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What is an encrypted email? Definition, Benefits, and More [2023]

Written by, Sandeep Kumar

Updated February, 14, 2024

The most frequently used method for businesses to interact with clients and suppliers globally is email.

And even so, most people think of email as a relatively insecure way to communicate (for some reason). But did you know that you can encrypt your emails and make them more secure? And do you know what is an encrypted email?

It’s all good because we have you covered. Among the many, we’ll answer these questions and many others. For example, we’ll also cover some of the benefits of using encrypted emails, so stay tuned!

What is Email Encryption?

Email encryption is a process of encoding email messages so that only authorized people can read them — the process itself usually involves authentication.

For successful encryption, you need to use mathematical algorithms to scramble the content of the email so someone with the correct key can only decode it.

This key is typically shared between the sender and recipient of the message. Email encryption can be used to protect the content of messages and the sender and recipient information.

All in all, encrypting your email ensures that only the intended recipient can read it.

How Does Email Encryption Work?

Before anything else, let’s “decode” encryption. Email encryption uses public-key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography.

In this process, each user has two keys:

It’s pretty simple. The message is encrypted with the public key and then decrypted using the private key.

So, what’s the benefit of using asymmetric encryption?

The main benefit of asymmetric encryption is that it allows anyone to send you an encrypted message – even if they don’t know your private key. However, this also means that anyone with your public key can read your encrypted messages.

Therefore, it’s essential to keep your public key safe and only give it to people you trust.

How Do You Encrypt an Email?

There are a few different ways to encrypt email, depending on the tools and services you’re using.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  1. Choose an email encryption tool/ service.
  2. Generate a key pair if you’re using asymmetric encryption.
  3. Configure your email client to use the chosen email encryption tool or service.
  4. Encrypt your messages using the chosen encryption tool or service.
  5. Afterward, send the encrypted message to the recipient.
  6. The recipient will need to decrypt the message using the same email encryption tool/ service. They may also need your public key if you’re using asymmetric encryption.

In the end, email encryption is an excellent way to protect the privacy of your messages, but it’s important to remember that it’s not foolproof. Hence, if someone gets access to your private key, they’ll be able to read your encrypted messages.

Note: Remember that email encryption doesn’t protect against other threats, like malware.

Email Encryption Tools: Protocols

These are the most common protocols used when encrypting emails:

TLS, or Transport Layer Security, is mainly practiced by email service providers, such as Microsoft and Google — They secure emails as they move from sender to recipient.

Note: Emails were an easy-to-pick-up target for cyber criminals before using the TLS protocol. Not to mention the massive damage a company/business suffers by not using a TLC email encrypting protocol.

On the other hand, end-to-end encryption works differently – it protects the contents of emails using a public key. In brief, the recipient’s public key encrypts the message. And the message can be decrypted by the receiver’s private key.

Note: You can use two methods with the end-to-end encryption protocol: PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and S/MIME (Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension).

S/MIME is a standard for email encryption that uses asymmetric encryption, and it’s compatible with several email clients.

PGP is a proprietary email encryption tool that uses symmetric and asymmetric encryption. Though it’s one of the most popular email encryption tools, it’s not free to use.

Email Encryption Services

In addition to email encryption tools, you can also use email encryption services to encrypt messages. These services typically use asymmetric encryption, and they often come with additional features, such as the ability to create digital signatures.

Some popular email encryption services include:

Hushmail is a web-based email service that offers email encryption and the ability to create digital signatures. Even though it’s not free to use, it offers a 14-day free trial.

ProtonMail is another web-based email service that offers email encryption, as well as the ability to create digital signatures. This email service is free to use, but it has a limited storage capacity.

Tutanota is a web-based email service that offers email encryption alongside the space to create digital signatures. Besides the fact that it’s free to use, it has a number of limitations (the inability to send messages to non-Tutanota users).

The Benefits of Encrypted Email

There are many benefits to using encrypted email, including:

As previously mentioned, encrypting your email helps to protect your messages from being read by anyone other than the intended recipient. This is critical when sending sensitive information (passwords, credit card numbers, etc.).

If your email account gets hacked, the attacker will only be able to read your encrypted messages – IF they have your private key. This is precisely what makes it harder for hackers to access your data.

This is something you benefit significantly from. In other words, you can be calm knowing your encrypted email messages ensure that only the intended recipient reads them.

Who Should Use Email Encryption?

Frankly speaking, email encryption is a good idea for anyone concerned about the security and privacy of their email messages.

However, it’s vital for businesses and organizations that need to protect sensitive information. The latter often send highly confidential or sensitive information via email about the company, their work, and their employees. So, encrypting your messages is the best way to ensure that only the intended recipient can read them.

How to Choose an Email Encryption Solution?

There are various factors to consider when choosing an email encryption solution. Like the following:

Some email encryption solutions are free, while others come with a yearly subscription fee. Therefore, consider the cost of the solution before making your decision.

There are email encryption solutions that are very user-friendly, and then there are others that can be more difficult to use. If you’re not familiar with cryptography, you might want to choose an easy solution to use.

Make sure that the email encryption solution you choose is compatible with your email client. Otherwise, you won’t be able to encrypt or decrypt your messages.

Some email encryption solutions come with additional features, such as creating digital signatures or encrypting files. These are also features worthy of your consideration prior to making your decision.

Methods of Email Encryption

There are two main methods of email encryption: symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

It uses a single key to encrypt and decrypt messages, which means that you need to share the same key with the person you’re sending the message to read it.

We’ve already mentioned that it uses two keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is used to encrypt messages, while the private key decrypts them. This means that you don’t need to share your private key with anyone for them to be able to read your messages.

Finally, which method you choose depends on your needs only. For example, if you’re sending confidential info, you might want to use asymmetric encryption. But, if you’re just sending general info, symmetric encryption might do the work.

What Happens When You Encrypt an Email?

When you encrypt an email, you basically convert the message into a code (unreadable format) that can only be decrypted by someone with the proper key or password. This helps protect the information in the message from prying eyes, whether it’s intercepted while in transit or stored on a server.

Conclusion

We’re pretty sure that now you have a much clear idea about what are encrypted emails and how to encrypt an email.

In a nutshell, the process of encryption turns readable text into unreadable gibberish using a mathematical algorithm. When the recipient receives the email, they use a key to decrypt it and return it to its original form.

But is encrypted email secure?

It definitely is. Yet, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to pass through it. Don’t give out your private key to ensure the high-quality safety of all your email info!

FAQ

What is the difference between S/MIME and GnuPG?

S/MIME is a type of email encryption that uses asymmetric encryption. Whereas GnuPG is a free and open-source email encryption tool that also uses asymmetric encryption.

Both are compatible with a wide range of email clients – making them an excellent choice for individuals and businesses.