What Is Email Security?
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Email has remained a core part of our everyday digital life, even despite the rise and increasing popularity of instant messaging and collaboration tools. In virtually all industries, email is an integral part of regular business practices. The massive number of organizations that routinely use email can be linked to its simplicity and overall utility. Approximately 306.4 billion emails have been exchanged daily in 2020 for both business and private purposes and the number is projected to reach over 361.6 billion emails sent every day by 2024, so it’s no wonder that emails have been a desirable target for cybercriminals for some time now.
In today’s corporate landscape, digital messaging between employees, C-level execs, and the likes has become an essential component of the average workday. For this reason, achieving secure communication should be your top priority. Just like any piece of technology, email in and of itself is not secure hence, you need email security.
What Is Email Security?
The term email security refers to the protective procedures and techniques that cover email accounts, as well as the content and communications shared through them, against unlawful access, data loss, or other forms of compromise. It includes traditional approaches such as login security and email encryption, as well as advanced concepts like spam filtering and fraud prevention. In addition to this, cybersecurity education for employees plays a huge role in the larger picture of email security.
What all these areas of email security have in common is their purpose, which is to secure all the incoming and outgoing electronic communications within a company.
Why Is Email Security Important?
Email is a prime target for cyber attackers due to vulnerabilities that are deeply rooted in human error, as well as the nature of the information that is shared on it. The annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) published by Verizon in 2020 identified email and direct installs as the top two attack vectors for malware infections.
A look at the hard numbers reveals even more about the importance of email security solutions. According to data published by PurpleSec in their 2021 Cyber Security Statistics report, a staggering 92% of all malware is delivered via email. What is more, targeted spear-phishing campaigns are the leading cause in 91% of successful data breaches, affecting 95% of all enterprise networks.
In today’s digital world, email security is a must for any company’s cybersecurity infrastructure. But why? Below, we have detailed the five key reasons why you need to consider it for your enterprise and illustrated each point with relevant statistics.
#1 Phishing Emails Are Still a Widespread Threat
On the authority of the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, one-quarter of the year’s data breaches were caused by phishing emails. Social engineering is one of the most common ways cyber attackers deliver malware, which they will use to steal data or cause other types of network damage and downtime.
#2 Cybercriminals Have a Lot to Gain from Email Attacks
The aforementioned Verizon report uncovered that 60% of hackers using social engineering-based phishing tactics are looking for login credentials that they can then sell or exploit for their gain. In correlation, 50% of them are also after personally identifiable information (PII). As you may already know by now, PII is a goldmine for cybercriminals, and they can use it against your company in a multitude of nefarious ways.
#3 Social Engineering Tactics Become Increasingly Clever
Unfortunately, people still fall for clever social engineering nowadays. A study published in 2018 in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies consisted of sending phishing emails to a total of 62,000 corporate user accounts over six weeks. Results have shown that the more authority and urgency a message instill, the more likely is an employee to comply with its request without verifying its authenticity first. Consequently, 24,758 users clicked on the potentially malicious links.
#4 The Coronavirus Pandemic Facilitates Attacks
To add insult to injury, the number of phishing attacks on organizations did nothing but increase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics released by NetSTAR have shown that incidents rose by as much as 600% in certain industries where employees were more likely to fall prey to Coronavirus-related scams.
#5 Employees Sometimes Share Too Much Data
Phishing scheme or no phishing scheme, staff members are prone to unwittingly sharing confidential data, especially when they haven’t received any proper cybersecurity education beforehand. Don’t believe me? In 2017, a Boeing employee sent a working spreadsheet to his wife so that she could use it as a template. That spreadsheet contained the PII of 36,000 company employees, including birth dates and SSNs.
Types of Email Attacks
What types of cyberattacks could warrant the use of email security solutions? Here are the top seven threats you should protect your enterprise against:
- social engineering,
- business email compromise,
- bot attacks,
- and malware.
Let’s have a look at each one, shall we?
As my colleague Miriam aptly explained in her detailed analysis of the phenomenon, social engineering is a cyberattack tactic that relies on the persuasion and manipulation of email users to gain unauthorized access into an organization’s network. Nefarious communications of this sort generally rely on the carefully researched impersonation of collaborators, authority figures, or trusted brands. Verizon’s aforementioned 2020 DBIR established that 22% of data breach cases last year involved social engineering.
Everyone with a functional email account is most likely familiar with good ol’ spam. But while these types of repetitive and sometimes senseless communications are understandably annoying, do they also constitute a threat? Yes, sometimes. When spam emails are loaded with malicious code or attachments, they become malspam, a type of junk mail whose direct purpose is to infect your device and exploit your network.
Malspam and phishing emails go hand in hand. Phishing is a type of cyberattack or threat that uses fraudulent tactics to steal money and data. The latter includes bank account details, credit card numbers, and even login credentials. This stolen information is then sold or utilized to further perpetrate fraud on organizations.
