While the use of email as we know it today has really taken off in the last 25 years or so, its underlying technology has been around for much longer. Email will turn 50 years old this year. Most remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that not only does it still work extremely well, but in fact email is the most popular tool for business communication by far. And this is unlikely to change anytime, soon.

Email – a brief history

In 1969, the world’s first electronic message – one single word – was sent within ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a computer network in the United States. Two years later, Ray Tomlinson introduced the “@”symbol to separate the different elements in an email address. Over the years adoption in business was high and several changes to email occurred, but one of the most important ones was probably CompuServe, the first online service that offered internet connectivity and a proprietary service for email in 1989. From then on, it was no longer necessary to be part of a certain network to send emails; internet users were able to send and receive emails between internet-based email addresses opening email use to all. With the internet gaining more and more traction in the 1990s, the number of email providers rose, as did the number of email users and emails sent and received. In 2004, Google launched Gmail, offering each user an unprecedented 1 GB in storage capacity for free. 

In the last 20 years, email has been firmly established as the primary tool for business communication, which is a remarkable achievement if one takes into consideration how old its technology is. So how come email has made it thus far, what exactly is it that email has to offer? Does it really stand a chance against competing technologies such as messenger services and cloud-based collaboration platforms?

Email’s advantages

Arguably one of email’s biggest advantages against new and competing technologies is that it is not a proprietary technology owned by a single company. This is very commonly the case with messenger services or cloud-based collaborative platforms, which makes their use as communication tools potentially very problematic for enterprises in a business environment. Email is on the contrary independent and offers many possibilities: messages and documents can be exchanged, and archiving and encryption are possible as well (albeit it is fairly complex to do so). With its basic standard, SMTP and IMAP, email has a wide range of uses. By now, it has become not just familiar but universal, and virtually everybody in a business context uses it regularly.

Email’s disadvantages

As with all technologies, there are also downsides with email. Eventually, one will run into email clients’ file size restrictions. Many times, it is simply not possible to exchange large files quickly and ad hoc via email.

Since email is universal and frequently used, bad actors take advantage of it for their illegal activities. As a matter of fact, email is the main gateway for cyberattacks. These days, successfully targeting email can, for example, provide login credentials for a wide range of online services. Regular email is like a postcard: Its content is not protected and can be read by anyone without the sender’s or recipient’s knowledge. While encryption is a very effective way of preventing this, it typically only works for the content of emails. Metadata, such as the subject line and sender recipient data for instance, is usually not encrypted and therefore not protected from prying eyes. This is a problem that must be taken seriously because metadata contains valuable information and can give very helpful clues for social engineering attacks by bad actors or for spying by intelligence agencies. When using messenger services, by the way, metadata is unencrypted. For email encryption, however, there is a barrier: It is rather complex and involves considerable costs and efforts since buying, managing, and exchanging certificates is involved. As a result, email security usually comes at a high price, not just financially but also regarding its usability. 

The most prominent downside of email is arguably spam. Even though spam’s heyday was over a decade ago and anti-spam tools have effectively contained problems with spam: it still is a nerve-grinding annoyance at best and a security threat at worst, and sooner or later virtually all email users come across it.

Attacks by bad actors, however, can be dealt with very successfully by implementing the appropriate security measures, by training users and raising their awareness as well as by enabling them to use the necessary security tools. But how about the functionality of email, are there solutions for expanding on those?

How can email be made better?

For decades, email has been a great tool for communication worldwide, and it is undeniable that it has found its rightful place in the business world today – a place that is well-deserved. 

Naturally, bad actors have been looking for ways to exploit email for illicit purposes, and any cyberattacks that use email as a gateway need to be warded off. Areas where regular email lacks functionality and does not fulfil today’s business needs, especially security, must be identified, improved on, and made ready for the requirements of the modern business world. 

That is exactly what the Cryptshare team have been successfully doing for many years. While using all the advantages email has to offer, Cryptshare not only addresses its flaws but also brings crucial improvements for email as a communication tool. With Cryptshare, information of any size and files of any type can be exchanged securely and ad hoc, and encryption is extended to metadata such as the subject line. Cryptshare keeps your data secure all the way so that the information you want to share stays between you and the intended recipient. 

Email is far away from being replaced by alternative communication solutions in fact quite the opposite. With the potential for connectivity that the internet offers email is more than ever a tool that will facilitate worldwide communication in the future. So, there is an excellent chance email will be around for many years to come, another 50 years? Why not!