Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Email Security

December 12, 2019 Eric Dosal Eric Dosal

4 Min Read

Email security, like many other forms of network security, is just one part of a complete cybersecurity architecture. However, many organizations tend to overlook the importance of email security until it’s too late—forgoing additional email protection until after a security incident occurs because of an email-related issue.

Why does email security matter? What are some of the biggest threats to email security? More importantly, how can you protect your organization from email security threats?

Why Email Security Matters

Email protection is important because of cyber threats like social attacks that target organizations via email (and other communication channels). For example, phishing emails might trick users into giving up sensitive information, approving fake invoices, or downloading malware that can go on to infect your network.

By compromising one person’s email account, attackers can then send phishing emails out to all of that person’s contacts—posing as the hijacked email account’s owner to gain trust and spread their attack further. If the wrong email account is usurped or if the wrong recipient gets tricked, it could cause a data breach that can cost millions (about $3.9 million in 2019, according to the Ponemon Cost of a Data Breach study).

Many security threats that leverage compromising an organization’s email accounts or email users could easily be thwarted by using basic email protection. So, it’s important to employ some email security measures.

Top Threats to Email Security

To better protect against email security threats, it’s important to know what the biggest threats are. Here’s a short list of some of the most common or dangerous threats to an organization’s email security:

  • Phishing Attacks. Did you know that there are at least 3.4 billion fake emails sent out as part of a phishing scam every single day? According to statistics cited by techradar.com, that’s the minimum. This is a sobering statistic, one that should highlight the importance of email security. Worse yet, phishing attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, leading to new types of attacks that are getting better at tricking people, such as…

  • Spear Phishing Attacks. This is the name for a specific subset of phishing attacks that are highly customized and targeted to a specific individual or organization. These spear phishing attempts often mimic the tone and style of an organization’s official communications, incorporate copies of the organization’s letterhead and logo, and use an email domain that is similar to the one the organization uses—one that might pass a cursory inspection, except for having one additional letter/number or having two letters/numbers transposed. These social attacks are a major threat because they can trick even experienced and knowledgeable individuals into making mistakes.

  • Weak Email Passwords. One way that some attackers may try to hijack email accounts is by simply guessing the account’s password. Accounts that have weak or easy to guess passwords can be hijacked without the user’s knowledge—then get used to send out phishing attack emails from a legitimate company address. According to the 2019 DBIR, about 80% of attacks we're comprised due to weak passwords and credentials.  As organizations accordingly invest in passwords managers, it remains clear that their biggest issue continues to be one that makes their postures weaker.
  • Malicious Download Links and Attachments. Many phishing attack emails include links or attachments that are primed with malware. The specific effects of this malware can vary depending on the type of malware that is downloaded. For example, ransomware will encrypt all of the data on the affected computer’s drive (or on the drives of every computer/database on the network), then demand a payment (i.e. ransom) in return for the encryption key. Meanwhile, other malware programs may simply sit on the infected device and passively collect information (such as login credentials or financial data), then transmit that data to an offsite server for the cybercriminal to collect later.

These are just a few of the biggest threats to email security.

How to Increase Email Security

One of the problems with email security is that many organizations tend to assume that the basic email protections that come with a given email client will be enough. While email service providers do try to safeguard their users from phishing schemes and other social attacks that leverage their email clients, savvy attackers study these security measures and find ways around them.

So, it’s important to apply extra layers of email security in addition to what your vendor offers. Some basic ways to do this include:

  • Using Antivirus/Antimalware to Scan Email Attachments. One basic precaution when handling email security is to use an antivirus/antimalware program to check email attachments before downloading them or executing them. This can help to spot malicious software so it can be contained before it can cause harm.

  • Creating a Security Education Training and Awareness Program. Security education training and awareness (SETA) programs help to give your employees the basic cybersecurity knowledge they need to recognize phishing attempts. SETA programs can also help reinforce the importance of following security procedures to increase security in general or to improve response to security incidents.

  • Enforcing Basic Password Requirements. Since weak passwords are a major source of hijacked email accounts, enforcing basic password rules (such as minimum password lengths, using uppercase and lowercase letters, using special characters, and periodically changing passwords) can help to prevent email account hijacking.

  • Using Phishing Attack Detection Tools. There are some specialized software programs that can specifically check emails to determine if they are part of a phishing attack strategy and flag them for users before they’re opened. This helps to make it easier for users to avoid falling for social attacks that use phishing emails, though they aren’t always foolproof.

  • Previewing Shortened URLs prior to Opening Them. Malicious download links or links to malware sites often employ shortened URLs to help disguise the nature of the link—showing something like bit.ly instead of www.imgonnainstallmalwarenow.com in the hopes that someone will blindly click on the link. Using link preview solutions to show the final destination of the shortened URL can help reveal a malicious link without having to follow it.

Do you need help creating a comprehensive email security solution to block security threats? Reach out to the team at Compuquip today to get started.

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