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Email Security Definition
Email security involves the strategic set of measures and techniques used to protect email-based communications, effectively preserving the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of email messages. As a critical safeguard for all types of organizations and professionals, email security prevents unauthorized access resulting in data breaches, detects and blocks malicious content, and ensures the privacy of sensitive information being transmitted.
As the most commonly leveraged communication channel among cyber attackers and criminals, email is often exploited to spread malware and viruses, steal sensitive data, deploy ransomware and phishing attacks, and manipulate users into divulging confidential information. Email security solutions are designed to protect against the ever-evolving spectrum of email-borne attack vectors.
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Email Security Benefits
Email security is essential for businesses and individuals to protect sensitive information and prevent catastrophic data breaches. Here are some benefits of email security:
- Protects against phishing and spoofing attacks: Email security can help detect and resolve email threats such as phishing or spoofing, which can lead to devastating breaches and the risk of malware or other harmful computer viruses.
- Prevents data breaches: Email encryption can prevent accidents and aid in the prevention of costly data breaches. It protects confidential information such as credit card numbers, bank accounts, employee PII, and intellectual property.
- Improves confidentiality: Secure email encryption solutions can bolster confidentiality by ensuring that only the intended recipients can access the email content.
- Identifies malicious and spam emails: Email security can help detect malicious or spam emails that might breach the mail system’s spam filter, making accounts vulnerable to engaging with such emails.
- Avoids business risks and remains compliant: Email encryption services can help businesses avoid risks and remain compliant with industry regulations.
- Safeguards sensitive information: Email security can protect sensitive information, such as intellectual property, financial records, and top-secret company information and trade secrets, from interception by malicious actors like hackers and cybercriminals.
- Real-time protection: Email security solutions can provide real-time protection against zero-day exploits by providing anti-malware and anti-spam protection.
- Avoids compromised accounts and identity theft: Email encryption can help avoid compromised accounts and identity theft by preventing attackers from stealing login credentials and other personal data or installing malware.
Email security is not just about protecting your inbox; it’s about securing your organization from potential threats that could lead to significant data breaches or financial loss.
Why Is Email Security Important?
Email security is a crucial component to protecting both business and personal assets from threats. Email is widely known as the number-one threat vector for cyber attacks, and cybercriminals are constantly tweaking their tactics and techniques to exploit email vulnerabilities.
According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, 94% of malware was delivered via email. And based on findings in a Cisco Report, 96% of all phishing attacks originate from email.
Effective email security involves more than just using technologies to help detect threats and safeguard data and digital assets. It’s also about training personnel about email security awareness and understanding the sophisticated nature of today’s threats. Terranova’s Phishing Benchmark Global Report indicated that 67.5% of individuals who click on a phishing link would likely submit their credentials on the associated phishing website.
Implementing email security measures helps protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands and ensures your organization remains compliant with data protection regulations like GDPR and HIPAA. A secure email system can also prevent costly downtime caused by malicious emails compromising your network infrastructure.
In the ever-evolving digital landscape where email communication remains fundamental to day-to-day operations, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of a robust email security strategy to keep your business running smoothly while safeguarding against potential threats.
Types of Email Attacks
Malicious intent lies at the core of all email attacks, regardless of their form or function. To help you stay informed and protected, here are some common types of email attacks:
- Phishing: Attackers impersonate a legitimate organization to trick users into revealing sensitive information.
- Social Engineering: Manipulating people into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security.
- Spear Phishing: A targeted version of phishing that focuses on specific individuals or organizations using personalized emails.
- Ransomware: Malicious software that encrypts files or systems until a ransom is paid.
- Malware: Software designed to infiltrate and damage computer systems without the user’s consent.
- Spoofing: Attackers forge email headers to make them appear as if the message is from a trusted source.
- Man-in-the-middle attack: An attacker intercepts communication between two parties and can read, modify, or inject messages.
- Data exfiltration: A sophisticated type of email attack where an attacker steals sensitive data from an organization’s email system.
- Denial of service: Attackers crash email servers by sending a high volume of emails that the servers are eventually unable to handle.
- Account takeover: Attackers access an individual’s email account and use it to send spam or phishing emails or access sensitive data.
- Identity theft: An attacker steals an individual’s personal information, such as their name, address, or social security number, and uses it for fraudulent purposes.
- Brand impersonation: Attackers impersonate a well-known brand to deceive the recipient into divulging sensitive information.
Understanding these types of attacks empowers you to recognize and avoid them, keeping your email domains and data safe. IT teams, cybersecurity professionals, and business leaders must stay vigilant and ahead of the curve with dynamic email threats at play.
Dangers of Malicious Emails
Malicious emails can cause significant damage, not just to one’s device but to an entire network and the data connected to it. Just one ill-intended email can pose serious danger in a myriad of ways.
- Gain access to private information: Email is the most common way hackers trick users into accessing valuable information. It only takes one wrong click to enable a hacker to infiltrate your entire device and its contents.
