CyberScout

Balancing Convenience and Privacy When Choosing an Email Provider

Email servers
Getty Images

If you find your personal email account bombarded with unwanted marketing emails, there’s a good chance your account was compromised in a breach. That said, email these days is a minefield we all need to learn how to traverse safely. 

Your email address could present the greatest liability when it comes to cybersecurity and privacy. A recent report found that email was the delivery method for 94% of malware attacks in 2019; a more recent study in 2020 indicated that email-based phishing may be hitting a new high.

Email poses this security risk because it is so widely used; anyone with internet access can send an email to any other email address, and email addresses are often listed online, or easily guessable. 

Compounding the problem, lists of email addresses often linked to other personally identifiable information can be purchased legally and also on dark web where they are often bundled with breached passwords and other sensitive data, all of which can be used in the commission of data-related crime. 

The end result is an inbox stuffed with promotional emails, political campaign ads, pleas for money–some of it sent with your permission, and some of it spam. Much of it, even the spam, is addressed directly to you by name and may include other personal details. It’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between a legitimate message, a phishing scam designed to spread viruses and other computer malware, or your basic, everyday piece of unsolicited email.

Google’s Gmail service can help filter out or help identify unwanted email and suspect mail that may contain dangerous files. There is, however, a cost: namely privacy. 

To identify and categorize incoming email, services like Gmail (there are many) need access to your incoming and outgoing email–both the content of them and any associated data. Privacy-centric options exist, including Protonmail which features end-to-end encryption. The trade-off for more control is more work. The user has to personally filter the contents of their email–a time-consuming and often aggravating experience since the good sometimes gets thrown out with the bad when a user inevitably starts banning senders with reckless abandon. 

Convenience and privacy are always in a tug-of-war for market share, with the former usually winning by a considerable margin. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.