7 Common Email Security Protocols Explained

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7 Common Email Security Protocols Explained

The mechanisms that secure your email from outside influence are known as email security procedures. For a very good reason, your email requires extra security precautions. There is no built-in security in the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Isn’t that shocking?

SMTP is compatible with a wide range of security protocols. Here are the procedures and how they safeguard your emails.

1. How SSL/TLS Keep Emails Secure

The most prevalent email security methods that safeguard your email as it travels over the internet are Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and its successor, Transport Layer Security (TLS).

SSL and TLS are protocols for the application layer. The application layer standardizes communications for end-user services in internet communication networks. In this scenario, the application layer offers a security framework (a collection of rules) that is used in conjunction with SMTP (another application layer protocol) to protect your email exchange.

This portion of the essay will focus on TLS from here on out, since its predecessor, SSL, was totally deprecated in 2015.

TLS adds greater privacy and security to computer program communication. TLS offers security for SMTP in this case.

When your email client transmits or receives a message, it initiates a “handshake” with the email server using the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP—-part of the transport layer that your email client uses to connect to the email server).

The handshake is a sequence of steps in which the email client and server confirm security and encryption settings before starting the email transfer. The handshake operates on a fundamental level like follows:

  1. Client transmits “hello,” encryption kinds, and TLS versions that are compatible to Email Server.
  2. The server answers with its TLS Digital Certificate and public encryption key.
  3. The certificate information is verified by the client.
  4. The client produces a Shared Secret Key (also known as the Pre-Master Key) and delivers it to the server using the server’s public key.
  5. The Secret Shared Key is decrypted by the server.
  6. The Secret Shared Key may now be used by both the client and the server to encrypt data transfers, in this example, your email.

TLS is critical since the vast majority of email servers and clients utilize it to offer a basic degree of encryption for your communications.

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Opportunistic TLS and Forced TLS

Opportunistic TLS is a protocol command that informs the email server that an existing connection should be converted to a secure TLS connection.

Your email client may utilize a plain text connection instead of the aforementioned handshake method to establish a secure connection at times. Opportunistic TLS will try to initiate the TLS handshake in order to establish the tunnel. If the handshake fails, Opportunistic TLS will use a plain text connection and deliver the email without encryption.

Forced TLS is a protocol setting that enforces the use of the secure TLS standard in all email interactions. The message will not be sent if the email cannot travel from the email client to the email server and subsequently to the email recipient.

2. Digital Certificates

A digital certificate is an encryption tool that may be used to cryptographically secure an email. Public key encryption is used using digital certificates.

(Do you have questions regarding public key encryption? Read parts 7 and 8 to learn and grasp the most essential encryption terminology. It will make the remainder of this post more clearer!)

The certificate enables others to send you encrypted emails that use a predetermined public encryption key, as well as encrypting your outgoing mail for others. Your Digital Certificate, therefore, functions similarly to a passport in that it is linked to your online identity and serves primarily to authenticate that identification.

Anyone who has your public key may send you encrypted mail if you have a Digital Certificate. They use your public key to encrypt their document, and you use your private key to decode it.

Individuals are not the only ones who can use digital certificates. A Digital Certificate may be used to authenticate and verify an online identity for businesses, government organizations, email servers, and nearly any other digital entity.

3. Domain Spoofing Protection With Sender Policy Framework

The Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an authentication system that guards against domain spoofing in theory.

SPF adds new security checks that allow a mail server to detect whether a message came from the domain or whether someone is using the domain to hide their actual identity. A domain is a section of the internet that has a single name. A domain is something like “makeuseof.com.”

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Because a domain may be identified by location and owner, or at the very least, banned, hackers and spammers often hide their domain while trying to penetrate a system or swindle a user. They increase their chances of an unwary user clicking through or opening a malicious attachment by masquerading a malicious email as a genuine operational domain.

The framework, an authentication technique, and a particular email header communicating the information comprise the Sender Policy Framework.

4. How DKIM Keeps Emails Secure

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an anti-tampering technology that protects the security of your email while it is in transit. DKIM employs digital signatures to verify that an email was sent from a given domain. Furthermore, it determines if the domain approved the email’s transmission. It is an extension of SPF in that regard.

In reality, DKIM facilitates the creation of domain blacklists and whitelists.

5. What Is DMARC?

Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance is the last key in the email security protocol lock (DMARC).DMARC is an authentication system that checks the SPF and DKIM standards in order to safeguard against fraudulent domain activity. DMARC is an important tool in the fight against domain spoofing. However, because of the low adoption rates, spoofing is still prevalent.

DMARC works by preventing the “header from” address from being faked. It does this by:

  • Combining the “header from” and “envelope from” domain names. During the SPF verification, the “envelope from” domain is specified.
  • The “header from” domain name is matched with the “d= domain name” contained in the DKIM signature.

DMARC tells email providers how to handle incoming emails. The email is denied if it fails the SPF check and/or DKIM authentication. DMARC is a technique that protects domain names of all sizes against spoofing. However, it is not without flaws.

Do you have an hour to spare? The video above goes into great depth on SPF, DKIM, and DMARC using real-world scenarios.

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6. End-to-End Encryption With S/MIME

S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is a well-known end-to-end encryption mechanism. S/MIME encrypts your email message before it is transmitted, but not the sender, receiver, or any email header information. Your communication can only be decrypted by the receiver.

Your email client supports S/MIME, however it needs a Digital Certificate. Most current email clients support S/MIME, however you should double-check support for your selected program and email provider.

7. What Is PGP/OpenPGP?

Another long-standing end-to-end encryption technology is Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). However, its open-source sibling, OpenPGP, is more likely to be encountered and used.

The PGP encryption protocol is implemented open-source by OpenPGP. It is often updated, and you may find it in a variety of current programs and services. A third party, like S/MIME, may still access email metadata, such as sender and recipient information.

You may include OpenPGP into your email security configuration by utilizing one of the apps listed below:

Each program’s implementation of OpenPGP differs somewhat. Each software uses a different developer to encrypt your emails using the OpenPGP protocol. They are, however, all trustworthy encryption solutions that you may entrust your data to.

OpenPGP is also one of the simplest methods to incorporate encryption into your life across a range of devices.

Why Are Email Security Protocols Important?

Email security standards are critical since they increase the security of your emails. Your emails are insecure on their own. SMTP has no built-in security, therefore sending an email in plain text (i.e., without any protection and readable by anybody who intercepts it) is dangerous, particularly if it includes sensitive information.

Do you want to learn more about encryption? Discover five popular encryption techniques and why you shouldn’t rely on your own encryption to secure your data.

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