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Posts Tagged ‘email’

What is really protected by SSL and TLS?

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

This question came in via Ask Erik:

Hi Erik,

I stumbled upon your blog while trying to learn a little about SSL/TLS in the context of client/server e-mail sessions, i.e. not web mail which I understand to be an HTTP session.  I am just an ordinary user with no special security needs but I find all this news about corporate and government surveillance to be troubling for both philosophical and practical reasons.  In any case my questions is quite simple.

My e-mail client, apple mail, and my e-mail service provider both support SSL so my e-mail exchanges between my computer and the server are encrypted.  I understand that I can’t control what happens with other e-mail servers.  What I am trying to understand is what does it mean to be encrypted?  When an e-mail leaves my computer how much of the message is encrypted?   Are the e-mail headers encrypted including the sender and recipient e-mail addresses.  I would assume so but nobody talks about the details.  What metadata trail does a user leave when using SSL/TLS.  Is it is as simple as the destination and sending IP address with everything else encrypted?  Reading Data and Goliath right now by Bruce Schneider which talks about a lot of this stuff but again doesn’t give quite enough detail.  At the end of the day I am trying to understand how much protection SSL really provides.

SSL (now TLS) protects data as it travels across the Internet. To understand in detail how SSL works, we recommend reading: How does Secure Socket Layer (SSL andTLS) work?  However, looking at how the protocol works can leave answers to some of these fundamental questions a little unclear.  Lets address them one by one.

SSL and TLS Security

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Am I at HIPAA-risk if a patient replies to my secure email message?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Here is a question from “Ask Erik:”

Dear Dr. Kangas,  When I write an email to a patient from my LuxSci account, it is encrypted and therefore HIPPA compliant.  When they write me back from their regular email address (it’s often hard to get them to sign up at LuxSci), they are putting [PHI /Medical Information] out without security, but that is not my HIPPA violation as I understand it because patients are not required to keep their PHI secure.  Yet often a patient replying to my email simply hits ‘reply’ and my email is attached to their reply, putting my original email in an insecure from on the Internet.  Does that become therefore a HIPPA violation of mine, especially if I continue to allow this without telling the patient to stop doing this?

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Why am I still getting spam at my old email provider?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017


This question came in through “Ask Erik:”

Hi Erik,

I came across your article entitled Split Domain Routing: Getting Email for Your Domain at Two Providers while trying to figure out why one of the people in the small 3 person company I am affiliated with got a call from our web hosting and domain name company asking him to increase his email storage capacity even though we had migrated our email service away from them 2 years ago and at that time had redirected our DNS MX records to our new email provider.

When I looked at my colleague’s email on the old service, I saw that he is still receiving spam mail there even though he is getting all his business mail through the new provider. How is it possible that he gets any mail at the old place at all now? I think the money he paid them is a completely ripoff as that is not his working email! Unfortunately I am the only one of the 3 of us that understands any of this…and that isn’t saying much. Thanks for any thoughts.

Hello!  This is actually quote a common scenario.  If you do not close down your account with your old email provider, then that provider will usually still accept inbound email addressed to you which arrives at its servers.

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LuxSci’s 2016 Advancements – The Year in Review

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

LuxSci has been really busy in 2016!  Besides migrating customers from McAfee due to the “end of life” of their filtering and archival services, keeping up with the changing security landscape, and replacing our Enterprise Server Environment with a newer, faster, more scalable, and more secure private cloud, LuxSci has been hard at work adding new features and extending existing services in the directions most requested by our customers.  Here are some of the highlights.

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Query the LuxSci API for Email Sending and Delivery Status Reports

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

LuxSci’s API has been expanded to enable automated queries for reports of:

  1. What messages have been sent from SMTP and/or WebMail
  2. The current delivery status (tracking) of these messages
  3. Feedback loop notices for these messages
  4. The history of SMTP login failures and sending failures due to sender usage problems

All of these reports are available at the account level (e.g. to download information for one or all users in an account) and at the user level (where someone using the user API can query data about his/her own sending activity).  Each API request can return up to 50,000 matches or 50MB of data and you can easily submit multiple queries to “page” though very large result sets.  The queries support refinement by date range, customization of the number of matches returned at once, and include report-specific search capabilities so that, for example, you could find only message sent to a particular person or which have a particular delivery status.

These reports are available to all customers — business email, dedicated, and High Volume email sending.

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Email Delivery: How do you know if they got your message?

Monday, May 18th, 2015

You just sent an important business communication via email and assume all is well … but what if that email was not received?

How do you know?  There could be significant delays or consequences if the message was not delivered.  What can you do to put your mind at ease?

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Is your Accountant protecting your privacy and identity?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Everyone always harps on the necessity of privacy when discussing health care, government, and banking communications.  It is surprising how little attention is paid to email security with regards to accounting and tax preparation.   There is a real danger of identity theft, unintended information disclosure, as well as invasion of privacy when using tax preparation services or organizations that do not use secure email.  Why is this?

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Opt-In Email Encryption is too Risky for HIPAA Compliance

Monday, April 13th, 2015

A majority of companies and hospitals that offer email encryption for HIPAA compliance allow senders to “opt in” to encryption on a message-by-message basis.  E.g. if the user “does nothing special” then the email will be sent in the normal/insecure manner of email in general.  If the sender explicitly checks a box or adds some special content to the body or subject of the message, then it is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant.

Opt-in encryption is desirable as it is “easy” … end users don’t want any extra work and don’t want encryption requirements to bog them down, especially if most of their messages do not contain PHI.  It is “good for usability” and thus easy to sell.

However, opt-in encryption is a very bad idea with the inception of the HIPAA Omnibus rule.  Opt-in  imposes a large amount of risk on an organization, which grows exponentially with the size of the organization.

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What exactly is ePHI? Who has to worry about it? Where can it be safely located?

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

There is often a great deal of confusion and misinformation about what, exactly, constitutes ePHI (electronic protected health information) which must be protected due to HIPAA requirements.  Even once you have a grasp of ePHI and how it applies to you, the next question becomes … where can I put ePHI and where not?  What is secure and what is not?

We will answer the “what is ePHI” question in general, and the “where can I put it” question in the context of web and email hosting, and SecureForm processing at LuxSci.

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Stopping Forged Email 2: DKIM to the Rescue

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

We have recently looked at how hackers and spammers can send forged email and then seen how these forged messages can be almost identical to legitimate messages from the purported senders.  In fact, we learned that generally all you can trust in an inbound email message is the internet IP address of the server talking to your inbound email server — as this cannot realistically be forged in any way that would still enable you to receive the message.

In our last post in this series, we examined how SPF can be used to help weed out forged email messages based on validating if a message was sent by an approved server by looking at the IP address delivering the email message to you.  We found that while SPF can work, it has many significant limitations that cause it to fall far short of being a panacea.

So — besides looking at the sending server IP address — what else can we do to determine of a message was forged?

It turns out that there is another way — through the use of encryption techniques and digital signatures — to have the sender’s servers transparently “sign” a message in a way that you can verify upon receipt.  This is called DKIM.

DKIM – Domain Keys Identified Mail: A Simple Explanation

DKIM stands for “Domain Keys Identified Mail” … or, re-writing this more verbosely, “Domain-wide validation Mail Identity through use of cryptographic Keys”.  To understand DKIM, we need to back up for a second and look at what we mean by “cryptographic keys” and how that can be used.

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