- Infect your device with malware: Malicious code distributed in email messages can infect one or more devices by spreading ransomware attacks, crashing the victim’s system, providing threat actors with remote access to the device, stealing the victim’s personal data, destroying files, or adding the victim’s system to a malvertisement.
- Steal your data: A deceptively-fabricated email disguised as a legitimate or credible source can direct users to a phishing website – sometimes called a “spoof” or “lookalike” website – designed to steal your data. When victims enter their information, the site captures it and sends it to the attacker.
- Cause your computer to download more malware: Malware-infected email attachments often include code or exploits that make devices download more malware. These attachments are generally small, customized, and not widely spread, making them difficult to identify by standard anti-virus solutions.
- Put organizations at risk: Malicious emails can inflict immense damage on organizations by infecting other devices on the network, stealing sensitive data, or disrupting operations.
It’s critical to be cautious when receiving emails from unknown senders or emails that seem suspicious. Avoid clicking links or downloading attachments from these emails, and delete them immediately. Educating yourself and your employees on how to identify malicious email messages is one of the most important things you can do to enforce effective email and data security protocols.
How Secure Is Email?
Email was originally 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 the security of email, on its own, is not reliable. Given its open format and the heightened sophistication of attacks, email is inherently not secure, requiring organizations to implement email security solutions, policies, and best practices to protect against email-derived attacks.
Attackers use email as a means to intercept sensitive communications, steal confidential information, and compromise systems – largely in an attempt to profit from targeted victims. Whether through spam campaigns, malware, phishing attacks, sophisticated targeted attacks, or business email compromise (BEC), attackers can take advantage of the lack of email security measures to carry out their desired actions.
Over the years, organizations have been increasing their level of email security, making it harder for attackers to access sensitive or confidential information. Yet, social engineering tactics and other human-centric attacks have upped the ante for more stringent and secure email systems.
Email Security Policies
Email security policies are rules an organization implements to govern how users interact with messages sent and received via email. In essence, an email security policy aims to protect messages from unauthorized access, such as cyber attackers trying to infiltrate confidential messages sent within and outside an organization’s network.
Policies to enforce email security vary from organization to organization but, in most cases, include a combination of the following:
- Strong password requirements: Email account passwords should be complex, difficult to guess, and changed regularly. Employees should not use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Multifactor authentication: MFA adds an additional layer of security to email accounts. It requires users to provide multiple forms of identification to access their accounts, such as a password and a fingerprint or a password and a code sent to their phone.
- Email encryption: An email encryption solution reduces the risks associated with regulatory violations, data loss, and corporate policy violations while enabling essential business communications.
- Email attachments: Create policies regarding acceptable file types for attachments and implement scanning tools to detect malware before it enters the network.
- Security awareness training: Train employees to be cautious when clicking links or downloading email attachments. They should only click on links or download attachments from trusted sources.
- Regular software updates: Implemented a patch management strategy. Email security software should be updated regularly to protect against new threats.
- Data retention: Organizations can establish guidelines on how long emails should be stored and when they should be deleted to prevent unauthorized access to old data.
- Secure email gateway: An SEG safeguards an organization’s stream of email to block unwanted inbound messages, like spam, phishing attacks, or malware, all while analyzing outgoing messages to prevent sensitive data from leaving the organization.
The email security policies should be tailored to support an organization’s need to protect sensitive data while making it readily available to users, affiliates, and business partners. They’re especially important for organizations required to follow compliance regulations, like GDPR, HIPAA, or SOX, or abide by security standards like PCI-DSS.
Email Security Best Practices
All things combined – be it technology, people, and policies – organizations can integrate the following email security best practices:
- Leverage a robust email security posture: Email security best practices emphasize using a robust security posture that contains various layers of security measures, including effective email protection solutions, threat detection, reporting and controls, and regular updates.
- Integrate data protection measures: Implement systems and policies to prevent users from emailing sensitive data to external parties. This can be achieved by implementing solutions prohibiting users from emailing certain types of data to external parties.
- Train employees: Educate the people that make up an organization on email security best practices, such as how to identify phishing and spoofing emails, how to create impenetrable passwords, and how to avoid clicking on suspicious email links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
- Use encryption: Email encryption involves encrypting message content to protect potentially sensitive information from being read by anyone other than the intended recipients.
- Utilize multi-layered defenses: Layered defenses like authentication, encryption, and isolation can provide comprehensive protection to address email security best practices. They can be used to protect against advanced email security threats like elaborate phishing schemes, ransomware attacks, business email compromises, and other inbound threats.
- Regularly update security solutions: Consistently and frequently update email security solutions to ensure they are effective against the latest cyber threats.
Organizations can check many of these boxes by working with leading cybersecurity partners like Proofpoint and leveraging their comprehensive email security and protection solutions.
Proofpoint is designed to help businesses identify and block threats using advanced machine learning technology and multilayered detection techniques. These are just some of the email security tools and features that Proofpoint delivers. Learn more about what makes Proofpoint a #1 ranked Email Security and Protection solution.
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