IT Support – Basic Security: Email Encryption

Electronic mail has dramatically increased productivity for business over the past decade. Its use has enabled companies and individuals to communicate quickly, reliably, easily, and cheaply. However, standard e-mail has typically lacked in the area of security. It is for this reason that companies should seriously consider implementing Secure E-mail strategies. Secure E-mail can benefit businesses by providing them with confidentiality, integrity, authentication, and nonrepudiation.

The confidentiality of secure e-mail occurs by HIPAA Compliant Email encrypting the messages that are sent over the Internet. This provides privacy. Encrypting also provides integrity by ensuring that the data has not been modified while in transit. The use of secret encryption keys ensures that only the owners know and have access to the e-mail, and knows the person who sent the e-mail. In addition, nonrepudiation occurs due to the recipient of the message knowing who sent the message.

There are several features of secure e-mail that make it a secure way to send data. The first is encryption. Encryption occurs when the data is sent along with a key, through multiple mathematical formulas that make the data unreadable. In order to read the data, the process has to be reversed using the appropriate key.

Another feature is the hash function. This function takes the original plaintext data of any length and creates a unique fixed-length output. The result of the hash function is known as a message digest. The principle here is that if the input were changed by a single bit, the message digest would be different.

The use of Digital signatures is also an important feature of secure e-mail. Digital signatures are made by using the hash function. A hash is performed on the message to create a message digest. Then, the message is “signed” by encrypting the message digest with the sender’s private key. This allows the receiver to verify the message’s integrity, authenticity, and nonrepudiation.

Digital Certificates are another feature that ensures e-mail security. A digital certificate is a type of credential/official document, like a driver’s license, that consists of the owner’s public key, information that uniquely identifies the owner, and the digital signature of an endorser, which states that the public key actually belongs to the person in question. The purpose of the digital certificate is to help others verify that the owner of the public key is who he claims to be. It is important that the authority who signed the certificate is trusted.

A combination of encryption methods are also a feature that can be utilized in secure e-mail. PGP (pretty good privacy)/MIME (multipurpose Internet mail extensions) are said to be hybrid cryptosystems because they overcome the shortcomings of both public key and conventional cryptosystems. PGP is an encryption technology that is currently the standard for e-mail encryption, and S/MIME was designed to add security to e-mail messages in MIME format by offering authentication using digital signatures and privacy using encryption.