Email communication is an essential tool driving business operations and interactions in the modern world. It enables a rapid and efficient means for communicating ideas, plans, files, and sensitive information like financial records, customer data, and intellectual property. Email, as a result, greatly enhances business productivity, collaboration, and speed, all critical factors for business growth and long-term viability

What is Secure Email and How Does it Differ From Normal Email

Given this vital role email plays in business communications, particularly when it involves sensitive and important information or file attachments, it provides an attractive target for cybercriminals. Bad actors, criminal organizations, and rogue nation states constantly look for ways to infiltrate email platforms to steal the valuable information emails contain, including financial data, customer records, and intellectual property, which hackers can then exploit for their own gain. An intercepted email can lead to significant financial, legal, and reputational losses. Ensuring business email security therefore can’t be overstressed or overlooked.

In this article, we’ll explore the fundamentals and significance of secure email, how it differs from traditional email, and even some best practices for implementing and using secure email.

Key Elements of Secure Email

Secure email is a form of communication where data is encrypted to thwart unauthorized access. Unlike normal email, which sends messages in a raw, readable format, secure email encrypts or scrambles the content to maintain privacy.

Secure email is a much safer option for transmitting sensitive information. Secure email systems are implemented with a variety of key features to ensure the safety and security of communication. A primary characteristic of secure email systems is the employment of powerful encryption algorithms, such as Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) or Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). These algorithms serve to protect the data while it’s being transmitted over the internet, preventing hackers or other unauthorized entities from gaining access to sensitive information.

The encryption process involves converting the data into an unreadable format using a secret key, which is only available to the intended recipients. This means that even if the email is intercepted during transmission, the data will remain uninterpretable unless decrypted using the same secret key. Upon receiving the email, the recipients will then use this key to convert the data back into its original, readable format.

Another important feature of secure email systems is their provision of secure storage solutions. This means that when emails and their associated attachments are not in active transmission, they are stored securely in encrypted form. This principle, known as encryption at rest, significantly mitigates the risk of data breaches that may occur due to physical or software-based attacks on the storage locations. The level of encryption is generally high so that even if hackers gain unauthorized access to email storage systems, they would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to decrypt the email without the correct keys.

Finally, secure email systems put a heavy emphasis on strong authentication mechanisms. These systems often utilize two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) to verify the identity of the users. 2FA or MFA often involves the use of more than one verification method, such as a combination of password entry, biometric scanning, or code sent to a trusted device. This multilayered approach to identity verification significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access by hackers, even if they have gained access to a user’s password.

By implementing these security measures, secure email systems ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of email data.

Differences Between Secure Email and Traditional Email

Traditional email is the most common mode of digital communication that is utilized universally due to its sheer convenience and several benefits. Traditional email differs from secure email in that emails and their content are transmitted in plain text format. This means the content of the messages can be accessed and read by anyone. This universal form of communication is especially popular because it’s straightforward; information can be sent and received with ease, making it a preferred choice among individuals worldwide.

Traditional email’s ubiquitous nature is another characteristic. Traditional email services are readily available and vastly used, making it an accessible means of communication for everyone. Traditional email continues to be a popular choice due to its ease of use, speed of delivery, and broad reach. It’s quick, efficient, and ideal for sending non-sensitive information like arranging social plans or sharing interesting articles. Secure email systems, by contrast, present a substantial upgrade in terms of safety and privacy. The primary difference between traditional and secure email systems is the use of encryption to protect emails in transit and at rest.

Encryption ensures that even if someone manages to intercept the email during transmission, they cannot read or comprehend the content without the corresponding decryption key. This key is a unique code that allows only the intended recipient to unlock and read the mail, ensuring secure communication.

More than just encryption at the point of transmission, secure email systems go a step further to guarantee safe storage of emails. This essentially means that the emails remain encrypted, not only during transmission, but also when they are stored in the servers, thereby keeping them safe from unauthorized access.

Furthermore, secure email systems employ complex and multifaceted authentication mechanisms to add an extra layer of security. These mechanisms could include two factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA), including biometric verification, to ascertain the identity of the user, before allowing them access to their emails. Traditional email systems do not typically offer such advanced security features, making secure email systems a far safer choice for sensitive and confidential communication.

