Last updated on January 6th, 2023
If you use emails, your business can be a target for hackers. Emails are the #1 threat vector today. Someone could be reading your team’s emails at this very moment.
Email security has become an important aspect of securing our digital communications with the growing threats. Through this one-stop guide, you will be able to capture important information on securing your emails with the best available solution in the market. Read on to know how email security works, the threats you need to watch out for, the email security solutions and the best practices you need to follow.
What is Email Security?
Email security protects email communications and accounts from compromise. Comprehensive email security is a multi-layered process, including various techniques, technologies, and processes working in tandem.
Emails face a multitude of attacks like malware, Business Email Compromise (BEC), phishing, DDoS, and brute force intrusions. One tool is not enough to protect against a wide variety of tactics, which is why email security uses multiple tools and a combination of security policies to cover all email vulnerabilities.
Emails being the primary target of cyber criminals in recent years, email security is a critical component of network security. Employees can freely and quickly communicate without fear of leaks or digital eavesdroppers. Safe email practices enable the optimum utilization of email services and all their features.
Why is Email Security Important?
Email security is at the forefront of the cybersecurity movement, and there are solid reasons for the priority given to protecting email communications. Let’s discuss the reasons why email security is essential for modern organizations.
The #1 attack vector
Studies reveal that one in every ninety-nine emails is a phishing email. With thousands of emails coming into organizations daily, the threat of email-based attacks looms large. Attackers have realized that tricking people via email is more effective and easier than doing it face-to-face or via phone.
Exploiting cloud vulnerabilities
The widespread usage of cloud computing has made email exploitation easier. Cloud-based document storage and sharing solutions, like Google Drive, are linked to email accounts. That has expanded the attack surface for malicious actors and endangered data protection.
Phishing emails commonly involve credential theft or malware injection using fake shared documents. When an end-user clicks on the malicious link or attachment, it prompts the target to enter their credentials which are promptly shared with the attacker. Cloud environments are highly vulnerable to unauthorized remote access, and emails are an easy entryway into cloud-based networks.
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Built-in security is not enough.
Built-in security, like the Microsoft 365 security settings, is inadequate protection against advanced threats. Platform-provided security configurations miss over 30% of malicious emails. Cybercriminals can easily see your security protocols and optimize their attack campaign to bypass those policies. Also, built-in security measures miss multiple email-based threats like:
- Zero-day attacks: Zero-day attacks exploit potentially serious software security weakness that vendors or developers may be unaware of. These attacks can easily bypass built-in email security until a signature is developed and deployed.
- Social Engineering: Some phishing attacks don’t use indicators of attack like malicious links or attached malware. Instead, they solely rely on tricking the user into taking the intended action by using psychological tricks.
- Employee Negligence: In-built security measures lack data loss prevention (DLP) solutions. An employee’s poor data security practices or negligence can lead to data leaks and significant losses to the organization.
Common Types of Email-based Attacks
Let’s discuss some common email-based attacks that could be lurking in your inbox right now.
Phishing attackers masquerade as legitimate senders and aim to trick email users into installing malware in their devices or sharing sensitive information. Phishing scams target a wide range of email users by pretending to be trusted sources.
Business Email Compromise
BEC is an email scam targeting businesses that operate overseas. Attackers spoof corporate email accounts of business executives and send fake emails to partners or suppliers abroad demanding urgent wire transfers. BEC attacks have increased by around 53% each year since 2020.
An email bomb is a denial-of-service (DoS) attack that overwhelms an inbox or server by sending a massive number of emails within a short period. The aim is to overload the server or take up all of the recipient’s disc space. It leads to unresponsive servers, poor network performance, and eventual downtime.
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Scareware is a psychological attack tactic that persuades the target into taking the desired action by scaring or overwhelming them. It uses forged pop-up notifications or dialogue boxes to convince the targets that their system will be at risk if a specific program is not launched. When the user agrees to execute the program, malware infects the system.
