Encrypted Email: Traversing from Open Standards to Custom Solutions

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)

PGP, an acronym for “Pretty Good Privacy,” is one of the foremost email encryption solutions to emerge in the realm of online communications. Its inception dates back to 1991 when Phil Zimmermann, its founder, sought to create a system that would ensure the cryptographic privacy and authentication of digital communications, particularly emails. The genius behind PGP is its harmonious integration of both symmetric and asymmetric encryption methods.

In the context of PGP, users are endowed with a pair of keys – a public key and a private key. The public key serves the role of being available to anyone wanting to send an encrypted message to the key owner, while the private key remains confidential, used exclusively by the recipient for decryption purposes. The two-key system ensures the privacy and integrity of the communication, reducing the risks of unwanted interception and unauthorized access.

As we look through the annals of history, PGP’s journey has been replete with milestones. Notably, its encryption protocol became a subject of contention during the early 1990s, as the U.S. government initiated a criminal investigation against Zimmermann for the alleged violation of export restrictions. The contention revolved around the export of strong encryption software out of the country. Nevertheless, after several years of scrutiny, the case was dropped without any charges. This event fortified PGP’s position in the encryption world, casting it in the limelight as a symbol of the struggle for digital privacy rights. Over the decades, PGP has solidified its reputation as a reliable tool for email communications, becoming a go-to for many who prioritize digital security.

SMIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions)

Moving forward in the timeline, the late 1990s saw the emergence of SMIME, another stalwart in the field of email encryption solutions. Setting itself apart from its predecessors, SMIME aimed to establish a standard for public key encryption specifically tailored for MIME data. The technology underlying SMIME is conceptually similar to PGP in its use of the public and private key system. However, where they differ is in the distribution mechanism of the public keys.

In the world of SMIME, the distribution of public keys is centralized through entities known as certificate authorities. These bodies are trusted third parties that issue and manage digital certificates, which, in turn, validate the identity of the certificate holder. This method of centralized distribution offers advantages, especially for large enterprises, by streamlining the management and verification of public keys.

Given its alignment with the needs of big businesses, it’s no surprise that while PGP finds its advocates among individuals and smaller businesses, SMIME is the preferred choice for many large-scale enterprises. The preference for SMIME in corporate sectors can also be traced back to major events. One significant episode in the history of SMIME was the integration of its protocols into popular email software platforms. This integration greatly facilitated the adoption of SMIME, making it a cornerstone in the modern landscape of email encryption solutions.

Personal Certificates for SMIME Use

An important development in the landscape of Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (SMIME) has been the discontinuation of free Certificate Authorities (CA) offering personal certificates for SMIME use, such as Thawte.

Thawte, once a significant player in the free email certificates area were widely used for SMIME encryption and digital signatures. However, they discontinued this service, leaving many users in search of alternative solutions. The cessation of free personal certificates has impacted the accessibility and affordability of secure email communication. It has prompted users and organizations to explore other options, such as paid certificates or alternative encryption methods.

This shift in the industry underscores the importance of the ongoing development and support of open standards like PGP, as well as the continued innovation of proprietary email encryption solutions. Despite the challenges, the need for secure, encrypted email communication remains paramount, and the industry continues to adapt and evolve to meet this demand.

Leading the Charge in Proprietary Email Encryption Solutions

ZIX: Setting itself apart, ZIX offers a comprehensive suite of email protection tools. It not only provides encryption services but also ensures data loss prevention and advanced threat protection. Its unique feature, which scans outbound emails for sensitive content and then encrypts them based on predefined organizational policies, ensures a seamless encryption process. Furthermore, ZIX’s platform is particularly user-friendly, making it easy for businesses to integrate and operate. Learn more about ZIX.

PreVeil: Known for its end-to-end encryption, PreVeil takes email security to another level. Unlike many platforms that only encrypt emails during transit, PreVeil ensures the emails remain encrypted even when at rest in a server. This added layer of protection guarantees that even if a hacker breaches a server, the data remains inaccessible. Explore PreVeil’s approach.

