A beginner’s guide to protecting email privacy

What does email privacy ensure, and how can you know your messages are safe from prying eyes? Discover the most secure way to communicate on the internet!
List of email security features.
Emails have become such an integral part of our private and business lives that we consider them as intimate as having a conversation with a trusted friend. Only recently have we begun to question the safety of our online communication and wonder if email privacy is implied or whether we should take measures to protect it.This expert guide will resolve all your concerns regarding email privacy, mainly:
  • Whether emails are private and to what extent
  • What the biggest threats to your email security are
  • How email privacy laws secure your online communication
We will also give tips and tricks for enhancing the privacy of your digital conversations and recommend the most bullet-proof way to shield your emails from unwanted access.
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Are emails private, and why does it matter?

While it may seem that emails—being used as much as they are—provide privacy by default, it is not the case. Email communication is not popular for its privacy but for its convenience, i.e., the fact that anyone can exchange messages with anyone else, so the security of the correspondence was initially not a priority.In the email’s early age, messages would travel from server to server leaving behind copies that could easily be accessed by an unauthorized third party. The security has improved in the meantime, with most free email service providers (such as Gmail or Outlook) using encryption to secure your messages as they travel to the recipient. Most popular email services rely on Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to shield your messages from unauthorized access.If implemented properly, the TLS protocol secures your emails while in transit but does not protect them while they “rest” in the recipient’s inbox or the sender’s Sent Items folder. Another issue is the fact that most mainstream email services retain access to your private messages, analyzing their content for relevant keywords and sharing the information with advertising companies, which clutter your inbox with personalized ads.While getting personalized ads doesn’t seem dangerous (and might even be useful sometimes), it implies that your online communication is not completely private. Information you’d rather keep to yourself—such as online services you’ve signed up for—or deeply sensitive or confidential details like a photo of a passport or an ID, mortgage statements, and health documents are potentially jeopardized. In the worst-case scenario, hackers may intercept your messages at vulnerable points and access and misuse those private details for criminal activity.

What are the biggest threats to email privacy?

Emails are a breeding ground for cyber attackers hunting for private user information. Since email services have been improving their safety practices, these attacks have become more sophisticated over time. They can be grouped into three categories:
  1. Phishing
  2. Spoofing
  3. Malware delivery


This type of attack is engineered as a social campaign aiming to convince the user to complete a specific action. It is conducted via email or other types of messaging applications. The goal is to collect the user information or infect their device by prompting them to click on a malicious link.Ordinary phishing attacks are targeted at a large group of users, while the so-called spear phishing is typically aimed at specific individuals based on their job functions (usually connected to directing payments to outside individuals or organizations). They can be significantly more challenging to defend against, as spear phishing emails are crafted to convince the individual of their legitimacy.


Domain spoof is another common tactic hackers use to access user messages. The attacker typically spoofs a domain to resemble a known one to fool the recipient into thinking they received an email from a trusted sender. They tend to send phishing messages that appear to have originated from a user’s bank, employer, or another legitimate source. Email spoofing is usually conducted by:
  1. Mimicking a known email address or domain by slightly changing letters or numbers, making it appear fairly similar to the original
  2. Disguising the From field to display the exact email address of a known source
These types of attacks can sometimes be recognized by poor grammar, spelling mistakes, or unusual sentence structures in emails.

Malware delivery

Malware delivery is typically conducted via an email attachment or a link. The hackers infect the content with malicious code, and the recipient who downloads the attachment or clicks on the link unknowingly executes the malware, compromising their device and damaging the entire system. Common types of malware are viruses, ransomware, spyware, trojans, and worms.
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Email privacy laws—what can they protect us from and how?