Junk mail is unsolicited advertising emails from businesses, service providers, and online vendors. While most spam emails do no harm except clog your inbox, some attackers use spam to send malware and malicious links.
Malware of all kinds, including viruses, Trojan, spyware, ransomware, and worms, is frequently spread via emails. Malicious code is commonly delivered through attachments or links embedded in emails.
The Aftermath of Email-based Cyberattacks
A single misplaced click can have severe consequences for a business. The impact is direr on small companies. Studies suggest that over 60% of small businesses fold within six months of facing a cyberattack. There are multiple ways in which email-based cyberattacks can affect business operations and profitability. Let’s go through the typical aftereffects of cyberattacks.
Data is a very sought-after asset in today’s digital age. Most often than not, cyberattacks intend to steal critical data and then sell it on the black market. The nature of the stolen data can vary from confidential business information, client data, or financial information. The BFSI, healthcare, and retail sectors are frequent data breach targets as they deal with high-value customer data.
Once news of a cyberattack spreads, organizations face significant reputational damage. The company loses the trust of its customers, vendors, and the general public. Its ability to protect the stakeholder data comes into question. Rebuilding a lost reputation and goodwill can take years and is more complicated than making a financial profit.
Ransomware attacks cost millions of dollars and can be very hard to recover from. Some phishing attacks can cause the transfer of funds from the business account into the attacker’s pocket. Post-cyberattack remediation includes security infrastructure rebuilding and compensating employees or customers for their losses. These financial outflows have a severe effect on the bottom line.
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Email attacks lead to significant downtime, which hampers business operations. IT teams and management focus on investigating the attack and recovering from the losses. Employee productivity also goes down as many systems need to be reconfigured. The general environment of unrest after an attack leads to distraction and low productivity. It takes organizations weeks or even months to return to the usual groove.
Loss of Customer
Once customers lose their trust, businesses can’t retain them. Current customers leave and take their business elsewhere while getting new customers becomes extremely difficult until the reputational damage is repaired.
When sensitive public data ends up on the black market free for misuse, businesses are held responsible for failing to enact appropriate data protection policies. Violating HIPAA, PCI DSS, or GDPR leads to heavy regulatory fines for mishandling customer data. The additional financial loss, stress of government audits, and regulatory scrutiny lead to further productivity and reputational damage.
Email Security Tools & Techniques
Email security isn’t a single stand-alone solution. It’s a combination of various solutions, techniques, and policies working together. While some tools protect against infected attachments and suspicious URLs, others are used to defend against impersonation and social engineering attempts. A specific category of tools is employed to secure business risks against human error and employee negligence.
Each solution listed below protects your inbox from a different attack tactic.
Spam filters prevent unsolicited and unwanted emails from entering your inbox. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use these tools to check junk email and block domains sending large quantities of spam. The majority of emails sent daily are spam; therefore, spam filters play a central role in the email security process. Spam filtering solutions can be hosted on the cloud or in-house computer servers. They can also be integrated into email solutions, like Gmail or MS Outlook.
Antivirus software scans outgoing and incoming emails for malicious or potentially harmful content. It quarantines or automatically deletes messages found to contain malware. New age antivirus solutions update themselves automatically and use signature-based detection policies to identify established malware codes.
A common protection tool against infected attachments, network sandboxes are isolated coding environments used by security professionals to analyze suspicious attachments. The purpose of network sandboxing is to test attachments that might be potentially harmful without putting the entire network at risk of infection. Imagine a leak-proof vacuum chamber where scientists can run experiments on toxic substances without risking the whole building. That’s preciously what a network sandbox does too.
Also called Content Disarm and Reconstruction (CRM), content sanitization solutions remove executable content and active code from attached files and recreate the file without any potential threats. This technology differs from traditional antivirus solutions as it does not scan files for malware or use signature-based detection. Instead, it reconstructs all file components to create a clean template.
Remote Browser Isolation (RBI)
Browser isolation ensures that users access an external and isolated browser when clicking on any email web links. It mitigates the risks of suspicious links and enables users to interact only with clean website content.