BUSINESS EMAIL COMPROMISE
Business email compromise, or BEC for short, is a type of fraud carried over email. Dubbed by the FBI as “one of the most financially damaging online crimes”, it exploits the fact that most organizations nowadays use this service to conduct their daily activities. Using clever social engineering, BEC threat actors usually impersonate vendors your company regularly collaborates with or a company CEO making requests towards employees. The latter is known as CEO fraud.
As I’ve explained in a previous article, bot attacks are cyber-incidents in which hackers use networks of zombie computers known as botnets to infiltrate your company’s systems to further commit crimes. They are widely used in phishing campaigns and malspam deployment. Their main targets include stealing your money, breaching your data, or infecting your endpoints with malware. This brings me to the final type of email-based threat I want to discuss in this article.
Email spoofing attacks are based upon the creation of emails that appear to be coming from a genuine email address, when in fact they were sent by malicious actors. In this case, the attackers’ ultimate purpose is to fool the recipient into opening the message and, for instance, download an infected attachment. In other cases, email spoofing can turn into elaborate BEC schemes that can take months to unfold and often lead to huge monetary losses. Email spoofing is feasible since a mechanism for address authentication is not established by the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). While protocols and methods for email address authentication have been developed to combat email spoofing, the implementation of such frameworks seems to be slow.
Also known as malicious code, the term malware refers to software created to steal data and cause damage within the infected device or network. Notable examples of malware include ransomware, computer viruses, and Trojans. According to Verizon’s DBIR, 17% of data breach cases are caused by malware, 27 % out of which involve ransomware specifically. Malware is commonly delivered via infected attachments that users download from shady websites or phishing emails.
Email Security Best Practices
It’s crucial that you and your users take all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your email accounts against attacks and impede all unauthorized access. How do you protect your organization against email threats? Here are some important suggestions:
- Run regular phishing tests
Your personnel is your greatest protection against email threats, especially when it comes to phishing attacks – be they simple or more sophisticated, such as spear-phishing. This significant risk of endpoint compromise can be avoided by staff who have learned to recognize phishing attempts.
- Always use multifactor authentication
In case the passwords of an email account are successfully compromised, multifactor authentication will deter malicious hackers from accessing the account and severely affect your business.
- Block email auto-forwarding
You should also consider blocking email auto-forwarding to make it harder for threat actors to gain access to your corporate email accounts.
- Don’t share personal information via email
No prestigious organization will ever ask you for private information via email. If you are asked to provide your birthday, social security number, financial info, or password, you are almost certainly the victim of a scam. Instead of disclosing your information, contact the company that requested it and ask them to check the request. Also, when contacting the company, look for its contact online, on its website, rather than using the information in the email you received.
- Be careful which Wi-fi networks you use
You should probably only use trusted Wi-Fi networks and access your email account when you’re confident in the network’s security. It is not recommended to access your email by using public, unsecured Wi-Fi. You should also be aware that anyone with access to public Wi-Fi could watch your activities and obtain access to your confidential information.
- Educate your employees on email security best practices
In order to keep your company safe, it is essential to invest time in educating and training your staff to adopt these email security practices as rigorously as you do.
- Use email security software
Secure encrypted email is always a good idea when it comes to securing the content of your emails and preventing them from being read by parties other than the intended recipients. However, this practice alone will not suffice. Thus, you also need to consider an integrated cybersecurity solution, able to detect basic and advanced forms of email attacks.
How Can Heimdal® Help Your Business?
Heimdal has developed two email security software aimed against both simple and sophisticated email threats (Heimdal Email Security, which detects and blocks malware, spam emails, malicious URLs, and phishing attacks and Heimdal Email Fraud Prevention, a revolutionary email protection system against employee impersonation, fraud attempts – and BEC, in general.
For example, you may want to consider using Heimdal Email Fraud Prevention against financial email fraud, C-level executive impersonation, phishing, insider threat attacks, and complex email malware. How does it work? By using over 125 vectors of analysis and being fully supported by threat intelligence, it detects phraseology changes, performs IBAN/Account number scanning, identifies modified attachments, malicious links, and Man-in-the-Email attacks. Furthermore, it integrates with O365 and any mail filtering solutions and includes live monitoring and alerting 24/7 by our specialists.
Heimdal® Email Security
- Completely secure your infrastructure against email-delivered threats;
- Deep content scanning for malicious attachments and links;
- Block Phishing and man-in-the-email attacks;
- Complete email-based reporting for compliance & auditing requirements;
Email security should always start with having the appropriate security measures in place, such as encryption, multi-factor authentication, advanced cybersecurity tools, and last, but not least, human vigilance. Make sure you follow these recommendations so you can put an end to email security threats.
How do you handle email security in your organization? Leave us a comment in the section below!
Last updated by Antonia Din.