Skiff: Touted as the most private communication platform, Skiff prioritizes user privacy. Not only does it offer end-to-end encrypted emails, but it also ensures that even metadata (like when an email was sent or who was it sent to) remains private. By safeguarding even this often-overlooked data, Skiff offers a truly holistic protection approach. Dive into Skiff’s offerings.

ProtonMail: Originating from the scientific community at CERN, ProtonMail has become synonymous with encrypted email. Its user-centric approach guarantees no access to user data, ensuring complete confidentiality. ProtonMail’s encryption process is automatic, meaning emails are encrypted the moment they are sent and only decrypted when they reach the intended recipient. Discover more about ProtonMail.

Office Email Encryption: Offered as a part of Microsoft’s Office suite, Office email encryption provides built-in, intuitive protection without the need for external tools. It allows users to send encrypted emails straight from Outlook, ensuring sensitive information remains protected irrespective of where the recipient resides. This ease of use combined with robust security features makes it a top choice for enterprises globally. Read more on Office email encryption.

Barracuda: A powerhouse in the email security world, Barracuda provides an array of tools, including encryption, to combat evolving digital threats. Its intuitive interface ensures businesses can monitor encrypted email logs, manage encryption policies, and ensure compliance. Additionally, Barracuda provides robust threat detection, ensuring malicious attempts are curtailed even before they reach an inbox. Find out more about Barracuda.

Why Organizations Gravitate Towards Proprietary Email Encryption Solutions

The rise in the use of proprietary email encryption platforms, such as ZIX, PreVeil, Skiff, ProtonMail, Office email encryption, and Barracuda, underscores their inherent appeal to organizations. While diverse in their offerings, these platforms provide benefits that resonate with businesses and institutions of all sizes:

  1. Tailored Offerings: Platforms like Skiff, known for prioritizing user privacy even down to metadata, and PreVeil, which ensures encryption both in-transit and at rest, cater to niche security needs. Their tailored solutions offer organizations precise protections suited to their unique requirements.
  2. Ease of Integration and Use: ZIX’s user-friendly interface and the built-in encryption features of Office Email Encryption make it simple for businesses to incorporate these tools into their existing communication structures. The less friction there is in adoption, the more likely an organization is to use the solution consistently.
  3. Comprehensive Security Suites: Companies like Barracuda don’t just stop at encryption. They offer a holistic suite of security features, including threat detection and policy management. This comprehensive approach ensures that businesses can address multiple security needs from a singular platform.
  4. Reputation and Trust: Platforms such as ProtonMail, born out of the esteemed scientific community at CERN, come with a pedigree that instills trust. Organizations often gravitate towards solutions that have an established reputation in the industry.
  5. Continuous Support and Updates: Proprietary solutions typically come with dedicated customer support and regular software updates. The prompt support offered by vendors like ZIX ensures that organizations can quickly address any potential challenges or vulnerabilities.

In essence, while open standards for email encryption have their merits, proprietary platforms have carved out their niche by addressing specific challenges and needs that organizations face. Their adaptability, comprehensive features, and reputation make them an enticing choice for businesses looking to safeguard their digital communications.

Content Oversight: Enforcing Policies with Proprietary Solutions

A significant driving factor behind the organizational adoption of proprietary email encryption solutions is the ability to oversee and manage content. This oversight is pivotal for various reasons:

