Understanding the Risk to Email

We All Rely on Email

When you send an email, the message is sent in clear text, readable by anyone with access to the servers along the way – or by anyone monitoring network traffic. We all rely on email to communicate with colleagues, service providers, partners, friends and family. Most of the time, this information would be of little value to someone intercepting the message. But, occasionally, you probably send a message that contains sensitive information:

  • Account numbers, passwords, financial details
  • Personal information such as medical records
  • Undisclosed business details, for example future products, pricing, legal contracts, etc.

Encryption - Typically Expensive & Complex

To prevent hackers from reading sensitive email, corporations and governments encrypt their messages. But, these systems are difficult to set up, and are often expensive, putting them out of reach of most individuals and even small businesses. And frequently, these systems work only on one platform (for example, your PC), and leave you with email you can't read when you need it on your smartphone.

How Bad Guys Target Sensitive Information

You may think that with all the email traversing the web, the likelihood of someone actually reading your private message is pretty low. But, the reality is that the bad guys are not trying to read everything, they have 3 primary ways to target sensitive information:

  • By focusing on messages to/from sites they know are likely to be sending or receiving valuable data, they only need to analyze a small slice of the total traffic
  • Using automated filtering techniques, they can search this traffic for likely patterns that match data they are interested in (16-digit credit cards or 3-2-4 format for social security numbers, for example) or keywords (password, login, confidential, etc.
  • Using social engineering or brute force password hacking methods, they can break into your email account, and search your read/archived messages or sent folder for private information sent or received in the past.

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