August 16, 2022

Mitigate Email-based Security Risks With Encrypted File Transfer

You’ve probably heard a statistic or two about how employee mistakes drive the majority of data loss at organizations. It might come as a surprise, though, that email is the riskiest channel for data loss, even above cloud file-sharing services and messaging platforms.

Increased pressure to improve data security comes externally from regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA compliance. Internally, documents containing sensitive business information regularly traverse your network boundary and need protection. 

End-to-end encryption is the best way to protect data in motion and ensure it’s only read by the intended recipient. This article describes how email-based encrypted file transfer solutions help to maintain data security when sending sensitive information by email. 

Why Email Drives The Majority of Data Loss

First, some context on just how risky email is as a communication medium for sensitive data. One recent report from May 2022 found that nearly 60% of organizations experienced data loss or exfiltration caused by an employee mistake on email in the previous 12 months. But why is it that data loss incidents plague email more than other channels?

Lack of data visibility

A plethora of unstructured data sources containing sensitive information regularly moves around within your IT environment and possibly beyond. Visibility into sensitive data and what employees do with that data remains poor, partly because there is so much data that it’s challenging to track everything. 

When there is insufficient data visibility, you ultimately then depend on the email being sent to the correct recipient, only read by that recipient, and not being compromised while in transit. These assumptions are by no means a given, especially when there is no encrypted file transfer solution in place to provide end-to-end encryption for email messages. 

Negligent practices

Negligence stems from inadequate security awareness training. Many training programs don’t include sufficient material educating employees about the security risks of email data transfers. Hampered by a lack of comprehensive visibility into sensitive data, organizations can’t detect risky data handling behaviors. 

One negligent practice commonly behind data loss incidents is when employees send sensitive data from business emails to personal emails. The Great Resignation—an economic trend that sees employees voluntarily leaving their jobs across all sectors—only worsens the problem as these risky data transfers increase in prevalence. 

Malicious insiders

While malicious insiders don’t pose anywhere near the level of risk to email data security as unintended data loss, it remains true that insiders might use their access to sensitive data in nefarious ways. It’s not just full-time employees that can go rogue—other insiders with access to data include contractors and even business partners. 

Whether incentivized by potential financial gain or to take revenge for soured relations, these are credible scenarios in which this can happen. All it takes is attaching a sensitive document to an email and sending it to an address outside the organization. 

The Value of Email-Based Encrypted File-Sharing 

With most email-based data loss incidents not being caused by active malicious behavior by employees, you can manage a significant portion of data loss risks with email-based encrypted file sharing. Whether an employee sends sensitive data to their personal email or a third party, here are some of the reasons that data loss or exposure can occur with typical email communications:

  • Any email file attachments are unencrypted both when in motion and when delivered to the recipient. With no information about third-party security practices, you don’t know for certain whether people other than the intended recipient can access any transferred files. 
  • When sending files via email to personal addresses or any other email outside your infrastructure, attached files traverse potentially unsecured communication channels outside of your control. Furthermore, for email services like Gmail and Yahoo, the service provider controls encryption keys for data in motion, which means they can access the contents of messages. 
  • A lack of audit trail makes it impossible to truly verify who accessed a file either during transport or while awaiting delivery to the intended recipient. You end up with no visibility as to whether or not  emails only get read and delivered to the right people. 

Encrypted file-sharing solutions can help to overcome the challenges to protecting data when shared via email. For starters, these solutions provide end-to-end encryption, which means the email attachments are secured at all times, from the moment they’re attached to an email to during transit and until delivery. With end-to-end encryption, even the email service provider doesn’t have the decryption key. This base level of security notably reduces risks, but not all encrypted email file-sharing solutions come with enough features to truly mitigate email-based data loss and data exposure risks. 

How Atakama Secure File Transfer Works 

Atakama’s Encrypted File Transfer solution draws inspiration from email-based encrypted file sharing but refines the process, makes it more user-friendly, and improves data security. Military-grade encryption at the file level enables secure file sending without any need to rely on FTP, SFTP, or other protocols. 

Encrypted File Transfer doesn’t even require users to attach files to emails when wanting to share sensitive information for legitimate reasons, such as with contractors, remote colleagues, or business partners. Instead of attaching files to emails, the solution lets senders generate secure URLs for encrypted files. 

The sender emails the recipient notifying them that sensitive files are accessible using the secure URL. Users sharing sensitive files then receive a notification when the recipient is ready to download the file. By requiring the sender to approve the release of the file and allowing them to verify the recipient’s identity, the solution gives businesses far more control over and visibility into who accesses sensitive information. 

An innovative multifactor encryption approach underpins how Atakama Encrypted File Transfer works. This method of encryption splits encryption keys into shards across two or more devices. Instead of having to communicate decryption passwords, the recipient’s registered device opening the secure URL represents the start of the decryption process. 

However, decryption only then becomes complete when the sender who is sharing the file approves the request to open it, and the decryption key is fully reconstructed. This process happens seamlessly and instantly to minimize any productivity disruptions.

Start mitigating email-based data security risks at your organization with a completely secure, file transfer process that provides end-to-end encryption without the need to depend on clumsy portals that frustrate users or potentially unsecured communications that you have no control over. Organizations rely on Atakama to protect their most sensitive data, even when identity and rules-based access controls fail. Atakama removes the conventional trade-off between data security and accessibility to protect data, simplify the user experience, and visualize data usage and security trends.

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