What Does Encrypted Email Really Mean?


Email encryption is a term that is frequently tossed around workplaces, especially among the IT department, but many people don't have an in-depth understanding of what it is or why it's important.

If your brand is like most companies, you and your employees rely heavily on emails to coordinate meetings, share key information with colleagues and clients, and perform nearly any other task that relies on communication with others.

Thanks to email, your message can be delivered in as little as a few seconds rather than days or weeks by post --  and way, way faster than carrier pigeon --  but near-instant delivery doesn't necessarily mean that email is a more secure communication method than those of the past. In fact, people with basic hacking knowledge may be able to get into your company's server and scour your employees’ emails without breaking a sweat, unless you have taken the proper precautions by encrypting your company's emails.

What is Encrypted Email?

The best way to think of email encryption is to relate it to postage. Encrypted emails are like letters that are placed securely into an envelope, and maybe even require a signature from the recipient to be delivered. This ensures the letter or package doesn't get into the wrong hands, like a malicious threat actor hoping to sneak a quick peek at your sensitive data that's inside.

Emails that are not encrypted, on the other hand, are like a postcard written in pencil. Anyone can read it, and anyone can change what it contains.

Instead of an envelope for your letter, however, email encryption is more like a puzzle that a human or computer can't easily solve unless they have access to the recipient's own private key. To learn more about what encrypted email is, and how you can keep your emails safe from prying eyes, check out our free email security guide.

Why is Email Encryption Important?

Have you ever seen a news story or received an email about a widespread company data breach that may have left your personal information compromised? If so, you know that it can be a jarring experience, and you have likely spent at least some time frantically changing all of your passwords.

When this occurs, how do you feel about the company whose consumer data was breached? Chances are good your perception of this brand took at least a small hit and made you question how they could let this happen to their customers. Hacks of this nature can make you feel wary about doing business with that company again unless they make major changes to their security system.

Email encryption is important for any company because it can close off one major avenue hackers have when trying to obtain personal information or to surveil a company, and it's also one of the easiest forms of cybersecurity to implement within a company.

Types of Encrypted Email

Email encryption is a broad field with several types of encryption that often constitute a complicated alphabet soup that can be confusing and intimidating to individuals and business owners. Terms like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose internet Mail Extensions), and TLS (Transport Layer Security) may sound familiar, but these numerous types of encryption can be broken down into two distinct categories:

Message Level Security

Message level encryption safeguards the email message itself as it travels along its journey from sender to recipient.  An outgoing email will be encrypted as soon as it is sent and promptly decrypted upon arrival to its destination. Unreadable to any spying eyes.

You can think of this type of encryption as a trusted friend hand-delivering a letter to your recipient, where it is then kept in a safe that nobody else has access to.  Examples are: S/MIME and PGP.

Transport Security

TLS works by securing an email during the transition from sender location to receiver location. This method provides more protection for emails than no encryption, but it does not secure emails as they are sent, or after they are received. 

This type of encryption is more like a friend hand-delivering a letter, but the letter then sits on a desk and can easily be read by anyone who passes by (and is the  friend, really who they say they are?)

How Does Email Encryption Work?

Email encryption scrambles up the components of your email to be indecipherable to anyone who tries to access it, which makes your emails completely useless to anyone who breaks through and hacks into your emails. The only reason you, the sender or recipient, can read the email in a language you understand is because your public key infrastructure (PKI) can decrypt, or reassemble, emails and make them comprehensible once again.

Private keys can be used to prove that a person was actually the one who sent the email with a digital "signature". Most people have received a sketchy email at least once claiming to be from someone that "needs sensitive information to complete an important transaction or unfreeze an account".

These types of emails may look legitimate, and they can even scare people into responding quickly due to fears of lost money or access to something important. Fortunately, the presence of a digital "signature" from a private key can act as a safeguard to help ensure that you are communicating only with the person you are trying to communicate with.

Benefits of a Third Party Encryption Service

Many of the big names in the world of email, such as Microsoft, Google and others, automatically provide some level of encryption with the emails that are sent and received on their platforms. This kind of protection, however, may not apply when messages are sent externally - and best effort attempts at encryption, such as TLS, may fail to protect messages.

Instead, it's better for your business to enlist the help of a third party encryption service that can handle the setup, monitor security threats, and allow you to conduct business as usual while automating your company’s email encryption for every user on the company’s domain.

Boost Your Company’s Security With Encrypted Email

Don't leave your company's email security up to chance; rely on a trusted and secure encryption service that makes the transition to advanced email encryption as simple and straightforward as possible.

To learn more about who we are and how we can keep your business safe, please contact us today!