When Should Organizations Use Secure Email

While organizations may think that they don’t handle sensitive information and therefore, don’t need secure email, even regular business operations often involve processing personal data of employees, clients, and partners. In such cases, using secure email is not just a good security practice but also a regulatory compliance requirement or even an ethical responsibility.

Ultimately, organizations should use secure email whenever they’re dealing with sensitive or confidential data. This could include financial transactions, protected health information, legal documents, trade secrets, or any other type of information that needs to be kept confidential.

Moreover, secure email is also necessary when working remotely or dealing with external partners and clients. This method of communication provides an additional level of security bypassing geographical and network boundaries. It ensures that even if the recipient’s email account or network is compromised, the content of your emails remains secure.

In total, secure email usage should be a standard practice for all organizations.

Secure Email Use Cases

Nearly every industry can benefit from using secure email in their business communications. Here are just a few use cases.

Secure Email for Healthcare

When a doctor sends test results to a patient using secure email, the encrypted content ensures that the personally identifiable and protected health information (PII/PHI) remains confidential, protecting the patient’s privacy. This adherence to securing health data not only provides the patient with peace of mind, but it also helps the healthcare facility to comply with the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Secure Email for Finance

A bank might use secure email to send monthly account statements to its customers. This ensures that the sensitive information like account balances, transaction details, and personal information are only accessible by the authorized individual. This not only prevents unauthorized access and protects against potential fraudulent activities but also retains the customer’s trust and confidence in the bank’s ability to securely handle their financial information.

Secure Email for Legal

In a legal setting, secure email can be used for instance when an attorney communicates with a client regarding their pending criminal case. The attorney may need to send the client vital information about their case strategy or sensitive court documents. Using secure email in this context helps to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of this highly sensitive information, protecting it from potential access by unauthorized individuals or parties, which could significantly impact the case outcome.

Secure Email for E-commerce

E-commerce businesses, for instance, those selling clothing or electronics online, manage massive volumes of customer data, including credit card information, home addresses, and other personal details. Using secure email becomes vital in these scenarios. For instance, when a customer makes a purchase, their transaction confirmation and receipt can be sent securely via email, ensuring the safety of their payment details. Not only does this protect sensitive information from potential cyber threats, it also demonstrates compliance with the Payment Card Services Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and reinforces the customer’s trust in the business. Therefore, this safe email practice contributes significantly to sustaining a positive brand image and fostering customer loyalty.

Secure Email for Government Agencies

A government agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uses secure email to handle highly sensitive information pertaining to an investigation. This ensures maximum confidentiality and prevents unauthorized access. When agents exchange information about an ongoing case or a potential threat, they use secure email to keep the details safe from potential breaches, thereby maintaining public safety.

Implementing a Secure Email Solution

Choosing and deploying the right secure email solution is absolutely crucial for organizations. A suitable secure email solution can vary significantly depending on the specific requirements of an organization. Business needs can be different based on the nature of their operations, the industry in which they operate, and other factors. Similarly, organizations have to adhere to various kinds of compliance obligations, depending on their location, industry standards, and regulations. An appropriate secure email solution helps organizations navigate these requirements while ensuring that their communication remains secure and efficient.

The right secure email solution should ideally be offered by a service that provides necessary encryption levels to protect sensitive information from potential cyber threats. Encryption makes data unreadable to unauthorized users, which is critical for maintaining the confidentiality and security of business communication.

The solution should also be user-friendly, ensuring that all users across the organization can easily use it without running into problems. This is an important feature as it increases the adoption rate of the solution among employees and decreases potential obstacles in communication flow.

Compatibility with the pre-existing infrastructure is another major factor that organizations should consider. The solution needs to mesh well with the existing hardware and software for it to serve its purpose effectively and efficiently. If a solution isn’t compatible, businesses might have to incur additional costs for upgrades or replacements, which can be cumbersome and costly.

