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Secure Email Certificates: Do You Need Them?

written by: Donna Buenaventura•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 11/27/2010

Do you care about your business's identity? Protecting a business name requires protection at your end, even with emails that your company is sending to customers and business partners. Keeping business emails private and secure builds trust and confidence.

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    Email Security Using Digital Signature

    Secure email certificates: Do you need them? Like any device or computer that requires a security setup, an email address or message is sometimes secured by individuals, organizations, or businesses. This leads to the question by businesses or individuals, if they need to use a secure email certificates.

    An email client provides an option to send secure or encrypted email messages. It is why even web-based email providers are using SSL protocol (https) to secure the login information of the people. However, it does not mean the attachments or messages of the email are also secure, especially if the email account has been hacked.

    Do you really need to secure messages using encryption and digital certificates? First, read the advantages and disadvantages of using email certificates, and then find out if you really need to secure by digitally signing or encrypting an email message.

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    Advantages of Using Secure Mail

    No doubt that a secure message sent using your email address is better than sending email without digital and encryption. It is because the recipient of the message will confirm or verify that the message received is from you. Sending an email without a secure email certificate is like sending a postcard, where the delivery man can read the message in a postcard before it reaches your mailbox. The postcard message can be erased or modified since it is open already.

    Like a postcard, an email message without a digital signature and encryption can be intercepted, spoofed, and altered:

    • Intercepted and altered email message: There are numerous reports already that an email message can be intercepted during transit, especially if you use a public and unsecure Internet connection. Encrypting and digitally signing a message will prevent an unauthorized user or hacker to read or modify a secure message.
    • Spoofed email: If you frequent discussion forums or you are aware of the email threats reported in many technology sites, you will notice many business and end-users have become victims of spoofed messages. In some cases, malware is the cause of spoofed email but there are incidents that the spoofed email message or email address is due to hacked e-mail accounts or email servers. Using a digital signature for emails and protection by an antivirus should help prevent this scenario.

    Running a business means you have important contacts to communicate with. They can be a business partner, affiliates, or customers. Sending a secure email message to important people and even potential customers provides confidence and trust in your company because the message they have received is secure using a digital certificate or encryption. It helps to verify that the information in a message came from you or your company, and not from an impostor.

    The example is an email being sent by Microsoft to subscribers of Microsoft products' Security Bulletins and revisions:Example of Secure Email Sent by Microsoft 

    Microsoft has digitally signed the e-mail newsletter using PGP Desktop. This is to ensure recipients that the email message is not a fraudulent message but is from Microsoft. Microsoft has published also its PGP key and S/MIME certificate at

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    Disadvantages of Using Email Certificates

    There's not much disadvantage in using secure email in a business environment other than the following:

    1. Cost - Sending unsecure email costs nothing; but with a digital certificate and encryption for outgoing e-mails, a business or organization needs a budget in securing email messages. Example: PGP Desktop Professional or Corporate editions will cost your company $287 or $329, respectively.
    2. Technology issues - if your business is using customized software, a compatibility issue could be a problem.
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    Secure Email Certificates: Do You Need Them?

    A business who wants to protect its company's identity is recommended to use a secure e-mail by digitally signing a message. Encrypting a message is also recommended if your business would like a particular customer or business partner to open a message that is private and only for the intended recipient(s). A secure email also helps to prevent the recipients from denying receipt of the message you sent.

    To start securing your business name, you need to start securing the messages sent by your company. Check out PGP, Verisign, and Thawte email certificates for your business!

    Image credit: Screenshot taken by the author.