Email Encryption

Email Encryption: A Comprehensive Guide For Financial Services

Sponsored Content: How financial organizations can implement secure, compliant email encryption to protect confidential customer data.

Email Encryption: A Comprehensive Guide For Financial Services - Expert Insights

The last year saw a dramatic increase in cyberattacks against the financial services sector, as cybercriminals capitalized on the volatility of the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, according to recent research, 80% of financial institutions reported an increase in cyberattacks in 2020. However, we can’t expect these figures to decrease as we move towards post-pandemic life; attackers will continue to employ new, sophisticated methods by which they can steal corporate data. This means that, whether you’re a fund management service, an insurance company, a banking service or a payment and settlement service, cybersecurity should be one of your chief concerns.

In the financial services sector, email correspondence may contain sensitive personal or legal information, and it’s often critical that this information be actioned within a strict deadline. For your brand to succeed, your clients must be able to trust you with the integrity of their confidential data — this means that you must secure your emails.

In this guide, we’ll explain how encryption can help you to secure your organization against cybercriminals trying to access sensitive financial information stored in email content. We’ll also outline some of the key features that you should look for in an email encryption solution, so that you can be confident that you’re implementing the most effective protection possible.

What Is Email Encryption?

Encryption is the process of encoding the data stored in a file or message so that only an authorized person with the knowledge to decode that data can read it. The sender uses an algorithm, or “encryption key” to encrypt the message, turning it from plaintext into a string of random characters and numbers called ciphertext. This ciphertext message is then sent to its recipient, who uses a type of password called a “decryption key” to convert the ciphertext back into plaintext so that they can read it.

Generally, end-to-end encryption is considered to be the most secure method. End-to-end encryption uses a public key architecture to keep encrypted data secure at rest, in storage and in transit. A public key architecture is when the decryption key is known only to the recipient and is stored on their device, rather than on the encryption provider’s server. This means that nobody but the intended recipient can decrypt and read an encrypted message; not even the encryption service provider. So, even if an attacker were to infiltrate your email server through an attack on any of your external partners, they wouldn’t be able to read any of the sensitive content stored in your emails.

However, this also means that an attacker could decrypt a user’s emails if they managed to gain access to that user’s device and find their unique decryption key. To stop this from happening, we recommend that you also implement strong endpoint security processes such as a multi-factor authentication solution, a password manager, and strong antivirus software.

Why Do You Need To Encrypt Your Emails?

There are a number of key reasons why you should consider implementing an email encryption solution:

Secure Your Data

As a financial services organization, you’re responsible for keeping your customers’ confidential data secure at rest, in storage and in transit. This means protecting it against potential cyberthreats. 86% of all breaches are financially motivated, so it comes as little shock that the financial industry is the second most common victim of security breaches, closely following the healthcare industry.

Personally identifiable information (PII), non-public personal information (NPI) and financial information (such as credit card numbers and account numbers) are lucrative targets for attackers, who either sell this data illegally on the dark web or hold it ransom until their victim pays a fee for its return. Because of its high value, bad actors are employing increasingly sophisticated methods of attack in order to gain access to this data. Two of the most common attacks currently facing financial service organizations are spear phishing and ransomware. Spear phishing is a form of social engineering attack, in which an attacker disguises themselves as a trusted source, such as a colleague, and attempts to trick their victim into handing over sensitive information such as account credentials, or to click on a URL or attachment that will download malware onto the victim’s device.

Last year, 75% of organizations around the world experienced a spear phishing attack, and 74% of attacks on U.S. companies were successful. 

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack that involves malware. Once downloaded to the target’s device, often via a phishing email as outlined above, the malware locks files or encrypts them, effectively holding them hostage until the target organization pays a ransom to restore the data. The United States saw its number of ransomware incidents double last year, making it the most targeted country in the world.

One of the most common ways by which attackers infiltrate financial organizations is via island hopping attacks, where they compromise supply chains and partners in order to access their primary target; 33% of financial organizations experienced island hopping last year. Financial organizations are particularly susceptible to this kind of attack because of their interconnectivity with third-party services. This makes it ever more important that your data remains secure — even if one of your partners is compromised.

As well as having partners across other sectors, financial organizations often have ties with other companies in the same industry, which further increases their risk of attack. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that the spill over of cyberattacks amongst banks is particularly great; an attack on any of the five most active U.S. banks could affect 38% of the entire network.

To mitigate these threats, you must protect sensitive information against unauthorized viewing, as well as implement data loss prevention (DLP) processes so that you can serve your customers as efficiently and effectively as possible, even in the event that one of your partners is breached.

A strong encryption solution will help you to prevent data loss by ensuring that attackers cannot read the content of any emails, even if they manage to penetrate your firewall and access your email server. It will also protect your customers’ data, in the event that one of your partner organizations suffers a breach and the attacker manages to gain access to your systems by “island hopping” from that third party to you.

