Secure email solutions use email encryption and identity authentication to protect email contents from interception, manipulation, and error, and to ensure messages are delivered to the right people.
Secure email services often include other features such as outbound email risk warnings, message audit trails, and access controls to provide additional protections against the most common threats.
They are a vital for robust outbound email security.
Who Is Secure Email Designed For?
Secure email solutions can be used by anyone who needs to send sensitive information or documents and ensure that they reach the right people.
Most often though, secure email is used by businesses that regularly deal with confidential customer information and have a duty to protect it.
Secure email solutions enable you to deliver information to customers, colleagues, and partners without exposing it to email risk.
Why Is Secure Email Important?
Email was invented in 1976 but is now one of the most widely used communication tools by both consumers and businesses.
It was never designed with the security of sensitive data in mind.
Email providers have added measures over the years to reduce risks. However, the core technology of the email network still leaves sent messages vulnerable to interception, manipulation, and error.
Furthermore, as society increasingly depends on email, the amount of sensitive data being sent has grown. This expansion presents cyber criminals with numerous opportunities for exploitation.
- 32% of UK businesses were victims of data breaches in 2023;
- Email is the top channel associated with data incidents;
- Email errors are the top cause of email data incidents.
A secure email solution provides protection against these threats, ensuring that email messages always reach the right people, safely.
How Does Secure Email Work?
Secure email services work just like email, with added security.
The most common features associated with secure email include:
End-to-End Email Encryption
Encryption is the process of scrambling an email message and any attached files so it can't be accessed by third parties.
End-to-end encryption is when email content is encrypted directly on the sender’s device before being sent, and only decrypted once it lands in the recipient’s mailbox (from one end to the other).
End-to-end encryption ensures that email data remain safe, as it can't be accessed even if a message is intercepted.
Email authentication methods are vital for verifying identity in secure email solutions, and can play different roles:
- Account authentication can be used to add an extra layer of security to an email account itself, during the login process.
- Recipient authentication is used to verify the identity of email recipients before they can unlock encrypted messages.
Secure email solutions such as our own, Mailock, provide multiple options for authenticating the identity of email recipients including the use of SMS codes, identity documents, and question-and-answer challenges.
Authentication methods enable secure email users to ensure the people with access to email contents 'are who they say they are'.
This is especially important where businesses that must prove information is delivered to the right people for regulatory compliance.
Email revoke allows you to block access to a message after sending it.
Email revoke can protect data in scenarios that commonly cause data breaches, such as sending a message to the wrong person.
Unlike email recall, which is limited and dependent on specific conditions (like a message being unopened), secure email solutions can offer comprehensive email access management functionality.
Secure email solutions can offer full email revoke, enabling users to block access to any message anytime, even after it’s been opened.
Not only does this provide a recovery method for the worst kind of mistake, it gives email users peace-of-mind that if they do make an error, there is a way to take it back.
Email Audit Trails
Secure email solutions can provide comprehensive logging and reporting capabilities to assist with auditing and regulatory compliance.
For example, Mailock secure email records all recipient interactions with message including opens, downloads, and revoke calls.
Senders can track the status of outbound emails and opt to receive notifications when their messages are opened.
In sectors such as financial services, audit trails are vital as confirmation of delivery is required for many transactions.
Email Risk Warnings
Secure email solutions can provide senders with warnings regarding the risk of their outbound messages.
A solution will scan the contents of an email message for common criteria associated with sensitive information and suggest appropriate security measures that should be applied.
Some solutions are also designed to ask senders to double-check recipient email addresses before pressing 'send'.
These warnings can provide vital prevention capabilities at the same time as training users to take care with outbound data.
What Cyber Threats Can Secure Email Protect Against?
Secure email solutions are designed to protect data against the most significant and concerning email risks.
In a phishing attack, a malicious third party sends an email impersonating a legitimate source, such as a bank or reputable company.
They attempt to trick the recipient into clicking a link or giving up sensitive information, including passwords or financial information.
According to research, 81% of organisations around the world have experienced an increase in email phishing attacks since 2020.
Email authentication can create a trusted connection between senders and recipients so they can ensure messages are legitimate.