  1. Policy Enforcement: Organizations often have stringent communication policies in place, outlining what kind of information can be shared and with whom. Proprietary platforms, like ZIX, allow businesses to set and automatically enforce these policies. For instance, an email containing confidential company data can be flagged or automatically encrypted based on pre-set rules.
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Many industries operate under strict regulatory guidelines dictating how certain types of data, especially customer information, are handled. With proprietary solutions, companies can ensure that all communications adhere to these regulations, reducing the risk of non-compliance and potential legal repercussions.
  3. Proactive Threat Detection: By monitoring email content, organizations can proactively detect potential threats or malicious content. This is especially crucial in an era where phishing attacks and malware are increasingly sophisticated. Proprietary platforms offer advanced threat detection, scanning email contents for suspicious links or attachments.
  4. Data Loss Prevention: Monitoring the flow of information can prevent unintentional data leaks. If an employee inadvertently attempts to send sensitive information outside the organization, proprietary tools can flag or even block the transmission.
  5. Audit and Review Capabilities: For businesses, especially in sensitive industries, being able to audit communication is vital. Proprietary platforms offer comprehensive logging and tracking capabilities, allowing organizations to review past communications if needed, whether for internal reviews or legal obligations.

This added layer of content oversight makes proprietary email encryption solutions particularly attractive to corporations. While end-to-end encryption prioritizes privacy, businesses often need a balance, ensuring that while data is secure, it’s also compliant and adhering to internal and external standards.

Championing the Cause of Unified Internet Standards

The diverse landscape of email encryption, filled with proprietary platforms such as ZIX, PreVeil, and ProtonMail, presents both advantages and challenges. One notable downside is the complexity it introduces for end users.

  1. Navigating Multiple Secure Email Portals: Each proprietary platform often comes with its own secure portal. For users communicating with various organizations, this means managing access to multiple such portals, each with its own interface and nuances.
  2. Lack of archiving: When the actual content of the email is hosting in another system, you can’t search for it, or have a record of it. Many of these proprietary systems archive email at 30 days so if you didn’t make a screenshot of it, its gone forever.
  3. Firewall Configuration Challenges: Different platforms may have unique requirements, prompting IT teams to constantly tweak and adjust firewall rules to accommodate these solutions. This not only demands additional resources but also introduces potential vulnerabilities.
  4. Password Overload: With each new platform, users need to create and manage a new set of credentials. This not only increases the likelihood of password fatigue but also raises concerns about password security. As users juggle multiple passwords, they might resort to weaker passwords or reuse credentials, undermining security efforts.

Amidst these complexities, the allure of unified internet standards like PGP becomes evident. By rallying behind a single, universally accepted standard, we can:

  • Promote Simplified Interoperability: One standard means seamless communication. Emails encrypted using this standard can be decrypted by any compliant software, eliminating the need to juggle multiple platforms.
  • Ease of Management: With one universal standard, users need only a single key pair. This drastically simplifies the encryption and decryption process. For instance, with PGP, a single public key shared with contacts ensures that they can send encrypted emails, while the private key remains with the user for decryption.
  • Enhanced Transparency: Open standards, constantly under the scrutiny of the global tech community, benefit from widespread expertise. This collaborative vigilance ensures quick detection and rectification of potential vulnerabilities.

By shifting focus to championing unified standards like PGP, we can pave the way for a more streamlined, efficient, and user-friendly approach to email encryption, fostering both security and ease of use.


In the ever-evolving realm of email encryption, two distinct pathways emerge. On one hand, businesses gravitate towards proprietary platforms like ZIX, PreVeil, and ProtonMail. The allure lies in their easy installation, robust commercial support, and capabilities that allow for content monitoring and tailored security features. These commercial solutions seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructures, making them a favorite for organizational IT departments.

However, from the end user’s vantage point, the scene shifts. Proprietary platforms often mean navigating a maze of secure email portals, managing a myriad of passwords, and grappling with diverse firewall configurations. This complexity stands in stark contrast to the simplicity and universality of industry standards like PGP. With a single key pair and a standardized method, sending and receiving encrypted emails becomes straightforward.

In an ideal world, commercial software packages would merge the best of both realms. By integrating support for industry-standard methods, they could offer businesses the tailored features and support they crave while ensuring ease of use for the end user. This convergence would not only streamline email encryption processes but also foster widespread adoption, ultimately elevating the security and efficiency of digital communications.

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