Cost-efficiency is another critical factor while choosing a secure email solution. Businesses need to ensure that the solution offers value for money. It should help organizations achieve their communication needs and security requirements without causing significant strain on their financial resources. So, the right blend of security features, usability, compatibility, and cost-efficiency is crucial to find in a secure email solution.

When implementing a secure email solution, consider these five best practices:

  1. Choose a reliable secure email service provider that fulfills the organization’s unique needs and legal compliance requirements.
  2. Incorporate the secure email system seamlessly with current infrastructure and possibly transfer data from the existing email system.
  3. Rigorously configure the secure email system settings for optimum security.
  4. Train employees comprehensively about the importance of utilizing secure email and how to employ it effectively.
  5. Educate employees on advanced processes such as sending encrypted emails, securely storing emails, and understanding authentication methods.

Best Practices for Ensuring Secure Email Adoption

After deploying a secure email solution, the organization should focus on driving adoption. Getting employees to use a secure email solution, however, is not a straightforward process as it requires a conscious effort to embrace a security-oriented mindset. Nonetheless, the benefits of secure email make the adoption efforts worthwhile.

There are several “tried and true” tactics organizations can employ to drive adoption. Consider the following five as adoption best practices:

  1. Enforce the use of strong and unique passwords and ensure they’re changed regularly. This simple act can prevent hackers from gaining unauthorized access to email accounts.
  2. Implement multi-factor authentication provides for an extra layer of security, making it harder for cyber threats to penetrate.
  3. Verify the identity of email recipients prior to sending sensitive information. This can prevent cases of information landing in the wrong hands.
  4. Avoid opening emails or attachments from unknown sources as they may contain malware or phishing scams.
  5. Regularly update the secure email solution’s software to ensure that it is equipped with the latest security features and bug fixes, minimizing potential vulnerabilities.

As a bonus, we strongly recommend enhancing a culture of security awareness within the organization as it’s fundamental to securing email communication. This involves regular training and awareness sessions to ensure employees are always updated on the best practices and understand the risks of non-compliance. This way, secure email adoption becomes a collective responsibility, and strengthens the organization’s overall security posture.

Kiteworks Helps Organizations Protect the Sensitive Content They Share With Secure Email

Secure email is a crucial tool for protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access and cyber threats. It employs robust encryption techniques, secure storage, and strong identity verification mechanisms to enhance security.

Organizations that deploy and embrace secure email systems maintain confidentiality and integrity while potentially avoiding regulatory, financial, legal, or reputational risks. Observing implementation and adoption best practices can significantly improve the effectiveness of secure email systems and fortify an organization’s security stature. Ultimately, secure email is more than just a tool; it’s an integral part of an organization’s holistic approach to information security.

The Kiteworks Private Content Network, a FIPS 140-2 Level validated secure file sharing and file transfer platform, consolidates email, file sharing, web forms, SFTP and managed file transfer, so organizations control, protect, and track every file as it enters and exits the organization.

Kiteworks allows organizations to control who can access sensitive information, with whom they can share it, and how third parties can interact with (and for how long) the sensitive content they receive. Together, these advanced DRM capabilities mitigate the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

These access controls, as well as Kiteworks’ enterprise-grade secure transmission encryption features also enable organizations to comply with strict data sovereigntyrequirements.

In addition, Kiteworks customers manage their own encryption keys. As a result, Kiteworks does not have access to any customer data, ensuring the privacy and security of the customer’s information. By contrast, other services such as Microsoft Office 365 that manage or co-manage a customer’s encryption keys, can (and will) surrender a customer’s data in response to government subpoenas and warrants. With Kiteworks, the customer has complete control over their data and encryption keys, ensuring a high level of privacy and security.

Kiteworks deployment options include on-premises, hosted, private, hybrid, and FedRAMP virtual private cloud. With Kiteworks: control access to sensitive content; protect it when it’s shared externally using automated end-to-end encryption, multi-factor authentication, and security infrastructure integrations; see, track, and report all file activity, namely who sends what to whom, when, and how. Finally demonstrate compliance with regulations and standards like GDPR, ANSSI, HIPAA, CMMC, Cyber Essentials Plus, IRAP, DPA, and many more.

To learn more about Kiteworks, schedule a custom demo today.


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