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Encrypted vs Unencrypted Emails: What Your Business Needs to Know

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Emails are the most commonly used tool for business communication. But if left unencrypted, they are susceptible to data breaches. So, are encrypted emails the solution?



Use of email has increased workplace efficiency and communication between individuals and organizations alike. Since we heavily rely on this method of communication, it is also more open and prone to breaches. After all, emails are sent in plaintext, making it easy for unauthorized parties to intercept them. But before we can dive deeper into the world of encrypted vs unencrypted emails, we need to first understand the difference between encrypted and unencrypted data.


What is data encryption and how does it work?


We can describe the encryption as the process of protecting data from potential breaches by transforming it into an indecipherable form in order to prevent its unauthorized use. It is the most common used method for protection of both data in transit and data at rest. This process uses certain encryption algorithm – mathematical formula – which converts plaintext (unencrypted) into encrypted ciphertext. Encrypted files and messages can only be deciphered and read if the recipient of the message has the right code or password. Thus, encrypting emails guarantees you a secure and confident way of protecting data or information that is sent.

Codes and passwords which are used in data and email encryption can also be referred to as keys and these are based on public key cryptography technology. Public key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography, uses two separate yet related keys: a public key and a private key, with each performing its own distinctive function. It can almost be said that these two keys coexist together; whatever is encrypted by a public or private key can only be deciphered by its matching equivalent. In the case of emails, the content is encrypted via the use of public keys while private keys are used for decryption. Only the recipient can decrypt the email with the relevant private key thus guaranteeing a secure transmission. Hence, it is important that the private key is concealed because if left revealed, it gives hackers unauthorized access to the content of the email.


Types of encryption protocols


There are several different options for email encryption, each coming with its own level of security. The most commonly known email encryption protocols are encrypting an email in transit (TLS) and end-to-end email encryption.

  • Transport Layer Security (TLS)

Transport Layer Security (TLS) Encryption is used by main email providers such as Google and Microsoft and it prevents emails from being read after they are sent, keeping emails private while in transit between email service providers. However, the content of the sent emails is only encrypted if both the sender and receiver are using email service providers that support TLS. This leaves the door open for email content to be intercepted which is particularly dangerous for emails containing highly sensitive information. Thus, TLS encryption is not an adequate solution of email encryption on its own merit.

  • End-to-end encryption

End-to-end email encryption guarantees that your sent email is encrypted from the start and travels in encrypted form to its destination. This means that even the service provider which sends the data cannot view the content of those emails when they pass through the server.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of encrypting emails?


The benefits of encrypting emails warrant the security of the encrypted data while keeping the identity of the sender’s identity private. Emails tend to contain highly sensitive information ranging from Personally Identifiable Information to data related to business activities and other critical information as well. Thus, encryption of emails serves as an essential way to keep this data from being exposed.


Email encryption is regarded as being both cost-effective and efficient since employees need not worry about having to use any additional software to secure their emails. Instead, this is the responsibility of the email service provider. On top of that, using encryption helps you easily spot authentic senders from phishing or spam emails, which further ensures that the emails have not been meddled with.


The big question: How safe are encrypted emails?


Despite its many benefits, email encryption is a highly complex process that involves a substantial amount of preparation for an organization and can prove to be a handful to manage.


While hiding the content of your messages can be averted, it doesnt prevent the metadata from being encrypted or hidden. This means that there is a way to deduce to whom and when you have sent the messages, despite the content being encrypted. Also, recipients of encrypted emails need to have the adequate software in place in order for them to be able to read the content of the emails.


Furthermore, inadequate device password management can result in unauthorized parties gaining access to your information, especially in cases where they find a way to get access to physical devices at either of the two ends of transmission, thus giving them the opportunity to read and tamper with existing messages.


Better solutions for e-mail security


Nowadays, many companies are turning to email encryption software to protect their communication because it allows them to encrypt data in a simplified way. However, the number of solution offerings is vast and selecting the right email encryption software can be a challenge.


It is important for organizations to make a proper assessment of the right software tools and ensure they are compatible with their business needs. Ease of use and available integrations are also contributing factors in the decision-making process. If you need a solution that is easy to deploy and integrates with Outlook and Gmail, check out our cloud-native, zero trust security software.


To learn about how Sealit can help you protect email security and prevent data leaks quickly and effectively, contact our experts.