16 March 2020
Even with the increase of social networks and instant messaging, we still rely on simple email. Emails are more than just communication messages; often, they being used to transmit sensitive data.
With a simple analysis of one’s email interactions, someone could easily track your lifestyle, earnings or even the activities of your business. With such sensitive information carried over email, we all need an effective method of securing our emails from hackers, nosy governments, snoops, and data thieves. One hundred percent security and privacy may seem unachievable, but there’s a lot you can do stay secure and private while using email. In this guide, we’ll tell you why it’s important to protect your email interactions and how you can secure all your emails.
While pretty much everyone knows how to send and receive email messages, most of us have never given a thought how this process is possible. When you actually think about it a little further, you’ll realize the need for email security.
When you are mailing a check to pay a bill, or you are just sending a friend a letter to tell them where the extra key to your house is hidden, you will certainly use a security envelope that hide your content. The post office will then use a number of security measures to ensure that your mail is not intercepted, and that it reaches its destination safely and with confidentiality.
If such security is afforded with the traditional snail-mail, why wouldn’t you want the same for your emails? You wouldn’t want to willingly send sensitive personal information or business data over an unsecured email!
With the advancement of technology, have greatly increased over the years, and they don’t seem to be slowing down. Emails have become so ubiquitous and so critical to our lives, and whenever something this important happens on the internet, unfortunately, hackers are there to take advantage of it. A while back, there was a story about Steven Petrow, a USA today reporter whose email was hacked while using American Airlines’ Gogo in-flight internet service. After the three hour flight, he got off the plane. A fellow passenger then came and started asking him questions directly related to what he was working on while on the plane. He then dropped the bombshell:
“I hacked your email on the plane and read everything you sent and received. I did it to most people on the flight.”
This story shows just how easy it is to hack into someone’s email, especially when using a public hotspot. He “did it to most people on the flight” is a statement that doesn’t really discriminate; anyone’s email can be hacked and personal data exposed. We all need email security.
Email security is a wide-ranging technique that can be implemented at different levels using various methods, but basically it involves securing your email from interception by third parties. These include hackers, snoops, spying governments, and data thieves. Hackers can access your personal information and hold on to it for ransom or even expose it for the whole world to see. Snoops and spying governments are interested in knowing your activities, while data thieves would love to use banking details and passwords for personal gains.
All these people use different methods to get your information, and therefore you can’t implement a single security technique to drive them all away. Some will try guessing your passwords, some will try to intercept it, and others will try to access your details from mail servers. Email security is therefore normally implemented at different levels of the email technology itself.
When email was created in 1972, there was surely no thought of security in mind. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the standard that governs sending and receiving of emails, contains no security mechanisms whatsoever. Actually, the security measures implemented by email service providers were added much later later.
One might be surprised to hear that WhatsApp and Facebook messenger are actually more secure for sending sensitive data than email. Actually, the difference in security is worlds apart. This is because unlike email, the two social media platforms implement end-to-end encryption.
There are quite a number of reasons that make email not secure and attractive to hackers, and here are just a few:
There are various methods that you can use to secure your email, but one of the best ways to do this is by using a secure VPN.
A VPN operates to protect your information at a very crucial stage: while sending out information. We’ll dig deeper into this a little bit later in the article, but let’s first talk about what a VPN really is.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. As the name suggests, it is a secure software solution used alongside your regular internet that maintain user’s privacy, anonymity, and online safety when using an online network. To use a VPN, one needs to subscribe to a VPN service and then download the VPN client. When you connect to a VPN server, you then get a secure connection to the internet. Your traffic is first encrypted and securely transmitted to a VPN server and then to the internet through a secure tunnel.
The encryption is usually done using a number of different standards depending on the VPN.
Since a VPN encrypts all traffic coming out of your device, it keeps you safe from any snooping third parties like admins. The security techniques employed by the VPN also protects you from hacks. For example, a VPN that uses a 256-bit AES encryption would take years and years for a hacker to figure out how to attack you. According to Wikipedia:
Breaking a symmetric 256-bit key by brute force requires 2128 times more computational power than a 128-bit key. Fifty supercomputers that could check a billion billion (1018) AES keys per second (if such a device could ever be made) would, in theory, require about 3×1051 years to exhaust the 256-bit key space.
