Email Transit Security Needs Better Adoption

Email transit security is not a new concept, but it deserves more attention in terms of adoption and practice.

Email has become the key component for information access – every online service identifies you through your email id. All online transactions (not just financial transactions) have one or more transactional email sent to you. Examples of transactional emails are – file share notifications, password reset mails, shipment notifications and account information change notifications. Despite not having direct financial information, all these mails have potential to compromise the security of an individual or company’s information.

We all take ample care while accessing our emails over a secure connection using tools like Thunderbird, Outlook or web based secure access. These secure connections ensure that  email is accessed securely from a mail server to a client device like desktop or phone. However, what is the assurance that the mail actually traveled from the sender to the mail server in a secure way?

Securing email during transit is not a new concept. There are enough protocols and processes in place for ensuring email security during transit. However, email security during transit isn’t adopted by all major service providers and organizational senders. This poses risk to the information carried over by emails to individuals and organizations.

Google’s safer email campaign and email transparency report focus on documenting metrics and best practices related to email transit security.  A couple of pictures on this page describe how TLS helps ensure security of email in transit.

Adoption of TLS for email transit security is not a unilateral fix by one or more ISPs. When email is hopping between two ISPs, it requires both the ISPs to agree upon the use of TLS for transmitting the email. So none of the ISPs or individual organizations can claim that they send/receive all their emails over a secure channel. At the time of writing this article, only 74% of mails from Google are accepted by recipients over secure connection. That number is much better, when compared to the 54% mails received by google from other ISPs over secure connection.

There are several techniques employed by eavesdroppers to make meaningful information out of even non-confidential content.  Ensuring email transit security helps an organization in the long run. Even if security of mail content is not of prime concern for an organization today, it is highly recommended that the email is sent securely during transit. That way, the organization is not giving away information easily to the eavesdroppers.

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