By Cyril James
With all the sensitive information related to your contracts, do you still risk beefing up the security of your business email?
Businesses rely heavily on emails to communicate with people, but companies are lacking adequate security. According to Mimecast, 83% of IT security managers’ email is a primary source of the attack. The biggest reason so far seems that cybercriminals are not behind the company systems anymore. Instead, they are targeting the users of the company.
Well, we aren’t saying that everyone who works in the organization must be aware of email security. But anyone who deals in the transfer of sensitive information must understand the vulnerabilities and recognize the significance of a secure email system.
Thus, it is crucial to have security practices in place especially the practices that focus on email conduct. When you better understand the email conduct and the threats that surround it, you can set up policies and regulations to ensure the security of your business.
In this blog post, we will throw light on various aspects of email security and the risks surrounding it. So, let’s start with an email system.
What is an Email System?
An email system is made of two crucial components called mail clients and mail servers. The mail client is from where the mail is formatted and sent via network infrastructure to a mail server. The mail client is used to compose, send, and store email messages.
On the other hand, the mail server is the computer from where the messages are delivered, stored, and forwarded. So all the components of the mail server, mail client, and the infrastructure that connects the two must be protected. Many industry standards ensure interoperability amongst the mail clients and server solutions. They include SMTP, ESMTP, POP, IMAP that can help to format, process, transmit, deliver, and display email messages.
Email security needs better planning and management of the email system and IT infrastructure. Continuous monitoring and management can help organizations to work on email security effectively. But, to ensure better security, you must know what it is and how it works. So, let’s understand what email security is all about.
What is Email Security?
Email security is related to different procedures and policies that protect your email account, content, and communication against any unauthorized access.
This unauthorized access may lead to any loss or deletion of sensitive information. Using various techniques, one can save sensitive information in email communication and accounts against unauthorized access.
Usually, email service providers have some email security measures to secure client’s accounts and information from hackers. Such measures include strong passwords, encrypted email messages, web application firewalls, spam filtering software, and access control mechanisms.
Why Does Your Business Need Email Security?
When it comes to the significance of email security for businesses many reasons will make you recognize the need for an email security system. Here are a few of them that will give you an idea of why you must invest in email security:
- Emails are the main source of various cyber-attacks. 96% of phishing attacks arrive by email and the other 3% are carried out by malicious websites and the remaining 1% through the phone. Also, 65% of active groups relied on spear-phishing for carrying out targeted attacks. Spear phishing was considered the primary infection vector.
- Another biggest reason is the prevalence of advanced attacks like ransomware and BEC. In such attacks, criminals impersonate a company’s CEO or director to get employees to share crucial data. Even the native anti-spam tools cannot prevent increasingly complex attacks.
- Financial losses are also one of the biggest reasons that will compel you to invest in email security. According to the FBI’s internet crime report 2020, BEC scammers made over $1.8 billion through email attacks. And the most targeted industries include public administration, mining and utilities and professional services. To avoid grave financial losses you need to adopt email security policies and ensure proper training of employees.
- Also, the attacks are not only for money. Attackers are trying to divulge data secrets that can be sold. Around 22% of the phishing attacks are related to data breaches. You need to ensure that crucial data shouldn’t leave your organization unless you allow it.
All these can tarnish the image of your organization. Once gone it’s difficult to regain the trust of your customers. But, before you ensure proper implementation of policies to prevent any attacks, you must know the common threats. Some of them are discussed in the section below, let’s have a look at each one of them.
What are the Common Threats?
One of the good ways to ensure the security of your company’s email security is to know the common threats.
Here are a few of them:
Social engineering and spoofing
Social engineering relies much on earning the user’s trust to steal the data, money, or other information. While spoofing is another way that involves creating false data that appears to be true and legitimate.
Spam is on the hit list as it is an old tactic. It involves various unwanted messages that compel you with their advertorials with catchy headlines like “must-see”. Around 60% of the world’s email traffic volume is spam.
