In case you weren’t already aware of how unsecure email can be, hopefully the well publicized and controversial hacks surrounding the 2016 election opened your eyes. We have been preaching to clients for years not to share confidential or identifying information in e-mails and have encouraged you to use our secure portal instead.
Unfortunately, in online security often the safest option is also the most difficult and painful to use. All too often we still have clients send us sensitive information and attachments by e-mail simply because it’s easy. We can’t stress enough how important it is that you STOP doing so!
We have looked at many different encryption options over the years for sending and receiving secure emails. Unfortunately most of them require separate logins and represent an “alternate universe” type of email system. This would have been much more secure than regular email but we worried that many of our clients would decline to use it and we didn't want to give everyone yet another login to set up and remember.
Over the past few years we have been closely watching a promising new email encryption tool that offers simpler way to do encrypted email. The program is called Virtru and we recently purchased a business version of their software to enable more secure emails with our clients.
How Does It Work?
If we send you a Virtru-encrypted email, it will come through as a regular email but will include a short message and a link to unlock that message. We recognize that phishing attacks will often come in the form of emails with a link so ours will have a special branded message with our logo so you know it’s safe to click. Once you click the link you’ll be asked to confirm your email address. If you use Google or Office 365 you’ll be able to log in directly from here, otherwise you’ll receive a separate email that you’ll have to click on to confirm your identity. Once you confirm your identity through login or the second email, you’ll be able to view and securely respond to our email from your web browser. For a more thorough explanation and screenshots, read this article.
How Can I Make It Easier?
If you are using Google or Outlook, there is a FREE personal version of Virtru that you can install right into your existing inbox. There's no separate website you need to go to or username/password to enter, Virtu lives right inside your existing account. Once the Virtru extension is installed, you will be able to send ANYONE a secure, encrypted email, including us. It will also allow you to “decrypt” our secure emails without having to click on any links. There is also a mobile app for viewing secure emails on your iphone or android device.
What Are The Downsides?
If you aren’t using Google or Outlook it will be a bit of a hassle to view secure emails, so you might want to consider upgrading your email provider. It’s also important to remember that email encryption is meant to block outside attackers from viewing and/or intercepting your emails. It does NOT protect you should someone gain access to your email account. This is why it is so critically important to first secure your email account with a unique and complicated password and to always enable two-factor authentication, preferably using an authenticator app (like Google Authenticator or Authy) rather than text messages. Think of the password/two-factor authentication as your offensive line that protects the quarterback from getting hit. Virtru encryption covers the ball and keeps anyone from seeing it or intercepting it once it’s in the air. But if Terrell Suggs guesses your password and gets through the offensive line, it doesn’t matter what security you have around that ball because it's going to be stolen before it even hits the air.
When Will You Encrypt Messages?
We will be using Vitru when sending clients sensitive information or attachments and will not use it for every email. However, if you send us a Virtru-secured email we will respond to that email securely. Similarly, if there are any conversations you’d prefer to have encrypted just let us know and we can turn on encryption for that conversation.
What About The Portal?
If you currently use our Portal to send and receive documents, we are not getting rid of that option anytime soon. We are exploring some improved portal options, particularly for tax documents and we will have further information on that in the near future.
Should you have any questions about Virtru that cannot be answered in the links and documents provided above, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help.
-Chris Benson, CPA, PFS
The views expressed represent the opinions of L.K. Benson & Company and are subject to change. These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person. Please see Additional Disclosures more information.