Since online security has become a growing concern among users, email privacy laws have been established to govern the safety of data transmitted via the internet. Specific legal principles dictate that the content of sealed letters, telephone conversations, and mobile and electronic communications has to remain private, i.e., will not be intercepted by government agencies or unauthorized third parties.In the U.S., privacy laws have been established for both private and business online communication.Check out the table below for more details:
Private online communication lawsEstablished in 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) set provisions for defending the privacy of people using computers or other electronic devices. It makes reading or disclosing the content of people’s online communication (including emails) a crime, protecting individuals from any illegal activity regarding their online messages
Privacy laws regarding workplace emailsThe U.S. set exceptions to the ECPA that enable employers to create company-wide rules permitting them to read emails sent and received via the company’s email service. Despite this, the employer could still be held reliable under the ECPA if they use a particular email knowing it is an illegal interception or if company policies have led the employees to believe that the company email service is for private and business communication (not specifically the latter)
While the U.S. email privacy laws can protect you to a certain extent, the level of privacy you are expected to receive is based on the “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which is relatively low. Since email privacy is governed by the ECPA and the Patriotic Act, it is implied that:
  1. Email service providers have the right to access your messages
  2. The content of your messages is available to the government via a subpoena
Given the situation, you should take measures to ensure the privacy of your email correspondence. The most reliable way is to sign up for a quality email encryption service provider.

How does quality encryption secure your email communication?

Almost all popular email services have implemented some kind of encryption to safeguard transferred messages. Email encryption entails converting your online correspondence into a cipher unreadable to anyone besides the intended recipient. The goal is to protect your sensitive information from being read by an unauthorized third party or stolen by cybercriminals. The message can be deciphered only with a description key owned by the recipient.Encrypting an email is not enough as there are various encryption types that can still leave your data vulnerable at certain points, such as:
  • Encryption-in-transit—implemented by the likes of Gmail and Outlook, this type of encryption (executed via Transport Layer Security Protocol) shields your messages while traveling through the network but leaves them exposed while resting on users’ respective devices or servers
  • Encryption-at-rest—secures your messages while resting on servers
Both types of encryption entail the email service provider (ESP) creating and having access to the decryption key. Even if the message is encrypted at specific points, the email service provider holds the key on its servers. The threat goes beyond email providers selling your data to advertising companies—any breach of security on a network level can lead to the keys being stolen and used to access the content of your messages.The only way to keep your emails completely safe from unauthorized access is to sign up for an end-to-end encryption service.

Email privacy issues are minimal with end-to-end encryption

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) combines encryption-in-transit and encryption-at-rest to provide the ultimate protection of your transferred messages. The method entails encrypting and decrypting messages on a device level—the sender encrypts the message, and the recipient uses a decryption key known only to them to decrypt it. The security of E2EE lies in the fact that the user is the one creating and holding the decryption key. The intended recipient stores the key on their device, and no one—not even the email service provider—has access to it.End-to-end encryption is effective because it protects your messages from:
Unauthorized viewingThe decryption key is safely stored on the recipient’s device, so there is no chance of somebody stealing it. The message may be visible to intermediaries during transit but in the illegible form
TamperingSince the message remains enciphered all the way to the recipient, any attempts at tampering will be futile (as there’s no way to decode the message) and obvious to the receiving party
There is a handful of email service providers offering this level of email privacy, but most have issues such as:
  • Outdated interface—you might have difficulty navigating the website if you’re not tech-savvy
  • Limited features—E2EE can be extended to other mediums besides email, and you should look for the option that provides an end-to-end encrypted product suite
  • Less-than-generous free plans—most available E2EE services offer free plans that include minimal functions insufficient for an average user’s needs
There is a service that doesn’t require you to sacrifice functionality for safety—sign up for Skiff, and you can enjoy a simple and effective solution for secure online communication.

