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A Beginner’s Guide to Email Encryption

A Beginner’s Guide to Email Encryption

Posted by TEAM ASCEND on 2/26/15 12:00 AM

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Online security has been on the top of many people’s minds lately, with the Sony email leak and other security breaches leaving us wondering what we can do to protect our personal information that we share online. We’ve already shared four things you can to do protect yourself from identity theft, but we wanted to discuss a subject that can seem intimidating: email encryption.

Email encryption is a process that protects emails from being read by unauthorized eyes by encoding the contents of the email. If someone tries to read encrypted emails you’ve sent or received, they’ll only see an email message with garbled text.

Why You Should Encrypt Your Emails

If you ever send sensitive information (such as confidential documents, social security number, credit card information, address or other personal information) via email, you risk that information getting into the wrong hands. An encrypted email would render your information unreadable, and therefore unusable, to a person who illegally accesses your data.

Please note that when we discuss email encryption, we are only referring to encrypting the contents of individual emails: other types of encryption (including the connection to your email provider and your archived messages) are also recommended to keep your entire email experience limited to your eyes only.

If you’re thinking “I never share that type of information in my emails – guess that means I don’t need to encrypt,” consider this: if you share a home or work network with anyone, or ever use a public Wi-Fi network, it’s not terribly difficult for someone to capture your information – from your email username and password to the emails you exchange. While there are steps you can take to be safer on these networks (Forbes has a great write up of some ways to be safe on public networks), encrypting your emails will give you additional peace of mind that the guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop isn’t reading the email you sent to your mom this morning. While you may not have shared any information that you consider particularly sensitive or valuable, it’s not exactly comforting knowing that someone else can read your emails without your permission.

Email Encryption Options

There are a number of email encryption options for both business and personal email.

For business users, we recommend McAfee’s Email Encryption solution as the best way to send and receive encrypted emails. While not standard with McAfee’s SaaS Email Protection and Continuity offering, this add-on makes sending encrypted emails a breeze: all you need to do is write [encrypt] in the subject line of an email you are sending. The recipient of the encrypted email will need to be verified by McAfee in order to view and respond to the message. The authentication process for recipients takes just a minute, making the entire process simple and quick for both sender and recipient.

Office 365 users have the option of purchasing Message Encryption, which also allows for encrypted emails to be sent to everyone.

Personal users have the ability to encrypt their emails, as well. Virtu offers email encryption through your webmail client in Chrome or Firefox, Mac Mail, Outlook, and iOS and Android devices. When you send a secure email using Virtu, your recipient will receive a link to view and reply to the encrypted message. Unlike McAfee’s Email Encryption solution, you don’t need to authenticate your identity as the recipient to view the message.

While some security professionals may recommend PGP (which stands for Pretty Good Privacy) as an effective method for encryption – this requires both sender and receiver to both have set up and shared special keys to allow them to send and receive encrypted emails. Although PGP can be quite effective, we don’t recommend this practice because of the difficult set-up process – and because we don’t anticipate its low adoption rate changing any time soon.

Do you plan on encrypting your email? What method do you prefer?

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Posted in Encryption, Cybersecurity