Email interception is when an attacker interrupts the communication between two parties, allowing them to eavesdrop on the conversation or modify the contents of messages.
When information is transmitted in an unsecured email, attackers can gain access without the sender or recipient being aware.
End-to-end email encryption protects messages from interception by locking the contents before they are sent.
Many people will relate to the ‘oops!’ moment when you realise you've sent an email message to the wrong person.
Studies show that over 88% of all business data breaches are caused by employee mistakes. These incidents can result in reputational damage and fines if emails contain customer information.
Email revoke and email risk warnings can prevent sensitive data from being sent in error (or misdirected).
Recipient authentication can also help in instances of email misdirection, as even if emails are sent to the wrong address, they may not be able to be opened by any unintended parties.
What Email Data Needs Protecting?
There are specific types of data that are considered sensitive under UK law and regulatory guidelines.
It is important for businesses and their employees to be aware of what sensitive data is, so it can be protected.
Personal data includes any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as name, address, or phone number.
Cyber criminals can use this type of information to commit identity theft or for other fraudulent purposes.
Financial data includes any information related to wealth and financial transactions including bank account details and credit card numbers.
Third parties who can gain access to this data can create fraudulent accounts, steal funds, and commit a host of financial crimes.
Medical data is usually associated with medical records and contains sensitive information including personal data and health history.
Legal data is usually associated with legal documents such as contracts and contains information related to legal proceedings.
Intellectual Property Data
Intellectual property includes information relating to proprietary assets such as patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Industry Focus: Financial Services
As an industry dealing with large amounts of sensitive information, it’s easy to see why the financial services is a target for threat actors.
When asking our financial services customers what type of documents they use secure email to protect, we found that:
- 45% regularly protect anti-money-laundering documents;
- 61% regularly protect proposal and policy documents;
- 42% regularly protect investment valuations;
- 50% regularly protect banking details.
It's clear that for financial services professionals, exchanging sensitive information by email is critical to business.
What Are The Consequences Of Failing To Protect Data?
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) can impose fines of up to £17.5 million or 4% of their annual turnover for businesses who do not apply appropriate protections to their data.
While the financial impact of a breach or attack can be severe and substantial, the reputational damage can be worse.
Businesses that fail to adequately protect client privacy see acquisition and retention levels fall, and the impact can be long-lasting.
What Is The Best Secure Email Solution?
If you're looking for the best secure email service for your business, there are some key criteria to consider.
Many email providers natively use TLS (transport layer security). Others use PGP (pretty good privacy). These are both forms of encryption.
However, these encryption types are not considered secure enough for sensitive data due to established vulnerabilities.
For robust security, messages should be secured with at least AES-256 encryption, which is the standard used by the military.
Depending on the level of security and flexibility you need, you should also be mindful of authentication methods.
Do you want recipients to authenticate themselves using an SMS code, using a secret, or by providing biometric data such as a fingerprint?
Each of these has tradeoffs in terms of ease-of-use and security.
Exploring the integration capabilities of a secure email solution is key to ensuring operational efficiency for your organisation.
For example, Mailock offers a unique integration with Unipass Identity, a single-sign-on for professionals in the financial sector.
An unbreakable secure email solution is ineffective if it's not user-friendly for both senders and recipients.
Choosing a secure email tool that provides the right user experience is vital for embedding it within core processes.
Securing Your Emails - Essential To Business Operations?
With the increasing risks of phishing, interception, and human error, coupled with the strict penalties for data breaches, investing in a robust secure email solution is more than a best practice – it's a critical component of modern business operations.
By offering a solution with strong encryption, versatile authentication, and user-friendly features, organisations can protect sensitive data. This helps them comply with regulatory requirements and maintain their reputation.
Embracing secure email is a proactive step towards a safer, more secure digital communications for businesses and consumers.
Originally posted on 14 12 22
Last updated on December 20, 2023
Posted by: Sam Kendall
Sam Kendall is an expert researcher, editor, and marketing specialist. He has worked with B2B brands for almost a decade helping them to refine their digital strategy and streamline ground-level implementation. Sam is passionate about new developments in user experience, demand generation marketing, and customer communications.
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