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Private email - why everybody needs email privacy.

It's not just about basic Human Rights, it's also about basic security.

2020-11-30
Emails have replaced letters in many places. Yet, email privacy far lags behind the level of privacy you get when sending a letter. This is a danger to everybody because it makes your vulnerable to malicious online attacks. The good news is: Private email is easy to get, you just have to know how!

Why we need private emails

Email is still the most popular communication tool. While messaging apps have replaced email for most personal interactions, email is still widely used, particularly when it comes to exchanging messages with companies and the authorities. Particularly in these use-cases, privacy is direly needed.

Bills, tax statements, communicating with insurance companies - all of these are sent via email, and they contain a lot of very personal information. We often argue that privacy matters online to protect our right to privacy and freedom of speech. Of course, this is true, but each one of us also needs private emails to protect themselves from malicious attackers.

But first, let's explore why email as such can not be considered as private.

Why are emails not private?

This is due to the fact that the email protocol is interoperable, which means everyone can email with everyone, no matter what service each one picks. This is one of the reasons why email is so hugely successful.

However, this also makes email as such non-private. Due to the general email protocol, emails cannot be encrypted end-to-end as easily as WhatsApp or Signal messages.

Therefore, any email sent must be considered as non-confidential. Email traffic is copied and scanned en masse. Malicious attackers do not actually have to "read" emails to pick out the important ones. For instance, they can simply scan the emails for keywords such as "IBAN", "credit card" or "social security number".

Once they have this valuable information, they can use if for fraud or identity theft.

Security threats online

Security threats online are constantly increasing. There are a number of threats - and how private email can protect you from these.

1. Identity theft

Identity theft is best described as malicious attacks using personally identifying information, such as your name, address, Social Security Number (SSN), or credit card or bank account information to assume your identity in order to commit fraud or other criminal acts.

For instance, malicious attackers might use such information to pretend being you when claiming a loan or setting up a bank account fraudulently in your name.

Identity theft has become increasingly easy online, particularly due to the massive use of unencrypted emails.

You can make identity theft much harder for malicious attackers by switching to encrypted email such as Tutanota.

In case you are using Gmail, be warned: Gmail's confidential mode is not confidential and Gmail is also not encrypted.

2. Phishing

Email phishing is one of the greatest threats - whether you use standard or private email. Phishing can be best categorized as a targeted attack at an infinite number of people. Attackers send phishing emails that contain a malicious link or malicious attachments to lots of people in the hope that a few fall for the attack.

If you click the link - which usually leads to a faked login page - or download the attachments - which usually contain malicious scripts that then run on your computer - the attackers may get hold of your login credentials or my be able to encrypt your entire hard drive.

The best way to protect yourself from email phishing is to always remain suspicious when you receive an unexpected email and when you are not absolutely sure who the email is coming from. Here we have summarized more information on how you can protect yourself from email phishing.

Also check our email security guide on how you can make sure that no one can get hold of your online accounts.

3. Targeted attacks

Malicious attackers might also try to trick you into giving away sensitive personal information by pretending to be someone else that you trust.

Most commonly targeted attacks are used to attack businesses to get access to valuable information such as secret internal documents or access to customer databases etc. These attacks work similar as phishing attacks, but they are individually crafted towards certain employees. Thus, the attack requires more effort and targets highly valuable information.

Unfortunately, there is no general rule how one can protect themselves from such a sophisticated attack. The best advise here is to never hand out important information while under pressure. Always make absolutely sure that the perceived sender is the true sender - and not just someone pretending to be someone you know, e.g. your partner or your boss.

How can I keep my emails private?

To keep your emails private, you need email encryption. Only when your emails are encrypted, no third party can read or abuse your email data.

The good news is that private email today is easy to get. Tutanota is a secure email service that automatically encrypts all your emails - as well as your calendar and contacts.

Sign-up for a new mail account now and you'll see how easy it is to keep your emails private!

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