Protect Your Reputation

Your customers trust you to keep their data safe. In fact, a recent survey found that 96% of American bank account holders describe security and fraud protection as being one of the most important features they look for in a bank.

Reputational damage is one of the key consequences of a data breach. If you fall victim to a cyberattack, it’s likely that you’ll lose the trust that your customers have in you. A strong encryption solution will help stop you from falling victim to an attack, thus preserving your reputation in the eyes of your customers.

Verify Customer Identities

Financial organization often have to send PII, NPI and other sensitive information such as account numbers, credit card information, insurance information and credit scores via email. When sending these types of information, you need to be certain that the right person will receive them.

Some email encryption solutions, like Trustifi, offer integrated multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires recipients to verify their identity in two or more ways before they’re granted access to the email’s content. Trustifi also includes identity verification and validation for signing digital contracts, as well as providing proof of delivery for confidential documents.

Not all encryption solutions offer these services, so it’s important that you carefully inspect the feature set of any solution you’re considering and compare it to your business needs. It’s also a good idea to trial a solution before investing in it long-term, so that you can be certain it will do everything you need it to.


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Ensure Compliance

As a financial services organization, you’ll be aware of certain regulatory standards that you must comply with in order to be able to operate in line with the law. These differ from country to country, and in the U.S. from state to state, so it’s important that you research which compliance standards are relevant to you.

An encryption solution can help you meet many of these data privacy standards, including (but not limited to) the following:

  1. PCI DSS states that unencrypted credit card information should not be transmitted over open networks such as the internet and wireless networks (Requirement 4.1), and that organizations should never send unencrypted primary account numbers via end-user messaging technologies (Requirement 4.2). This means that your organization can send payment card information via email and still achieve compliance, as long as you encrypt that information.
  2. GLBA requires U.S. organizations to establish appropriate standards for protecting customers’ NPI. That includes any sensitive data given to your organization in order to receive a financial product or service (e.g. name, address and social security number), as well as transactional data (e.g. payment history) and data you obtain as a result of serving them (e.g. consumer reports).
  3. The FFIEC provides guidance for organizations that want to be GLBA compliant. They state that “financial institutions should employ encryption to mitigate the risk of disclosure or alteration of sensitive information in storage and transit”. This includes making sure that your chosen encryption solution will protect your data for as long as it needs protecting, i.e. that your subscription won’t run out or expire, and managing your cryptographic keys properly. To ensure you’re meeting these requirements, your chosen solution should be in line with the NIST and FIPS encryption standards.

When it comes to encryption, meeting compliance requirements will ensure that you’re able to prove your ability to keep customer data secure. This could prove useful both in terms of insurance and in the event of litigation. The loss of encrypted data is generally exempt from notification requirements, and it isn’t usually considered to be a “breach” because the lost data is unreadable. This means that, even if you suffer a breach that results in the loss of encrypted data, you can still meet GLBA requirements.

What Features Should You Look For In An Encryption Solution?

Implementing an encryption solution is a strong method of keeping your customers’ PII and NPI secure but, with so many options on the market, choosing the right one can be overwhelming. To help you get started, we’ve made a list of the most important features that financial services organizations should look for in an email encryption solution.

Note that, while encryption solutions may provide features outside of the ones mentioned here that may be relevant to your organization, we feel that these are the most crucial features to organizations of any size looking to implement an encryption solution.

Security

You’re looking for an encryption solution to protect sensitive data and, as such, the level of security offered should be your number one priority. The most secure encryption solutions support NIST- and FIPS-approved encryption standards. Currently, the most widely recommended standards are AES 128, 192 and 256-bit encryption. The “bit” refers to the length of the cryptographic key; the longer the key, the more difficult it is for hackers to crack it. So, an AES 256-bit encryption key has 2256 possible combinations. That’s 2 x 2, x 2, 256 times, which gives you a 78-digit number. Even using a supercomputer, it would take millions of years to crack AES 256-bit encryption.

As well as supporting one of the above encryption standards, your chosen solution should use end-to-end encryption, as opposed to server- or client-side. This will ensure that the intended recipient, and the intended recipient only, can de-code an encrypted email.

Ease Of Use For End Users

You could implement the strongest encryption service available and still find that your organization is susceptible to cyberattacks if your end users aren’t using the solution properly. Unfortunately, usability is one feature that many encryption providers struggle with — recipients often have to create an account for, and log into, a separate web portal to send, view and respond to encrypted emails, which can be time-consuming and put people off the whole process.

Your chosen solution needs to make it easy for senders to encrypt emails from within their native email client, as well as configure sent/received alerts and easily retract emails if needed.

It also needs to enable recipients to easily access encrypted emails, even if they themselves don’t have an account with the encryption provider.