Phishing and Spear Phishing
Phishing attacks can be called frauds and scams that involve fraudulent messages to steal your money and other valuable information. While spear phishing is a more targeted attack that involves great research by cybercriminals to make the messages or emails more legitimate.
BEC stands for Business Email Compromise that is also called CEO fraud. The hacker tries to impersonate an employee, CEO, or director of the organization.
The ultimate goal is to steal money, data, or distribute malware. The scammer conducts intensive research on the routine habits of the victim to trap him with a convincing email.
Ransomware, Trojan, or Malware
Malware is device software that is distributed to cause damage. While ransomware and Trojans are other types of malicious software that block the files or the operating system of the device.
Around 17 of the data breach cases involve malware and 27% ransomware. In such attacks, cybercriminals usually demand a ransom payment to restore files.
Botnet and DDoS
Botnet and DDoS are other types of attacks cybercriminals may attempt on your email system. A botnet is a group of infected devices and machines containing malware and is controlled by the hacker.
They are used to carry out massive scams and phishing campaigns. While DDoS attacks are aimed to overload the systems.
Best Practices to Ensure Email Security
Here are a few fundamental security tips that you can use to ensure safety of your email system:
1. Using a secure password
Weak passwords never protect your organization. Take a look at the phrases and passwords that your employees use. Make sure that they use passwords that are impossible to guess. The more complex the password will be, the more time it will take for a hacker to figure it out.
Your password must have:
- Upper and lower case letters
- Numbers and special characters
- Avoid using school, birthday, hometown, university, or your brand name
- Avoid common letters and words
- Use phrases more than words
2. Two Tier Authentication
Another best way to ensure email security is to use two-tier authentication. It adds an extra layer of protection. If you can’t add two-tier authentication, you can download specialized software or use a different cloud email provider.
If the cybercriminal guesses to retrieve your password, two-tier authentication will still require a code to get your messages.
3. Keep a Track of Phishing Emails
Many hackers use phishing emails to steal what they need by tricking individuals into handling their crucial data. Here’s how the process works:
- The cybercriminals may send emails that contain a link to specific sites
- The victims may get directed to a fake site that may look like their bank website
- The victim enters the password and other details to log into the website and that’s when the fake site steals all the information before passing it to the hacker.
Make sure you keep track of all the phishing emails that come with such advertorials or links to specific sites. Once you know the main source, consider blocking it right away.
4. Avoid Opening Unexpected Attachments
Many times businesses receive emails from unknown sources that contain particular attachments. You must avoid opening these unexpected attachments.
Well, you cannot put every email into the trash that comes with an attachment. So, we would recommend you invest in some email threat protection systems.
It will scan all emails, as well as implement advanced spam filters. If the program depicts an issue you can delete the message and block the sender. By doing this you can ensure better security of your email system.
5. Avoid Accessing Emails from Public WiFi
Never use Public WiFi to access your emails; instead, use mobile internet. The reason is that it is easy for hackers to find you and steal all the information they require to launch an attack.
Also, consider giving your employees internet dongles that they can use outside the office. This will ensure the security of your email system.
For us, AWARENESS is the crucial tool that you need to protect your emails. Everyone from top management to the bottom should be aware of the dos and don’ts of email security.
They should be vigilant enough and must know the source from where the email has come and what all data is being shared. Also, consider using software including anti-spam and virus checking software that will safeguard the entire system in the first place.
About the Author
Cyril has a solid foundation in the Information Technology and Communication industry with over 13 years of experience. His expertise lies in Information Security, specialising in network, web and mobile applications, and cloud penetration testing across various industry domains like banking, insurance, energy, telecom, IT products and services, and others. He is well-versed in penetration testing methodologies including OWASP, OSSTMM and PTES. He has solid understanding of technical concepts of cloud computing, machine learning, and various programming languages. Cyril is a visionary and strategy-builder, has good communication skills, and is great with managing teams. He has founded and currently leads Secure Triad, a Penetration Testing Services Company, based in Sydney, Australia.