A professor once said that there are three essential matters you must address or encounter as an IT professional – security, security and security. It matters not if your domain of specialty is in network administration, database design, or web development, there remains an imperative on the part of the IT specialist that data is secured and transmitted along channels that safeguard against corruption, interception or breach as much as possible. While this is all noteworthy, matters become complicated when one becomes cognizant of the many hubs, nodes or connection points that exist between the origin of the data, and it’s intended destination. More nodes or connection points may mean more potential areas of compromise if a concerted security infrastructure isn’t implemented with a reasonably strong degree of system integrity. This holds true for network considerations, database design, and certainly for our purposes here – email communications.
I’ll offer a quick analogy at his juncture (no pun intended): Here in the Caribbean we often speak about “island hopping.” Sometimes to get to your destination in another Caribbean island you have to ‘island-hop.’ If I wish to travel from St. Kitts to Trinidad for example, my route may take me from St. Kitts, to Antigua, then to St. Lucia and then finally to Trinidad. In this illustration, think of each island as a “node” or connection point, and think of your luggage as an attachment of an email message. Your point of departure (St. Kitts) is the starting point of your journey to Trinidad. You’ve happily booked your flight, checked in your luggage, and the airline advises that you will reach your final destination on time. But then when you get to Antigua, there is a complication and the connecting flight to take you from Antigua to your second stop in St. Lucia is late. It doesn’t take long to forecast the potential cascading effect from one point to another. The end result is getting to your final destination late and perhaps your luggage is held up somewhere in the chain – possibly compromised, damaged, searched, etc. Sounds familiar?
In the IT world, specialists are persistently working and refining methods that would ensure the safe and secure delivery of data from one point to the next. When there is cohesion and a sense of resonance between each juncture, inevitably there exists a system that can mitigate the occurrence of data theft or compromise. Now, one can argue quite reasonably that it is never 100% full proof as long as human intervention forms part of the responsibility chain, but the technology, in and of itself, offers a very compelling case that can safeguard your data from prying eyes in profound and remarkable ways. This is where the highly complex but intrinsically beautiful method of encryption comes in. From your own ‘hub,’ you can do your part to begin the journey in a responsible way by using the secure protocols afforded to you on your local email client. Here I speak of Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail or any of the common native apps on your mobile device, whether Android or Apple iOS.
Encryption forms the backbone of secure email communication going out from your device. In setting up your email account, an option is always provided for you to send messages using SSL/TLS. These stand for Secure Socket Layer and Transport Layer Security, and represent methods of encrypting, masking or locking data in such a manner that it cannot be deciphered or unlocked without a particular encryption ‘key .‘ TLS is the successor of SSL and represents a more advanced way to achieve this objective. With this enabled and used on your device, you can take a proactive step in safeguarding what you send out to your intended recipient. While the other nodes of the complex chain in data communications would involve your network, Internet Service Provider (ISP), email server, and the myriad of other hubs, here is one small responsible step you can take for your email to begin its journey.
Email security involves many additional facets beyond the scope of this post. Today we feature just one simple step that will make the journey a safer one. With all the intricacies of technology today, every little responsible act can allow us to ensure a little more safety for tomorrow.