How to Use Email Encryption to Protect Sensitive Communications

A plain text email is about as secure as a postcard. Any hacker or unintended recipient that intercepts a non-encrypted email can easily read it with no special skills or software needed.

What’s even more eye-opening are the types of messages that employees send by unprotected email. They’ll send confidential customer information, passwords, and even credit card details.

Not using any type of encryption on email messages that contain sensitive details can leave your business at high risk for a data security breach. While you may think that nothing bad has happened so far without encrypting your emails, the cybersecurity landscape is changing and becoming more dangerous.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of new attack methods that attackers developed increased by 75%.

So, things that seemed to not be a problem in the past, can quickly become an attractive entry point for attackers looking for new ways to gain valuable business data.

Some of the risks that companies face when emails aren’t properly protected include:

  • A data breach that results in a data privacy compliance penalty
  • Loss of business following a breach
  • Extortion by the attacker who threatens to release sensitive emails if you don’t pay them
  • The takeover of a company cloud account
  • Financial theft
  • Identity theft

Using email encryption is a perfect example of best practices for layered security services. It provides another important level of protection for particularly sensitive information. It’s also not expensive or difficult for employees to use.

What Happens During Email Encryption?

When you encrypt an email, instead of the message remaining in plain text format, a security key is used to code the message. This makes it impossible for anyone without the decoding key to read it or its attachments.

The corresponding key to decode the message is available only to the message’s intended recipient. This ensures that no one other than who you have authorized can read the message.

Many common email programs offer email encryption that can be done on a per-message basis.

Email Encryption in Outlook

Microsoft offers two types of encryption, depending upon the type of account you have. These are:

  • S/MIME encryption: Both sender and receiver must have an email platform that supports this.
  • Microsoft 365 Message Encryption: This is available in the Office 365 Enterprise E3 account.

For all Microsoft 365 subscribers, to use S/MIME email encryption, you first need to configure the S/MIME certificate. You can find details on how to do that here.

To encrypt a message once that is configured, you do the following:

  • With your email message open, choose Options.
  • Select Encrypt.
  • You have a choice of encryption methods to choose from (Including Do Not Forward)

If you prefer to encrypt all messages automatically, you can set this up by going to File, then choose Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings.

Email Encryption in Gmail

If you use Gmail, you also have the option to encrypt your email messages. In Gmail, this is called “confidential mode.”

To secure a message with encryption you would:

  • Click Compose.
  • In the lower right corner, click “Turn on confidential mode.”
  • Set an expiration date and passcode.
  • You can choose between using “No SMS passcode or “SMS Passcode.”
  • Click Save.

Automating Encryption

If you use a tool like sensitivity labels in Microsoft 365, then you can gain more control over the encryption process to ensure any sensitive emails are being properly protected throughout your company.

Automating encryption allows you to set certain keywords up for the system to recognize. If it spots one of these keywords in an email message, then it will automatically apply encryption per the rules that have been applied.

For example, you could set up a keyword for “password:” that would detect a common text combination used when someone emails a password, and have the system apply encryption to any emails with that term.

Advantages of Using Email Encryption

Email encryption isn’t just for large enterprises or organizations that handle government secrets. It’s a standard security safeguard that any business can employ.

Here are some of the advantages of setting up message encryption for your company:

  • Reduces the risk of a data security breach.
  • Is a safeguard against employees emailing sensitive information.
  • Protects both the email message and the email attachment.
  • Is a cost-effective protection.
  • Is easy for users to begin using.
  • Can be used within other security policies to automate data protection.
  • Reduces the chance of a compliance violation.

Improve Your Email Security With Help From Twin State Technical Services!

Our Cyber Security Architects can help your Quad Cities area business with smart email encryption and security solutions like Proofpoint Managed Spam Filter to significantly reduce the risk of a data breach or accidental data leakage.

Contact us today for a consultation. Call 563-441-1504 or contact us online.


References linked to:


Please follow and like us:
Visit Us
Follow Me
Tags: , , , ,

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with all our news and posts!