The Process Behind How Email Encryption Works

If you haven’t been encrypting your emails, it’s probably because you don’t understand how the process works. Most people don’t, so don’t feel bad about it.

A lot of people make the false assumption that having a firewall is all they need to protect against vulnerable email communication interception. However, firewalls provide zero protection for emails entering or leaving a network.

In this article we’ll take a look at the process of how email encryption works and why you need it.

Public Key Infrastructure

The tech that drives email encryption is known as Public Key Infrastructure (or PKI for short). Any user can access the Public Key, but only the key holder can access the Private Key, and it should never be shared with unwanted third parties.

Say you want to send someone a private email message that’s encrypted. You do this by using the Public Key to encrypt it before hitting send. Then, the person reading the message will be able to decrypt it and see the original contents by using the Private Key.

You also use this pair of Keys in order to verify who the sender of the email is.

How Do You Make the Public Keys, Well, Public?

Email encryption key pairs are created, then distributed, by online providers that issue what are known as digital certificates (or Certification Authorities). These providers certify Public Key ownership by entering them into a directory that’s public. The Private Key is only given to the certificate’s owner and is only accessible by that owner.

Any individual that wants to send an encrypted message to the private key’s owner will be able to access the Public Key through the directory created by the Certification Authority. There are many of these key directories accessible online. They are searchable by email address or name, which will aid in discovering the Public Key.

Why You Need to Encrypt Emails

Even if you have a number of additional security protocols already in place, your emails remain a highly vulnerable area of attack for hackers. Think of an email as sending sensitive information on a wide-open postcard for anyone with access to it to see.

Without proper encryption, email messages can easily be redirected, intercepted, or viewed by people you didn’t authorize. Encryption provides a heavy layer of security for all your email communication.

Do keep in mind, however, that once your emails are decrypted on the receiving end, they can still be forwarded without re-encryption. So always make sure you trust the end user of your encrypted emails.

Evan Shaner