All email should be encrypted
DEC 21, 2016 18:16 PM
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All email should be encrypted

By Drew Hendricks

Dark Web, Deep Web, Deepnet, Invisible Web, Hidden Web, Dark Internet. What’s the average computer user to know? You can start by understanding there are dark places and dark minds out there, criminals who would hack into your internet devices and steal or corrupt your information. It’s why all email should be encrypted.

But, who’s after little old you?

Mike G., a business systems sales rep for Dell, explained that the average Jack and Jill computer users do not have a lot to worry about if they use their home PC and modem – until they venture away from the threads sheltered by their firewall, malware, and other security systems.

He pointed out, however, that while the criminal forces may not target you specifically, they constantly attack all the systems that you think are protecting you. You have, for example, seen cyberthieves invade your privacy, not by attacking your computer, but by going after Target, Bank of America, or other big data users where you might do internet business.

What’s a user to do?

You start with common sense discipline that resists opening any links that are even slightly unfamiliar. There are, of course, those offers from the kings of different African nations. But, there are also those endless links, memes, and videos emailed by families and friends or the infinite number that pop up in Facebook and other social media accounts.

You must secure your PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone with the most current defenses. Many applications are free, and others have a relatively minor charge. If you use the devices for business and banking, you may want to upgrade some.

Remember, that things might be secure at home, but when you are working through internet hubs in taverns, coffee shops, retail stores, or other publicly accessible sources, your security is exposed.

Moreover, if your business use is international or you are working on devices on local networks in foreign environments, that use is exposed to interference and intrusion.

What’s encryption means to you?

My friend at Dell also points out that these defenses are software, and any software program challenges someone to overcome, break, or destroy it.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines “encryption” as “a method of converting an original message of regular text into encoded text. The text is encrypted by means of an algorithm (type of formula). If information is encrypted, there would be a low probability that anyone other than the receiving party who has the key to the code or access to another confidential process would be able to decrypt (translate) the text and convert it into plain, comprehensible text.”

It’s a crime to interfere with delivery of U.S. Postal Service mail. But, there are no effective oversight of the billions of emails sent every day. Even with the Cloud, email sort of sits and waits to delivery at steps during transmission. For example, you send an email, but it sits someplace until the recipient opens it. So, in an out of the Cloud, the mail and all the digital tails attached is vulnerable.

James Llyod, a self-identified SSL Expert and Web Security Expert, writing on Quora claims, “Research shows, on an average [business] user sends & receives more than 40,000 emails per year & spends about 146 minutes or more than 2 hours a day emailing.”

That research also says, “20 to 25 percent of emails contain attachments and comprise 98 percent of email traffic volume.”

However, the scary thing is “Rather than send the attachments to the appropriate data storage centers, employees often use email folders as a personal storage center. Thus, much of a company’s most sensitive information is sitting in an employee’s inbox as a file attachment.

75% of an organization's intellectual property is in an email or an attachment.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): VPNs are secure network services for fee that many small business and business people who work remotely or on the word use to protect their work and communications.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transports Layer Security (TLS): The Microsoft Trust Center explains a full suite of protections including layers of encryption. A quick and easy check is to look for the https (not an http in the URL of any website address you pursue. And, look for small icons like a picture of a lock. If an http appears, edit it to https, and see what happens.

Outlook Options: Using Outlook, you can find Filters & Reporting by clicking on the Options icon. To remain conservative, you can (1) only trust email from trusted senders, safe mailing lists, and contacts, and (2) attachments, pictures, and links from senders not on your Safe list.

System Options: Writing for Comparitech, Paul Bischoff points out, “Nine out of 10 viruses that infect computers come from email attachments.” He describes steps you can follow to prepare your iOS and OSX systems as well Android, Gmail, and Outlook options. It takes some work, but the directions are well-drawn.

Encryption Software: A score or more encryption software programs are each reasonably priced. But, few appear on the “best lists” repeatedly. That’s one caution that the software has trouble setting pace with the problems.

Still, here are a few PC Mag references worth researching:

•        SecureZip PKware® is a free download that radically upgrades WinZip and creates drag and drop navigation to encrypt the content when you create compressed files.

•       Virtu installs free for personal use, and only $5/month for Pro version. It promises end-to-end email encryption while using any email service: “Military Grade Encryption for Less Than A Cup of Coffee.”

•       Enlocked secures email end-to-end with a simple application. It sits on your device and only sends fully PGO-encrypted content. Recipients will need their own passports to open encrypted docs. It’s free for users who send 10 messages/month or less. But, it is used heavily in market segments like healthcare, financial services, and lay businesses, where costs are higher and volume-related.

•       Vaporsteam® asserting that “privacy should not be a luxury.” Messages, conversations, images, and documents can be vaporized after sending. It even protects against screenshots. You can download from AppleStore and GooglePlay. An award-winning program from a recognized thought leader, this shields compliance protected data and treats every communication as top security.

•       Send 2 comes as an MS Outlook add-in that promises to protect your emails with military standards. It requires no software for you or recipient. But, because it does not store encryption keys, only your recipients can open your work. And, the add-in comes free with no adds or malware.

All email should be encrypted.

Server to server, device to device, end-to-end, your digital communication needs protection. The threats are somewhat proportional to user type with some users at larger risk of privacy and compliance issues. But, the potential for loss, theft, and compromise is out there and increasingly aggressive.

Hoala Greevy, CEO and founder of HIPAA-compliant email service provider, Paubox, "Email will always be a point of vulnerability because the system prioritizes delivery over security, and that's before you add the human element.” That's why plugging gaps like unencrypted email is so important. Greevy continues, “It doesn't even have to be difficult either, solutions like ours make it easy to encrypt every email without sacrificing the user experience."

There’s been a caution here that technology’s ability to keep up with and outpace the threats remains a challenge. But, those few approaches reviewed here are meant to show a variety of techniques, purpose, and costs.

So, to encrypt your personal or business email assess the degree of your exposure, investigate your current level of protection, and shop intelligently. It could just keep the dark stuff away. 

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