These days, hacking is more of an omnipresent threat than ever before. But rather than popup ads being the primary source of malware and digital malfeasance, your email account is now the most likely place you’ll encounter a computer virus or hacking attempt.
Even if you use antivirus software, your emails may not be as secure as you think. The conversations or information you put in them could put you at risk if they aren't properly certified and encrypted.
What is S/MIME certification?
S/MIME (which stands for "secure multipurpose internet mail extension") certification is a type of digital email signing protocol that combines encryption and time-stamped digital signatures. It’s somewhat similar to SSL certification–which you know more commonly as web addresses that begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP.
This encrypts traffic data to ensure that information on a website or server isn’t easily accessed by the public or a would-be hacker.
Although far too few people know what S/MIME certification even is, it’s crucial for both personal and business security. Educating yourself and your co-workers about S/MIME encryption is important for gaining an edge over industry competitors as well.
How does S/MIME work to protect emails?
Although it’s not as intuitive a concept as a spam filter, S/MIME certification is really quite simple when you boil down its processes:
- To start, the S/MIME protocol generates a unique digital signature by combining a private key that is attached to your IP address/username/profile with a public key
- The public key is sent with any email protected by S/MIME certification
- When you or someone else receives an S/MIME-certified email, the recipient can use their private key to decrypt the publicly encrypted message.
- In using a private key to decrypt or encrypt a message, the message sender or receiver uses their unique digital signature and ensures message integrity or trustworthiness
It all sounds a little technical, but the encryption process works because the public key can be accessed by a multitude of similar private keys that are nonetheless secure and very difficult to crack with brute force.
Your emails are kept secure since the encryption encodes the data inside the email (such as pictures and text) and only decrypts it when it reaches its target recipient. When emails are S/MIME certified in this manner, it helps to guard against phishing attacks, malware, social engineering hacks, and other email-related threats.
How do you use S/MIME certification?
In past years, S/MIME certification was only used by the few internet geeks who bothered learning the ins and outs of this type of encryption. But these days, S/MIME certification is included by default in most major desktop and mobile email platforms or clients.
In other words, you may not need to take any extra steps to benefit from S/MIME certification. Your provider is likely already using it to encrypt your emails and protect you from malware!
But if you use a special email client or platform for your business, or use another third-party company for your email communications, you should look into implementing S/MIME certification ASAP. You can install S/MIME certificates on every device individually by either hiring an IT company or assigning the task to your own IT department. Other S/MIME certification products and software can deliver S/MIME certificates to all the machines in your network for a fee.
Why S/MIME certification helps you individually
You and others can trust email communications
At its core, S/MIME certification creates a kind of trust you can't easily get elsewhere in the digital world. In the days of handwritten letters or documents, you could easily tell whether a letter was genuine or a forgery based on a style of handwriting or a particular turn of phrase. This was also true for any letters you sent to other people or to important organizations, like the bank.
S/MIME certification serves the same basic purpose. As a kind of digital signature, this type of certification means you can trust that encrypted emails you receive really did come from the person marked on your screen. It helps others trust any emails you send out, as well.
It offers protection from malware
Did you know that about 92% of all malware is delivered by email? In short, if you’re ever going to be threatened by a malware attack, it’ll more than likely be from an email you receive and inadvertently open.
The trouble with protecting against this kind of attack is that it’s trivially easy for any second-rate hacker to make an adjustment to PHP code. They can craft an email containing a virus that looks like it’s coming from a legitimate sender. Thus, you can’t always trust your eyes or intuition to identify a malware-carrying email.
S/MIME certification goes a long way toward ensuring you don’t open any bad emails. If you rely on encrypted communications as much as possible, you’ll be much safer from malware attacks.
Your confidential information will stay protected
Identity theft is not a joke, and it happens to millions of Americans every year. It’s become even easier for hackers to get personal information since we voluntarily surrender it online all the time. When we sign up for services or purchase products from online marketplaces, we put our credit card information and other sensitive info out on the web for the taking.
The most secure email services available come with S/MIME encryption in addition to two-factor authentication, digital signatures, and built-in VPNs. These measures help ensure that in the event you ever accidentally include sensitive information in an email, such information can’t be retrieved by hackers.
How S/MIME certification can help your business
S/MIME certification is great for individual protection, but it also provides specific benefits for businesses.
S/MIME certification defends against business espionage/hacking
Many businesses in cutthroat industries have to be aware of potential business espionage or information gathering. IT and enterprise-level security are huge fields that are growing more complex and difficult to defend capably every year.
S/MIME certification is an easy way to lock down your company’s emails. This is especially important since employees, even in major industries such as the medical industry, often accidentally or innocently open spam or phishing emails and open their networks to attack.
S/MIME certification ensures compliance with privacy rules
Businesses’ compliance with consumer privacy laws is more important than ever, especially in light of legislation like the GDPR, which protects consumer data in Europe. Encrypting emails for your business will ensure that you don’t accidentally fall out of compliance with laws like the GDPR and compromise the sensitive information for your customers.
Having a digitally vulnerable business is bad not only for the legal ramifications, but also for the trustworthiness of your company at large. No one will want to shop at your online business if they think their information is at risk when they place an order!
All in all, S/MIME certification should be considered a requirement for both individuals and companies in this day and age. Consider swapping to an S/MIME-certified email platform if you haven’t already–there’s no replacement for good email security.
Author bio: Gary Stevens
Gary Stevens is the CTO of Hosting Canada, a website that provides expert reviews on hosting services and helps readers build online businesses and blogs.