Email encryption keeps private messages private. Third parties can intercept and read unencrypted emails as they travel from sender to recipient. An encrypted email service scrambles them using a special password called the key, making them unreadable to hackers and cyber spies.
But just as locking your door won’t stop a thief from getting in an open window, email encryption can’t stop a hacker if they’ve gained access to your account password, or have installed malware on your computer. Good security practices will help your encrypted email service keep your messages and attachments safe.
Always use email encryption.
An email encryption service can’t protect messages if you don’t use it, but many users take unnecessary risks by not encrypting emails consistently. Often, the reason is lack of compatibility. Most email encryption programs require installation by both the sender and recipient, limiting who can receive a secure email. Additionally, encrypted email services are often complex and difficult to use, which can tempt users to risk sending unencrypted messages.
Choose a service that’s easy to use, interoperable, and comes with good resources explaining how to encrypt an email, and then make sure you use it. Virtru secure email makes encryption easy — just click the “v” slider in your message composition window before you send the message. If you’re forgetful, Virtru DLP (now available for Gmail and Outlook) can automatically encrypt your messages for you.
Secure your email account.
Most encrypted email services automatically decrypt your messages when you open them, so protecting your account is crucial to keeping your email secure. Your password should be as long as possible (16 characters or more is ideal) and contain capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
Multi-factor authentication prevents a hacker with your password from accessing your account by requiring an extra credential. For example, Google Apps (now known as G Suite) security two-factor authentication texts a random number to you every time you want to sign in. Without both your phone and your password, you can’t access the account.
Managing your passwords correctly is crucial. Don’t use the same password across multiple sites, and rotate passwords every few months. If it’s hard to remember all your passwords, use a password manager to store them securely. Finally, never store passwords in your email app or browser — otherwise, anyone with your device will be able to access your account.
Protect your encrypted email service from attacks with safe browsing.
Hackers often use websites to install malware, which can read your files and emails or even take control of your computer. Security experts recommend adding script blocking software to each browser you use. This will prevent them from running malicious code, which can be used to infect your computer.
You should also be careful where you click. Avoid clicking on graphics posted on social media, visiting websites with suspicious URLs or descriptions or opening email attachments from someone you don’t know. Hackers will often impersonate friends and business associates — a technique called “spear phishing” — so don’t assume an email is from who it pretends to be. If it looks fishy (no pun intended), don’t click.
Get your copy of The Complete Guide to Email Encryption for G Suite Administrators for more practical tips on securing your business in the cloud.
Augment your encrypted email service with other security tools.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your traffic and assigns you a new IP address that hides your actual location. This makes it harder for government surveillance organizations, hackers and others to track you and spy on your data.
If you have strong security or compliance requirements, choose an encrypted email service supporting Hardware-backed Encryption Key Management (HEKM). Storing keys on your own hardware prevents government agencies from requiring your provider to disclose your encryption key, and aids compliance with region-specific privacy laws governing the transfer of data.
Encryption is just one part of a security strategy.
At the end of the day, while good encryption is unbreakable, user error can still lead to data leaks. Always be on the lookout for hackers and scammers who are trying to steal your account — and your data. By remaining vigilant, using encryption, and following best practices, you can keep your email safe.