Skiff—a one-stop solution for complete digital privacy

Skiff is dedicated to providing complete privacy to users communicating online. The company’s mission is to make E2EE accessible to anyone, regardless of their technical skills or individual needs. Check out the benefits you can enjoy by signing up for Skiff:
  1. Modern, intuitive UI–Unlike most other E2EE email services, Skiff features a beautifully designed, easy-to-use interface that makes navigating the products effortless for users of all levels
  2. Comprehensive product suite—Skiff offers four end-to-end encrypted and synchronized products:
    1. Skiff Mail—enables you to send and receive emails in an E2EE environment
    2. Skiff Drive—allows you to upload, download, share, and store your files safely across all devices
    3. Skiff Pages—lets you collaborate with your team and write and edit docs in real-time within a safe, decentralized environment
    4. Skiff Calendar—integrates with Skiff Mail and keeps your events, locations, attendees, and entries end-to-end encrypted
  3. Superior E2EE setup across all products—The platform implements two separate, mathematically related keys to encrypt and decrypt data across all products. The decryption key is stored on the recipient’s device and known only to them. This model ensures the decryption key is protected as it never leaves the recipient’s device. Skiff doesn’t even require your personal information to set up an account
  4. Generous free plan—Skiff offers within their free version many features other platforms include only in their paid plans, such as:
    1. 10 GB of free storage space
    2. Four aliases
    3. Email search feature
    4. Auto-reply and signature options
    5. Collaboration on an unlimited number of pages
  5. Web-3 integrations—You can use your crypto wallet as login credentials for Skiff Mail and manage your digital assets in a completely anonymous environment
  6. Complete transparency—Skiff is an open-source product, which means you can review the code and confirm the privacy practices. The whitepaper outlining the encryption method is also open for review

Sign up for Skiff in a matter of seconds

Take control of your online privacy today by following these simple steps:
  1. Visit the Skiff signup page
  2. Create an account—add a username, provide your password, and confirm it
  3. Start using Skiff Mail and other products
Try Skiff’s free plan to accommodate your privacy needs and test the suite. Should your requirements grow over time, switch to one of the three paid plans—Essential, Pro, and Business. You will get:
  • Larger storage space—up to 1 TB
  • Higher number of aliases
  • Custom domains
  • Unlimited number of messages
  • Unlimited access to doc version history
Besides using Skiff in any browser, you can download apps for Android, iOS, or macOS and enjoy unrestricted access to Skiff’s products from any device. The platform also offers optional integrations with the Interplanetary File System or IPFS (the world’s largest decentralized storage provider), where you can store your files. Keep in mind that you need to take extra precautionary measures to keep the files stored on IPFS safe and anonymous.

Tips for strengthening your email privacy

While end-to-end encryption is the most advanced way to secure your online data, it is not unbreakable. There are situations where E2EE can’t protect you, such as when someone hacks your device—they can read the content of your message before it is encrypted or after the decryption takes place. You can further minimize the risk of someone accessing your sensitive data by taking the following steps:
  1. Use a VPN to hide your browsing activity
  2. Choose a strong password for your account
  3. Enable two-factor identification
  4. Select a reliable E2EE email service provider

Use a VPN

VPNs encrypt your communication on any device, be it a tablet, laptop, or cellphone. It transfers your data to the VPN’s service provider’s servers through a secure tunnel, making sure your data is encrypted and rerouted to a website you’re trying to reach. VPNs work by hiding your location, so your IP address can’t be linked to your email, enabling you to remain anonymous on the internet.

Set up a strong password

Creating a strong and unique password is the first step in protecting your email account. Ideally, you should use a combination of words and numbers, such as three random words with some numbers thrown in. Avoid a password manager and make sure not to repeat the same password across all services since a potential leakage can compromise all your accounts.

Enable two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is convenient because it strengthens the security of your account and makes a hacker work twice as hard to gain access to your data. However strong your password is, you shouldn’t put all your faith into it. All mainstream ESPs enable simple two-factor verification, and Skiff is no different. Users are encouraged to set it up because it protects them from phishing, compromising a password or device manager, or other attacks where their password might become exposed.

Choose a reliable E2EE email service provider

Many ESPs will advertise encryption-in-transit as end-to-end encryption, leaving your data vulnerable to attacks. Getting informed on the differences between encryption methods should help you make an informed decision about the safest email encryption service providers. It is crucial to choose a service that is transparent about their encryption practices and enjoys rave reviews from satisfied users—like Skiff. Sign up today to bring your cybersecurity and privacy to the next level!

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