Email security

Messaging tools are more popular, but email won‘t go away anytime soon

Today’s columnist, Andreas Brix of GlobalSign, writes that even Zoom plans on offering its own Zoom Mail Service for SMBs, so he doesn’t expect email to leave the business scene anytime soon. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In my almost 20-year career in the IT world I have been exposed to a lot of predictions. Even though some of them were wrong, they still triggered interesting discussions. One of these was made in Germany at the it-sa trade show by a representative from one of the collaboration platform providers back in 2017 who said “email will be gone in the next five years.”

Looking back at these last five years there have been many changes in the way we communicate. Using myself as an example I have a hard time recalling when I used email as a communication method in my private life to communicate with friends or family. In most cases, messaging services and apps are the main way of exchanging pictures, videos and messages. Hosted drives are used for bulkier files and archiving. Looking at the business world, communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams are on the rise, at least for internal communication.

Are modern collaboration apps more secure?

If collaboration tools are so popular, why do 65% of businesses still rely on emails to communicate with their clients? Even if they use the same messenger, admins are afraid of opening this communication platform to external parties as they are concerned about creating a new attack surface. A report from Intel 471 this past summer confirms these concerns. Intel 471 said while messaging applications have become very popular partly because of their features that go beyond sending messages to recipients, apps such as Discord and Telegram have underlying elements that let users create and share programs or other types of content that’s used inside the platform. However, cybercriminals have figured out how to leverage this for their own gains.

For more evidence of why companies still use email, look no further than Zoom. The well-known video conference company announced in November it’s launching its own hosted email (and calendar) service, Zmail. The service will have end-to-end encryption between service users by default. The Zoom Mail Service has been targeted for SMBs without dedicated IT resources. These smaller companies require enhanced privacy in their business communications, such as law firms or other businesses that share private information within their teams.

Marketers prefer email

Marketers still consider email one of the top ways to reach customers. According to a Hubspot report, there are 4 billion daily email users. That's a lot of people. More than 40% of brands report that email marketing is still very critical to business success. Granted, the number has dropped over the years. But email remains an important tool for marketers, and will likely remain so for quite some time.

How to keep email secure

There are many ways to secure email during its transfer to the receiver. Like any other data transfer online, email gets exchanged via different servers, routers and switches. Which cloud infrastructure in which countries and jurisdictions are handling the exchange of your email is very non-transparent. Free email services used by customers can cause privacy concerns as the services are usually financed by the data they collect. It’s easy for these providers to collect this data as an email without encryption, and that’s why it’s been referred to as secure as a postcard.

Of course, we have well-tested and established technologies to secure emails. Many organizations use Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME). Correctly applied, this public-key encryption standard can not only achieve encryption, but also allows companies to prove identities and the integrity of the email to the recipient.

Finally, I've found that email makes us feel safer. Thus, when they exchange email, people feel like they are more in control of the communication, which is true to the extent that individuals or companies need to take control of securing their email communication themselves. Sending an email without proper security in form of encryption gives as much control as other communication methods as the email can be transferred to multiple servers in multiple countries, giving third parties and governments access to the communication.  

So email remains one of the few communication standards where we can reliably exchange information worldwide. As long as companies can keep it secure and reliable, I wouldn't expect major shifts for years to come.

Andreas Brix, program manager, GlobalSign

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