Compliance And Auditing

Most regulatory standards require you to be able to prove your compliance; it isn’t enough just to encrypt your emails, you also need to provide data that shows how you’re using the solution to increase your security. A strong encryption solution will help you provide this proof by generating reports into the delivery of encrypted emails, including who sent and received them, when, and from where. These logs enable you not only to act compliant, but also to demonstrate compliance, including how you’ve configured your solution to meet regulatory standards (such as by using NIST- or FIPS- approved encryption).

Ease Of Deployment, Integration And Scalability

As well as being user-friendly from an end user perspective, it’s important that your chosen solution is easy for your admins or security team to deploy and set up. Cloud-based services enable admins to sync them with their Active Directory to allow for more efficient onboarding. They’re also easier to install remotely, and are much more scalable than on-premise solutions.

As well integrating with your Active Directory, your encryption solution should offer integrations with your existing stack of security tools, such as single sign-on.

Our Recommendation

Trustifi is a comprehensive email encryption provider that enables organizations to secure their communications with AES 256-bit end-to-end encryption. As well as mitigating data loss and securing outbound emails, Trustifi’s cloud-based solution features inbound threat detection and prevention tools to actively protect your users’ inboxes against spam phishing and ransomware attacks.  

Outbound Email Encryption

With Trustifi, emails are encrypted using AES 256-bit encryption and stored in Trustifi’s secure private cloud, ensuring the highest levels of security of encrypted data at rest, in storage and in transit. Additionally, decryption keys are stored on each user’s device, which means that not even Trustifi can access encrypted emails.

Trustifi’s solution is designed with ease of use at its core. Senders can encrypt emails from within their email client with the click of a button, as well as track the delivery status of their emails, recall emails, and edit emails that have already been sent, including attachments. This gives each sender compete control over securing their communications, without sacrificing time or having to learn how to follow complex processes.

DLP And One-Click Compliance

However, everyone makes mistakes — a fact that Trustifi takes into account. As such, the solution features a “one click” data loss prevention (DLP) and compliance policy, with which admins can quickly and easily — with the click of a button — choose the regulatory standards that their organization needs to comply with and set the Trustifi service to function in line with those standards. With One-Click Compliance enabled, admins allow Trustifi’s AI engine to scan outbound emails for sensitive content and PII, such as credit card numbers. If it detects any such content, the solution automatically implements the appropriate actions to secure it, reducing the risk of human error organization-wide.

This feature enables organizations to become fully compliant with PII, HIPAA/HTECH, GDPR, FSA, FINRA, LGPD and CCPA standards among others, helping to eliminate the complexity of compliance while ensuring that confidential data remains secure. Admins can configure this policy from within the solution’s management console. From here, they can also view and release quarantined emails, maintain audit logs, and configure Trustifi’s “Postmark” feature. This feature provides users with certifiable proof of delivery, which can be used for verification and compliance purposes, as well as in the event of litigation.

As well as being easy for senders and admins to use, Trustifi takes into consideration the needs of the recipient. The solution uses multi-factor authentication to authorize recipient access to encrypted emails. They simply enter their custom password or scan their fingerprint, and can read the message right there in their inbox — there’s no need to create an account or log into a web portal.

Inbound Email Security

Trustifi also provides advanced protection against inbound email threats, such as social engineering and ransomware attempts, and spam emails, which can clog up and slow down your users’ mailboxes. Trustifi’s AI engine scans all inbound email communications in real time and rates each message according to its threat type and severity — these ratings range from “Authenticated” through to such alerts as “Impersonation Attack” and “Spoofing Attack”.

Admins can configure threat detection policies to automatically quarantine malicious emails so that they never reach their intended victims. Quarantined emails can be viewed and released from within the platform’s management console, and they’re held for 60 days before being permanently deleted.

Additionally, admins can configure allow and deny lists in order to automatically block emails from known malicious senders, or to ensure that emails from safe external senders aren’t mistakenly quarantined because they weren’t recognized by the engine.

These email protection features are easy to deploy and integrate with common cloud-based email clients via Trustifi’s API.

Summary

Financial services organizations are responsible for handling — thus also securing — large amounts of personal data, from customers’ contact information and addresses, to their bank account numbers and credit card information. Customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) is both the most commonly compromised type of data, and the most costly, with breached resulting in the loss of PII costing on average four dollars more per record (150 dollars) than those that hadn’t lost PII. This means that a data breach involving PII could not only impact the physical and financial security of your customers, but it could also have catastrophic consequences on your company finances, too.

To help you secure this data against unauthorized access, we recommend that you implement a robust email encryption solution. A platform like Trustifi will enable you to protect confidential information from potential cyber threats, whilst assuring your prospective and existing customers that you’re actively taking steps to secure their data.

Trustifi provides highly secure encryption for organizations of all sizes. Their solution is scalable, cost-effective and user-friendly, and enables you to meet both your security and your compliance needs.

If you’re looking for a powerful encryption solution that will help you mitigate the risk of a data breach and navigate the complexities of compliance regulations, you can use the link below to start a free trial of Trustifi.


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