Email security describes different techniques for keeping sensitive information in email communication and accounts secure against unauthorized access, loss or compromise. Email is often used to spread malware, spam and phishing attacks. Attackers use deceptive messages to entice recipients to part with sensitive information, open attachments or click on hyperlinks that install malware on the victim’s device. Email is also a common entry point for attackers looking to gain a foothold in an enterprise network and obtain valuable company data.
Email encryption involves encrypting, or disguising, the content of email messages to protect potentially sensitive information from being read by anyone other than intended recipients. Email encryption often includes authentication.
How Secure Is Email?
Email was designed to be as open and accessible as possible. It allows people in organizations to communicate with each other and with people in other organizations. The problem is that email is not secure. This allows attackers to use email as a way to cause problems in attempt to profit. Whether through spam campaigns, malware and phishing attacks, sophisticated targeted attacks, or business email compromise (BEC), attackers try to take advantage of the lack of security of email to carry out their actions. Since most organizations rely on email to do business, attackers exploit email in an attempt to steal sensitive information.
Because email is an open format, it can be viewed by anyone who can intercept it. This became an issue as organizations began sending confidential or sensitive information through email. An attacker could easily read the contents of an email by intercepting it. Over the years, organizations have been increasing email security measures to make it harder for attackers to get their hands on sensitive or confidential information.
Email Security Policies
Because email is so critical in today’s business world, organizations have established polices around how to handle this information flow. One of the first policies most organizations establish is around viewing the contents of emails flowing through their email servers. It’s important to understand what is in the entire email in order to act appropriately. After these baseline policies are put into effect, an organization can enact various security policies on those emails.
These email security policies can be as simple as removing all executable content from emails to more in-depth actions, like sending suspicious content to a sandboxing tool for detailed analysis. If security incidents are detected by these policies, the organization needs to have actionable intelligence about the scope of the attack. This will help determine what damage the attack may have caused. Once an organization has visibility into all the emails being sent, they can enforce email encryption policies to prevent sensitive email information from falling into the wrong hands.
Email Security Best Practices
One of the first best practices that organizations should put into effect is implementing a secure email gateway. An email gateway scans and processes all incoming and outgoing email and makes sure that threats are not allowed in. Because attacks are increasingly sophisticated, standard security measures, such as blocking known bad file attachments, are no longer effective. A better solution is to deploy a secure email gateway that uses a multi-layered approach.
It’s also important to deploy an automated email encryption solution as a best practice. This solution should be able to analyze all outbound email traffic to determine whether the material is sensitive. If the content is sensitive, it needs to be encrypted before it is emailed to the intended recipient. This will prevent attackers from viewing emails, even if they were to intercept them.
Training employees on appropriate email usage and knowing what is a good and bad email is also an important best practice. Users may receive a malicious email that slips through the secure email gateway, so it’s critical that they understand what to look for. Most often they are exposed to phishing attacks, which have telltale signs. Training helps employees spot and report on these types of emails.
Email Security Tools
A secure email gateway, deployed either on-premises or in the cloud, should offer multi-layered protection from unwanted, malicious and BEC email; granular visibility; and business continuity for organizations of all sizes. These controls enable security teams to have confidence that they can secure users from email threats and maintain email communications in the event of an outage.
An email encryption solution reduces the risks associated with regulatory violations, data loss and corporate policy violations while enabling essential business communications. The solution should work for any organization that needs to protect sensitive data, while still making it readily available to affiliates, business partners and users—on both desktops and mobile devices. An email encryption solution is especially important for organizations required to follow compliance regulations, like GDPR, HIPAA or SOX, or abide by security standards like PCI-DSS.