What is MTA-STS and How Does It Protect Your Emails?

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What is MTA-STS and How Does It Protect Your Emails?

Most hacks are carried out through email. It is an easy entry point for malware, adware, spam, and phishing, and it gives a limitless number of possibilities for threat actors to get your personal information.

To combat these hazards, both personal and commercial email accounts should have strict security measures in place.

Email Security and Encryption

Regardless of the prevalence of alternative channels of communication, email message remains the most common type of data in transit for any person or company. Securing your email contents is a must.

All incoming and outgoing email traffic is inspected and encrypted as part of email security. Encryption protects the privacy of email contents by establishing secure SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) connections.

Encryption was formerly an optional requirement for SMTP.

How Does Email Encryption Work?

Email encryption is the technique of encrypting your message content by adding a cipher or piece of code. The contents of emails are secured from unwanted disclosure by transforming them to code. To put it simply, your email has been jumbled.

To increase security, the encryption process employs public and private keys, which are exchanged to lock and unlock the coded emails. The sender encrypts the email via public-key cryptography, and the receiver decrypts the message with a private key.

Encryption is used throughout an email’s route, from beginning to end. All incoming and outgoing emails, not only those containing sensitive information, should be encrypted as best practice. This stops threat actors from obtaining access to your system.

A Background and Issueswith SMTP

When the SMTP protocol was introduced in 1982, email encryption was not widely used, and emails were delivered and received in plain text by default. In the late 1990s, the STARTTLS command was introduced to establish security at the transport level, offering encryption through the TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol.

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As appealing as the TLS update sounded, it left two security gaps unaddressed:

  1. The encryption option was strictly optional. Non-secure emails were remained prevalent, resulting in an increase in cyberattacks.
  2. Even with STARTTLS enabled, there was no method to verify the sender’s server’s authenticity since SMTP servers do not check certificates.

The Arrival ofMTA-STS

Google eventually stepped up and announced the implementation of the new MTA-STS (Mail Transfer Agent/Strict Transport Security) standard in 2019. (RFC8461).

This allows mail service providers to apply TLS for safeguarding SMTP connections, as well as refuse email delivery to MX sites that do not provide TLS with a credible server certificate.

MTA-STS fully resolves all prior SMTP difficulties by requiring encryption between interacting SMTP servers. But how does it operate in practice? Let us investigate!

How Does MTA-STS Work?

MTA-STS begins by asking an SMTP server to speak with another SMTP server only under two conditions:

  1. The SMTP server must be secured.
  2. The domain name on the server’s certificate corresponds to the domain name in the policy, and the certificates are current.

MTA-STS tells the transmitting party how to proceed if an encrypted channel of communication cannot be opened by utilizing a mix of DNS and HTTPS to publish a policy.

MTA-STS is simple to deploy on the recipient’s end, but a supported mail server software such as ProtonMail to be used on the sender’s end.

Related: ProtonMail: Email Security with the Features You Want

What Type of Attacks Does MTA-STS Mitigate?

When MTA-STS is deployed to your email conversations, the following dangers are handled front on:

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Man-in-the-Midst (MITM) Attacks: This kind of attack occurs when an attacker inserts himself in the middle of a conversation between two parties in order to steal or manipulate data. In the context of email, this would normally imply two SMTP servers conversing. These attacks may be readily avoided by using MTA-STS.

Downgrade Attacks: When a threat actor compels a network channel to switch to an unsecured data transmission mode, the network channel is compromised. This attack, for example, may reroute a website visitor from an HTTPS version of a site to an HTTP one. MTA-STS contributes to the fight against these assaults by blocking unauthorized access.

DNS Spoofing Assaults: These devious attacks alter the DNS records of a user’s intended destination, tricking them into thinking they are visiting a real site or domain. MTA-STS implementation substantially aids in mitigating these assaults.

Related:What Is DNS Cache Poisoning?

Now that we’ve covered the MTA-STS, it’s time to talk about TLS reporting, a new SMTP reporting standard.

What is SMTP TLS Reporting (TLS-RPT)?

TLS-RPT is a reporting standard that, like MTA-STS, discovers connection faults and disparities between transmitting applications. When activated, it provides daily reports on any connection issues encountered by external servers when sending you emails.

Consider it a troubleshooting tool, with reports that may be used to assess and prioritize possible problems and setup concerns.

What Type of Issues Does TLS-RPT Resolve?

TLS reporting provides diagnostic reports in JSON file format that give detailed information about any incoming emails that are experiencing delivery troubles. It also identifies emails that bounced or did not deliver, for example, as a result of a downgrade attack.

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Increased Visibility: Enabling TLS-RPT increases visibility across all email channels. This enables you to keep track of any data that is coming your way, even unsuccessful communications.

Daily Reports: Diagnostic reports are issued at least once every day in order to thoroughly cover and enforce the MTA-STS regulations. The reports also contain traffic data and details on mistakes and unsuccessful deliveries.

When All Else Fails, Encryption Prevails

Because cyber dangers are always growing, strict security measures and encryption are required for safe and secure email transmission.

Fully secure email transfers are no longer a pipe dream, thanks to the different email providers that provide robust encryption capabilities and the MTA-STS standards.

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