VPN email encryption also comes in handy especially when you are using a public hotspot. Public WiFi hotspots are very insecure, and they make you vulnerable to attacks from cybercriminals. However, sometimes we can’t resist the temptation of using an internet connection to check our email. This is where a VPN comes in.
When you are connected to a secure VPN, a hacker can’t leverage the fact that you are connected to an unsecured network to attack you. The VPN already provides you with a private and secure tunnel through which your data is sent. This makes a VPN the best way to secure your email when using public WiFi networks.
As we said earlier, attacks on your email can be initiated at different levels. A VPN may be effective to secure you against hackers, but it can’t protect you at the mail provider server level, or even from a “friend” who wants to guess your password. Here are other methods of protecting your email”
Two-factor authentication is a security technique that has been implemented by most email service providers. This technique is a sure way of stopping unauthorized logins by hackers. Hackers use various algorithms like brute force to try and gain unauthorized access to a target’s email account.
With two-factor authentication, things aren’t so easy. When you log in to your new device, you are still needed to confirm that you initiated the process. You can set up two-factor authentication to always send a code to your phone when you want to log in to a new device. This way, you will always know if someone else tries to log in to your account. They will not be allowed access your device since you are the one with the authorization code.
This is a brilliant way of preventing hackers or any others who would like to log in to your email and check your activities or steal data. If your email service provider supports it, two-factor authentication is must have.
Even with two-factor authentication, you cannot underestimate the importance of using secure passwords. A secure password is always the first step in securing any of your accounts. Steer away from simple passwords, such as using your name, year of birth, the name of your pet, etc. For a hacker, cracking these types of passwords is a cakewalk.
Try to be more creative with your passwords. You can create your own unique system for generating tough passwords, or you can use password generator software available for free online. A secure password should be a combination of uppercase letters, numbers and/or special characters such as $, %, and +.
Additionally, use different passwords for different accounts. This may be quite a hard task to do, but there are password managers that help you create a secure password and saves them for you in a secure virtual vault that only you can access.
There is information that you can’t risk any other third party accessing even the email service providers themselves. This is where email encryption comes in.
When you send a regular email, it is only secure up to a certain level.This because email service providers only promise to encrypt your data when sending an email. Just because they provide you with https://, don’t think that your email is protected and safe. Once an email reaches their servers, your email content is in plain text, and any snooping eyes can see what’s contained therein. This can be the government or even the webmail providers themselves.
With email encryption, two mathematically-related crypto keys are generated: a public one that you should share with your recipient and a private one that you should keep private. If I want to send you an encrypted email, I will use your public key to encrypt the email. Once you receive it, you can then use your private key to decrypt it.
However, these require a lot of set up, and so most people don’t really uses encrypted messages any more. Today, there is software that has been developed for this purpose, so you don’t need to set things up like you’re a cryptographer. Here’s a mini list of the best email encryption software:
You can securely encrypt the content of your emails using any of the above services.
Your email security will always start with the security of the devices that you use. You therefore need to first secure your computer or smartphone from any threats that make your emails vulnerable, such as hacking or attacks by malware. The first and most crucial step here is using a good antivirus system.
Some hackers can send you an email that looks normal but in reality, it’s just a disaster waiting to be unleashed. This is why you need to have a strong antivirus system to always scan downloaded data before you open it.
The vulnerability of your device is also increased by outdated software. Updates always include security patches to deal with present loopholes, and not installing them can leave you exposed to malware. To help you with this, always update your devices’ software. You may even want to set them up to automatically update every time new software is available.
The stability from updates and the protection of an antivirus software can then be combined with a secure VPN like NordVPN to make your device fool-proof.
With the increase of cyber threats and government surveillance, security concerns don’t stop just at emails. It’s important to secure all your data whenever you connect to the internet. This adds even more protection if at any point you connect to a public WiFi hotspot. You can’t risk having your data exposed to hackers, as this will surely cost you dearly.
The only solution that secures both your email and your other online activities is using a VPN. The most secure VPNs implement various security and privacy features that are meant to protect you from all online threats. To get the most out of a VPN, go for one with a host of features, like NordVPN or PureVPN.
Email is a part of our daily lives, and we can’t stop using it due to its poor security. With the need to protect our information even from our own governments, email security has become a personal responsibility. You don’t have to wait until you fall into the hands of a hacker before you take simple steps to ensure you have email security. The tips given above should give you a solid starting point to keep yourself safe.