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How Can You Tell if an Email Was Transmitted Using TLS Encryption?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Frequently, we are asked to verify if an email that someone sent or received was encrypted using SMTP TLS while being transmitted over the internet.  For example, banks, health care organizations under HIPAA, and other security-aware institutions have a requirement that email be secured at least by TLS encryption from sender to recipient.

Email should always be transmitted with this basic level of email encryption ensure that the email message content cannot be eavesdropped upon.  This check, to see if a message was sent securely, is fairly easy to do by looking the the raw headers of the email message in question.  However, it requires some knowledge and experience.  It is actually easier to tell if a recipient’s server supports TLS than to tell if a particular message was securely transmitted.

To see how to analyze a message for its transmission security, we will look at an example email message sent from Hotmail to LuxSci, and see that Hotmail did not use TLS when sending this message.  Hotmail is not a good provider to use when security or privacy are required.

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