No matter what size your business might be, you have probably heard a lot about email security. This topic has grown in importance recently as many new digital threats continue to emerge and evolve. But it’s crucial to understand the scope of the term and everything that email security covers.
Email Security Defined
The term email security encompasses all of the different procedures and protocols for protecting email accounts, content, communication, and data against unauthorized access, loss, or compromise. Email service providers have security measures in place to secure client accounts and information from hackers.
Email security measures commonly use technology to inspect inbound emails for malicious threats. They also encrypt outbound emails to protect mailboxes and users from security attacks. Email security is becoming increasingly important as the number of attacks that use email has increased exponentially in recent years.
Email Threat Overview
Email is used by everyone in business, which is why it is such a common platform for attacks. The most common types of email-based security threats include:
- Spam: Spam email is sent out in mass quantities by criminals looking to accomplish one or several goals. These emails are often considered annoying as they disrupt employee productivity. But they can have a more devious intent too. The criminals sending them out may be seeking to make money from a small number of recipients who respond to the message. These emails may also be used to transport malware, spreading malicious code onto the recipient’s computer and/or network.
- Malware: Malware includes viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and ransomware. When these attacks succeed, a hacker can take over control of a workstation or server. The access that they gain can be exploited to compromise secure information. One growing threat is ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts the victim’s files, holding the data hostage until a ransom is paid.
- Phishing: Phishing uses email or text messaging and social engineering tricks to convince users to disclose or provide access to sensitive information or systems. Hackers commonly try to steal passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. They then use this information to access your email and financial accounts.
All three of these threats are incredibly common. Up to 45% (or 14.5 billion emails) of emails sent every day are spam. There are 1.7 billion pieces of malware that could potentially infect your inbox, and between 2-4% of emails contain some type of malware. And new threats are emerging every day. Email malware creation increases by 26% year over year.
Phishing attacks, in particular, have seen a massive increase during 2020 due to the pandemic. Quarantines and the changes to business processes gave hackers even more incentive to exploit vulnerabilities in security. One study showed a 73% increase during six months from March to September 2020.
Compromised business email attacks are associated with steep financial losses. In 2019, the total figure was estimated to be $1.7 billion in email-based cybercrime-related financial losses. This figure represents a 37% increase from the previous year. And the FBI estimates that each business email compromise attack has a higher cost than other types of cybersecurity crimes. Victims report an average loss of nearly $75,000.
Email Security Best Practices
Due to the serious nature of email-based attacks, email security is crucial. The best security measures include a multi-layered approach that involves software, technology, employee education, and sound procedures. Some of the best strategies include:
- Spyware Protection: Spyware detection and removal services can detect, quarantine, and dispose of malicious email attachments and repair any settings and files that were altered or changed. Some programs require a manual start, while others continuously monitor email traffic.
- Email Encryption: Email encryption technologies let users encrypt emails sent between two parties. This process disguises sensitive information and ensures that only the intended recipient can decrypt the email and access the data. While email encryption is always recommended, it is especially important for businesses that send and receive protected information.
- Spam Filtering: Spam filters are programs that detect unsolicited and unwanted emails, thus preventing those messages from ever reaching the user’s inbox. These filters block both harmful and benign spam to reduce threats and boost employee productivity.
- Secure Login & Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Businesses should ensure that any webmail applications in use have encryption to prevent emails from hackers. Multifactor authentication requires users to provide two or more verification factors. MFA uses the second verification factor to prevent an attacker from gaining access with just a username and password. MFA would also require one of the following:
- additional knowledge such as a password or pin
- access to something in your possession, such as a badge or smart device
- biometric data, such as a fingerprint or voice recognition
- Password Policies: Companies must enforce strong password rules to maintain security. This often means requiring employees to use strong passwords, change them frequently, and disallow or limit the recycling of passwords. These practices ensure that, even if a password is compromised, it may not be valid when a hacker attempts to use it.
- Employee Education: Often considered the most important aspect of email security, no security plan is complete without a focus on employee education. You must engage employees in ongoing and emerging security risks, help them understand how to spot suspicious emails, and understand how to prevent falling victim to an email-based cyberattack. If possible, it’s recommended to run regular phishing exercises. These exercises help employees learn to recognize a phishing attempt outright and prevent data breaches.
- Threat Intelligence: External email threat feeds are now commonly used by email security products to help emerging threats. Threat intelligence uses evidence-based knowledge, context, mechanisms, indicators, implications, and action-oriented advice about an existing or emerging threat to form decisions to protect from the identified threat.
Email security is comprised of a comprehensive range of technologies and practices. Ensuring your business’s email remains secure can be incredibly challenging in today’s landscape of constantly emerging threats. Sagacent Technologies is a professional managed IT service provider that can help you protect your email from cyberattacks.
Sagacent Technologies offers technology management and support, including proactive/preventative maintenance, onsite and offsite data back-ups, network and security audits, mobility solutions, disaster planning, and emergency business resumption services. The company serves clients of 10 to 150 employees within the Silicon Valley region.