Whether you love or hate it, communicating via email is something we all would have a difficult time living without. For most of us, it is a crucial part of our day-to-day lives, both business and personal. And we consider are emails to be private right? I mean, when you send an email, the only one to view it is the recipient, no?
Unfortunately, this is often not the case for many reasons, including the lack of encryption offered by your email hosting provider and your email client configuration settings.
Email Encryption Usage
At the time of this writing, a recent estimate put the percentage of emails being sent using end-to-end encryption at 58%. Google estimates about the same for their servers. Based on received emails from our own servers, this number seems pretty accurate. So about 42% of email communications happen over unencrypted channels and are easily readable by third parties. Consider this the next time you send a username and password to one of your accounts, a credit card number, or other personal information via email. Some email clients even pass your email username and password in plain text format. Ouch!
So why aren’t all email communications encrypted? Three reasons, mainly:
- Some email servers don’t support encryption. Although most major email hosting providers offer encryption (our servers support it, of course), many smaller ISPs and hosting providers do not provide the service yet.
- Email clients (think, Outlook, Mac Mail, Windows Live Mail, etc.) are often configured to use plain text (unencrypted) communications when sending and receiving emails, even though the mail server offers encryption. I’m going to show you how to check and fix this issue in a bit.
- Some ISPs (Internet Service Providers) play dirty and force unencrypted communications. Why? So they can read your emails! In this case, most likely to sell your information so 3rd parties can serve you ads, but who knows, really?
What You Can Do
Unless you are willing to completely sever all email transfers to and from non-secure clients and servers, there isn’t yet a way to guarantee 100% email encryption. However, there are some things you can do right now to ensure that your emails are sent and received in encrypted format as often as possible:
- Check to see if you are currently sending and receiving emails securely. Head on over to https://www.checktls.com/. To test if you are set up for receiving encrypted emails, choose Test->Receiver (mail to). Enter your email address and click the “Start Test” button. If you see something like the following, then you are set up to receive encrypted email communications:
If any column in the “Average” row shows less than 100%, then your email client probably needs some configuring to receive encrypted email communications.Next, to test if you can send emails using encrypted communications, choose Tests->Sender (mail from) from the navigation menu, then click the “Start Test” button. Follow the instructions to receive an email from the site that will display a SUCCESSFUL or UNSUCCESSFUL status along with some details as to why your email client could or could not receive an email using encrypted communications. If you pass both tests, congratulations, your email client is configured to send and receive encrypted emails. If you failed either test, continue reading.
- Check that your email hosting provider supports TLS/SSL encryption for incoming and outgoing email communications. You will need to contact your email hosting provider to determine this information.
- Configure your email client to connect to your incoming and outgoing email server using TLS (encryption). The “how-to” of the steps involved to accomplish this are somewhat technical and vary from email client to email client. That said, here are a few articles to help you get started (keep in mind you need to change the settings for both your incoming and your outgoing email server):
- The University of North Carolina provides setup instructions for Outlook 2007.
- Purdue University offers these instructions to configure secure communications using Mac Mail (10.3, 10.4 — still valid on 10.7).
- Omnicity.net gives instructions for setting up secure communications using Windows Live Mail 2011.
- For other email clients, you’ll need to consult the docs (or try googling for the information).
Due to time constraints, we won’t cover configuring webmail clients and mobile devices. However, for a small fee we are happy to help secure your email!
Customers of David Rodrigues Consulting
If you are a current customer of David Rodrigues Consulting and use our mail services, then just email or call for help. We’ll test and configure your email clients for free.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for taking the time to read our post. We hope you found it informative. Don’t hesitate to email us with any questions!