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Email Security Threats: How to Protect Your Business

Cyberattacks on email are on the rise and evolving quickly. These best practices can help keep your enterprise safe.

As email security has become more advanced, cyberattackers and other threats have unfortunately evolved with it. Crafting and implementing best practices for email security within an organization has become more important as threats become more sophisticated. Phishing attacks are a common method of breaking into IT systems, and 96 percent of them are done via email .

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In recent years, many businesses have shifted to a remote or hybrid workforce model, which has consequences for data security in general because employees are working outside the controlled environment of the business premises. You need to make specific changes to your IT security protocols, however, because your business likely isn’t used to managing the flow of data and information outside of on-premises systems.

Email security remains an underestimated aspect of IT security, which makes it a vulnerability regardless of business size. A single compromised email account can allow an organization-wide phishing attack or data breach. In the U.S. alone, the average cost of a data breach is over $9 million -- more than double the average globally. These statistics further cement the value of a sound email security protocol and comprehensive IT security measures.

Email Security Threats to Watch Out For

The irony is that many cybersecurity threats that exploit an organization’s email accounts can easily be avoided by using basic email protection. Unfortunately, many businesses still fail to see how email security fits into their overall IT security systems. Data security threats will be a major driver of change in the data management sector in 2023, and it would be wise for organizations to revisit their security protocols and take stock of what threats they need to be wary of.

Weak passwords. This is the first thing cyberattackers try to break through because most email account holders don’t give much thought to their email passwords. In 2019, approximately 80 percent of attacks were caused by weak passwords and credentials. Many companies have invested in enterprise-level password managers, but something as simple as choosing a strong email password shouldn’t be left to chance and software tools. Users must understand the value of a string password and how using one can help avoid an organization-wide data breach.

Malicious attachments and links. One of the simplest forms of a phishing attack email is one that contains links or attachments that contain malware. There are several types of malware with different effects, from passively connecting sensitive information to locking down or encrypting data within a specific computer or network and demanding payment for a decryption key. Ultimately, whether or not the effects are immediate, malware should never be allowed to enter any system within your business.

Spear phishing attacks. This is a more targeted phishing attack in which the emails sent are customized in such a way that they mimic the specific style and tone of an organization so well, users feel they’re communicating with a colleague or superior. From copying letterheads to using similar email domains, spear phishing attacks are more sophisticated than the typical “spray and pray” phishing attacks from years ago. This is why email users -- even experienced and knowledgeable ones -- should always double-check the emails they receive before clicking links or opening attachments they contain. If unsure, you can always contact the sender and confirm that he or she sent a specific email.

DDoS attacks. A traditional DDoS attack is designed to crash a web server; however, it can also be used to target email accounts using hijacked botnets. These botnets are used to send a large number of emails simultaneously to overload an organization’s email server. Although DDoS attacks can be used to target any type of business, those that attack email servers are more commonly targeted toward B2B companies because these companies rely on email communication to close deals and make sales.

Authentication attacks. Authentication attacks target email servers via brute force or other methods so cyberattackers can get access to email messages and attachments that are stored in a company’s server.

From Identification to Mitigation

Once you identify email security threats, your organization needs to create an overall IT security plan to keep cybercriminals at bay. In the case of email systems, you should secure both the email client and server.

Securing the email client means educating users about potential threats and how to detect and avoid them. They should be made aware of the email security threats listed above and the potential damage they can cause to the organization. However, there’s always the possibility of human error, especially with cyberattacks becoming more sophisticated. This is where securing the email server comes in -- it ensures that spam is filtered, malware is blocked, and suspicious attachments are scanned before they reach specific accounts and users.

Ultimately, your business should take a holistic approach when it comes to cybersecurity. This means making email security part of an overall security protocol and ensuring that security measures are always healthy and updated.

About the Author

Edward Huskin is a freelance data and analytics consultant. He specializes in finding the best technical solution for companies to manage their data and produce meaningful insights. You can reach him via email or LinkedIn.

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