encryption system that combines symmetric key cryptography, data compression, public key cryptography, and hashing to encrypt email.
When using the OpenPGP standard, you will receive a key pair. that is, two associated keys, one public and one private. You can distribute the public key however you want, while keeping the private key securely and never transferring it. When a user wants to send you a secure email, he / she must encrypt that email with your public key. In encrypted form, only you can decrypt the email with your own private key. If you lose the private key, even you won’t be able to access the contents of the email.
Related: Disguise your email address when using it on shady sites
4. Encrypted email problems
When you encrypt email, you should also be prepared for some problems and inconveniences. Here are a few things to know before starting your email encryption.
- Understanding and configuring the encryption process across different devices and environments can be a little tedious. This is especially true if you are a beginner.
- Both the recipient and the sender must use the same email encryption method.
- Before you can send an encrypted email, you must have the public key of that particular recipient. Without the target recipient’s public key, you won’t be able to encrypt email for that user.
- If you lose your private key, you will not be able to decrypt emails encrypted with your public key. The same applies to the other side.
- Compared to conventional e-mail messaging, ease of use will be hampered by encryption and decryption of data. However, this is a small price to pay for your security and privacy.
- As a rule, you can only encrypt the body of an email. It simply means that a third party with access to your email account can still see the recipient’s email address and subject line.
5. When to use encrypted email services
If you don’t want to go through all the hassle of setting up and maintaining an encryption system for sending email, you can use encrypted email services like ProtonMail.
The great thing about these services is that they remove the whole tedious process and allow you to encrypt all messages with your own password at the server level. This ensures that no one, including your email provider and government agencies, can access your email without your knowledge.
However, the downside is that you can only send encrypted emails inside the service. That is, both users must have an account with the same email provider. If you send emails to other providers, they will not be encrypted. Moreover, the downside to using encrypted email services is that you rely on a third party for security and privacy.
So, if you want ease of use and don’t mind relying on a third party to keep you safe and secure, try encrypted email services.
6. Encrypting emails against encrypted email servers
Encrypting Emails: As we discussed earlier, when emails are encrypted with your public key, no one other than the intended recipient with the private key can decrypt and read the contents of the email. This is true even if your email account has been hacked by hackers or a government agency. That being said, in situations where your email account has been hacked, a third party may see the subject lines and email address of the user you are communicating with.
Note: The subject line is not encrypted when encrypting email.
However, when you use encrypted email services such as ProtonMail, all content, including the email address and subject line, will be server-level encrypted with your own password. Without a password, no one can decrypt your information.
Mail Server Encryption: When we talk about encrypting mail servers, we mean SSL / TLS encryption provided by almost all major email providers like Gmail and Outlook. This encryption method ensures that your emails are safe and that no one can intercept or access them while they are in transit. However, if a third party has access to your email account, they can access all of your emails without any problem. This is because emails are not encrypted at rest.
That being said, even if your email provider provides SSL / TLS encryption, if the receiving party does not support it, the email will be transmitted without any encryption. Moreover, it may even be susceptible to attacker-in-the-middle attacks.
So, if you want to protect your email for privacy and security reasons, you are better off using email encryption to encrypt emails and then send them through email encryption servers. This approach ensures that your email is safe and secure as it travels across the Internet and is in its original position in your inbox.
However, like everything in the security world, email encryption is also not 100% secure. The agency can track you, various actions you took before and after sending emails, metadata such as login IP, user agent, browser ID, etc.
Hope this helps, and leave a comment below sharing your thoughts and experiences on what you should know about email encryption.