As we spend more and more time using e-mail, most of us eventually find that we need to be able to prove our identity to our correspondents and secure the contents of our messages so that others can’t view them readily. Proving your identity is called authentication. In the physical world, this is accomplished by photo identification, such as a driver’s license, passport, or corporate identity card. When the time comes to prove who you are (for example, before a major purchase), you show your card. Your appearance and signature match the photo and signature on your card, and the purchase is made.
It would be great if we could say that the future for secure e-mail is bright, and that there will be standards in place that will help. However, the state of secure e-mail standards for the Internet is best described as a sucking chest wound.
You can read the entire article, which is excerpted from my and Marshall Rose’s book called Internet Messaging, over here on the Cisco IPJ archives.