Domain-based message authentication, reporting, and conformance (DMARC) is a security protocol used to authenticate the domain legitimacy of inbound emails. It’s a free and open-source tool that aligns Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) frameworks. DMARC protects from threats like business email compromise (BEC), phishing, and spoofing.
Domain spoof detection
Spoofing domain names is a common tactic used in business email compromise to make it look like an email is coming from a trusted official source. Detection techniques like advanced keyword analysis and sender-recipient relationship analysis ensure domain name authenticity. Detecting lookalike domains is also a part of domain spoof detection.
Another phishing prevention technique is anomaly detection, which prevents sophisticated attacks from bypassing email security defenses. Telemetry and data intelligence capabilities spot deviations from standard email behavior that indicate potential phishing or imposter activity.
No protection technique provides guaranteed security because a significant portion of email security depends on human behavior. A well-trained and vigilant workforce is the last line of defense every organization needs. Anti-phishing training equips employees with the knowledge and skill to identify phishing emails.
How Does Email Encryption Work?
Email data, when in a state of transit, is most vulnerable to unauthorized interception and leaks. This is why email encryption is a fundamental component of email security and deserves a special section in this blog.
When an email is encrypted, the contents of that email are scrambled, and the decryption key is available only to the email recipient. There are two encryption protocols at work:
- Transport Layer Security encryption (TLS)
- End-to-end email encryption
TLS encryption is built-in with Microsoft and Google services, where emails are protected while they move between the sender and the recipient. This form of encryption prevents man-in-the-middle attacks by blocking cybercriminals from reading emails in transit. The drawback of TLS encryption is that it does not secure the email once it reaches the intended recipient’s inbox. Criminals get access to the email if the recipient’s email account is compromised.
End-to-end encryption, however, ensures that emails can only be decrypted by the intended recipient on their registered device. Even email servers cannot read end-to-end encrypted emails. There are two methods that organizations can use to implement end-to-end encryption – PGP and S/MIME. These involve organizations manually configuring their email systems to send encrypted emails. However, the process of manual implementation is complex and often comes with security vulnerabilities of its own.
Organizations use enterprise encryption solutions that automate and ease the encryption process. Admins don’t have to set up the process for encryption key creation and manage decryption for inbound emails. These solutions also allow admins to establish policies to automatically encrypt sensitive emails, even within the organization.
Best Practices to Secure Your Emails
Here are the tried and tested best practices every email user needs to follow.
Use a strong password.
The idea of what constitutes a “strong” password has changed over time. Previously, a random jumble of characters, like Gjmn#jhIL}, would be considered impenetrable. But remembering such passwords is impossible. Employees invariably have them written on a sticky note attached to their systems, defeating the entire purpose of a password.
Now, security experts recommend long passwords that are easy to remember. Long passphrases, like ILovE46ShiPsanDboaTs, are a combination of words and numbers stringed together that are easier to remember but harder to crack.
As per security.org’s password strength checker, ILovE46ShiPsanDboaTs would take a computer five hundred quadrillion years to crack, whereas Gjmn#jhIL} would take a computer only one thousand years to crack.
Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
Password recycling is a dangerous practice. Attackers gain access to all accounts if one account is compromised and the same password is used across multiple accounts.
The cyberattack on North Face in August 2022 compromised over 200,000 accounts. It was a large-scale credential stuffing attack made possible by employees using the same password on multiple accounts.
Remembering several unique passwords is a significant pain point, especially for people who have dozens of accounts to manage. A reliable password manager is the best solution in such cases.
MFA provides multiple layers of security for your account by using more than one step to authenticate the owner’s identity. This includes the usage of one-time passwords (OTPs), fingerprint biometrics, or facial scans. Multi-factor authentication helps block brute-force attacks and computerized password cracking. MFA and 2-FA have become compulsory features in email platforms like Microsoft Outlook and Gmail.
