What is an Email Certificate?

If you are an e-mail user, and who isn't these days, you have likely run into security problems. The list of e-mail security issues, whether they are serious or just annoying, is very long and can be very costly for both the sender and recipient.

The following information provides an overview of what an e-mail certificate is, how it works, why e-mail users need it, how to order and install it and the advantages and disadvantages of using this technology.

What Is An E-mail Certificate?

The problem with standard unsecured e-mail systems is that the messages can be read by people and mail servers that are involved with passing the e-mail from sender to the recipient. This is analogous to sending a postcard through the postal system. Any postal worker along the way to it's final destination can read it.

To help prevent e-mail security issues, several trusted internet security providers offer a valuable solution called e-mail certificates. These are encrypted and authenticated certificates that offer users a 100% guarantee that their e-mails will be transmitted confidentially and securely.

Depending on the Internet provider issuing the E-Mail certificate, it may be free for personal use or there may be a charge.

How Does An E-mail Certificate Work?

The setup of an electronic E-mail certificate is analogous to the issuance and use of a passport. With a passport, the U.S. State Department (i.e. the authority) confirms a person's identity and credentials to authorize them to travel internationally. The passport provides proof of the recipient’s nationality and records (i.e. with stamps on passport) their movements across international borders. The rigor of the U.S. passport process provides for cross-border travel while protecting the security of the country and our citizens.

E-mail certificates are issued by trusted authorities (i.e. Internet security providers) who are responsible for the encryption and authentication of an electronic transmission.

An e-mail certificate electronically couples a user’s e-mail address with their personal identity and is then sealed by a digital signature produced by the trusted authority. This is like the use of stamps in the passport scenario.

The e-mail certificate is an electronic document that can include information such as:

E-mail address
Name of issuing authority
Expiration date
Public Key (which user shares with E-mail recipients)
Private Key (users secret code)
Digital signature (issued by authority)

Once the e-mail certificate is secured from the authority and installed on the users e-mail client (e.g. Microsoft Outlook), the next step is to send a digitally-signed e-mail to people who want to send encrypted e-mails back. Once this is completed, the sender and the recipient have the confidence that their e-mail exchanges are being encrypted and authenticated to protect their identity and the confidentiality of the document.

How To Order and Install an E-Mail Certificate

Ordering an e-mail certificate is a simple process. Once the user selects the provider, they only need to apply for the service and then do an e-mail exchange with the provider to prove that they own their e-mail address. The provider then sends the user a certificate file that's installed to work with their e-mail client.

E-Mail Certificates Advantages And Disadvantages

Obviously, the use of this technology makes e-mail transmissions much more secure. However, the following issues should be considered:

Not all mail clients support certificates (e.g. webmail clients)
Encrypted e-mails with malware may not be stopped by a company gateway
Keys can be lost

E-mail certificates are great tools for people who are concerned with protecting confidential information. They should make sure to research all e-mail certificate options in order to choose the security certificate that works best for them.

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