The More Secure Alternative to the SMTP Mail Protocol

Emails have become one of the most popular ways of communication used by individuals and businesses daily. Many internet systems use SMTP as a method to transfer mail from one computer to another. However, some people wonder if there is another secure alternative to SMTP.


What is SMTP mail protocol and how does it work?

SMTP is formerly known as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. It is a set of internet standard communication guidelines used for the transmission of electronic mail over the internet. Mail servers use this SMTP push protocol to send messages from one computer to the other. These messages may include text, videos, voice messages.

Components of The SMTP Mail Protocol

The SMTP client and SMTP server are broken into the following components:

User-Agent (UA): This is the component responsible for initiating the session by preparing the message. An example of a UA is Hotmail or Gmail.

Mail Transfer Agent (MTA): This second component is responsible for transferring this message across the internet.  Multiple MTAs can be used to send one message to different recipients simultaneously. 

SMTP mail protocols use the following commands:

Mail:  This is the command responsible for establishing the return path.

RCPT: This command is responsible for identifying the recipient. The RCPT command can be used multiple times for each recipient.

Data: This command is responsible for indicating the beginning of the message and the end of the message. It ensures that there is a message header and body.

The More Secure Alternative to the SMTP Mail Protocol and Why You Need It

Although popular among many users to send emails, the SMTP protocol is not secure because it lacks encryption. This means that it leaves your private mail communication and data exposed to eavesdropping and data leaking while your message is in transit. To protect your data and private conversations, it would be helpful to learn about alternative secure SMTP mail protocols.

Transport Layer Security (TLS)

This is an application layer protocol that is popular and mostly used by web clients to secure emails by encrypting them. Although we cannot say it is an alternative, we can safely say that it works on top of SMTP to give you tight email security. It gives rules to secure your SMTP messages using these two layers:

  • The TLS handshake layer is responsible for initiating and validating a connection.
  • The TLS record layer is responsible for securing application data using the keys created during the handshake layer.

Opportunistic TLS is a protocol configuration that enables an email client to upgrade from a plain text connection that is not secure to an encrypted connection that is secure.  

STARTTLS is the email protocol configuration that the email client uses to ask the email server for this upgraded connection. If this command fails, the email will be sent without encryption.

Forced TLS is a protocol configuration that ensures that before an email is sent, there is already an established TLS connection and therefore, messages are encrypted. Without this connection being established, the mail will not be sent to the recipient.  

Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME): These are other common secure alternatives to SMTP protocols used to secure emails with end-to-end- encryption. They use signatures known as digital certificates to authenticate and send encrypted emails that cannot be read by anybody except the recipient for which the mail is meant for. These signatures secure your emails while in transit against eavesdroppers. Although S/MIME encrypts your email contents, the metadata contained in your email header remains unencrypted. This still exposes important details about the sender or the receiver.

There are many other secure SMTP mail protocol alternatives that we will not discuss in this article. They all have their security flaws and to ensure that your email security is tight, it is important to use a Virtual Private Network that values your right to online privacy.

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