Avoid public Wi-Fi
Most of us have connected with public networks at one time or another, maybe at a café or airport. Public Wi-Fi might seem convenient, but they are a favorite playground for attackers. Cybercriminals use open-source packet sniffers to spy on systems connected to public networks and gain valuable personal information.
Look out for phishing red flags.
Anti-phishing security solutions only offer partial security. Email users have a major responsibility to stay vigilant against phishing attacks.
- Keep an eye out for spelling or grammar mistakes in seemingly legitimate emails.
- Don’t trust emails that start with a generic greeting
- Don’t react to urgent or threatening language in emails
- Don’t answer emails asking for sensitive personal information
- Check the brand logo and design for authenticity
- Personally verify the identity of the sender whenever possible
Don’t trust email attachments.
Beware of email attachments that could contain malicious executable code. Even if your organization uses antimalware solutions, be extra careful when opening attachments. Take extra caution with extensions indicating executable programs, like .exe, .jar, or .msi.
Don’t click on email web links.
Similar to attachments, web links are often roads to malicious websites. Even if a link displays a known domain name, don’t trust it. Review the link destination by hovering your mouse over the link. Or, even better, go to the website directly from your browser instead of using the provided link.
Don’t use personal email for business.
Using personal email for business or using a corporate email for personal communications is often tempting. But it’s a major security risk that can lead to spear phishing, data breach, or BEC attacks.
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Managed Email Security: The New Age Security Strategy
Modern cybersecurity threats have surpassed the scope of non-IT people. Today’s threat landscape requires highly skilled cybersecurity training to ensure a secure environment. Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting organizations at the very heart, which are people and communications.
Corporations with a significant workforce will have a widespread email network and thousands of accounts to manage. An off-the-shelf anti-virus solution or firewall is not enough protection against advanced attacks. Effective email security is a combination of multiple solutions that need to be individually configured according to business needs and regularly monitored to ensure optimization. Do in-house IT teams have the capabilities and the bandwidth to provide this level of security management? The answer is often “no.” That’s where managed email security comes in.
Managed email security is a service offered by specialized managed security providers, who undertake all responsibility related to an organization’s email security needs. Managed email security providers plan your email security architecture, identify the solutions your business needs, implement and configure the solutions for optimization, and regularly monitor their performance.
In a rapidly evolving threat environment, a skilled partner who understands the changing security dynamics and possesses the knowledge to keep your organization ahead of emerging dangers is necessary.
Benefits of Managed Email Security
Let’s look at the value addition managed email security provides an organization.
24/7 Security Operations Team
Cybercriminals won’t stop attacks when your team is offline. With a managed security provider, your organization’s email network is protected round-the-clock. A 24/7/365 security operations center monitors email traffic and account activity and blocks malicious activity in real-time.
Quick Incident Response
Managed email security providers take instant response and remediation actions in case of security incidents. Specialized threat response in a short time ensures minimal damage and prevents dire operational consequences.
Extensive Incident Investigations
Ongoing monitoring, proactive security solutions, and advanced AI capabilities ensure all threats are thoroughly investigated and researched. This also ensures security analysts and responders can respond to context-based alerts in a short time.
When your in-house team is relieved from resource-intensive tasks like round-the-clock monitoring and log analysis, they have more time to focus on building and growing your business. Also, the sense of security brought by a managed security provider creates a stress-free environment for your workforce.
ACE Managed Email Security – Your Defense Against Deadly Threats
Your search for a fully managed email security service provider with a proactive approach to threat management ends with ACE Managed Email Security. ACE provides a multi-layered email security solution that protects your inbound and outbound traffic from known and emerging threats.
ACE Managed Email Security provides phishing, imposter, and email fraud protection with multi-layered detection engines powered by AI and machine learning. With automated email reporting, 24/7 emergency inbox, and social media account protection, your organizational emails are protected from all angles.
Take a free security consultation with ACE security experts. They assess your current posture, highlight the existing vulnerabilities, and recommend remediation measures – all at zero cost! Book a Free Consultation Now!
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