Top Email Security Trends Putting Your Business at Risk of Attack in 2021

Since the beginning the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a seismic shift in the way businesses operate. With a large portion of the global workforce now working remotely - a trend that will likely continue even after we emerge from this pandemic, email use for business communications is at an all-time high - and so is the email-borne risk that all businesses face daily.

Email is the preferred method for sharing sensitive data and a key communication channel that businesses cannot afford to lose access to for any period of time. Threat actors are exploiting this increased dependence on cloud email to steal sensitive data and deliver dangerous malware - crafting sophisticated new attacks and distributing these malicious campaigns using their existing networks.

We’ve identified the most critical email security trends that are putting businesses of all sizes in all industries at increased risk of suffering a cyberattack or breach. Since awareness is a crucial step in mitigating risk, we've outlined these trends to help you understand the risk you face, and what is required to make email safe for business in this heightened digital threat environment. 

The Digital Attack Surface Expanded  with the Proliferation of Cloud Platforms

The sudden rise in remote workers has increased the digital attack surface significantly. Businesses have far more touch points than ever before - which can provide malicious hackers with easy entry into corporate networks and systems if these potential points of compromise are not adequately secured. To make matters worse, it is not uncommon for remote workers to use insecure networks and devices shared with other users. DocuSignPhishingThumbnail

Many companies have migrated to Microsoft 365 to fulfill their communication and collaboration needs. Without critical additional layers of protection in place to fill the gaps in native Microsoft 365 email security defenses, cloud email users are highly vulnerable to credential phishing attacks and account takeovers. Protection built into Microsoft 365 is static, single-layered and unable to anticipate emerging zero-day attacks. Native security defenses provided through Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) are not customizable to meet businesses’ unique security needs, resulting in a limited ability to identify anomalous emails and social engineering attacks leading to compromise. 

Due to its homogeneous architecture and complex configuations, Microsoft 365 is easy to exploit and difficult to secure without a trusted third-party solution accompanied by expert setup and the ongoing system monitoring, maintenance and support needed to enhance IT security and keep users and key business assets secure. The homogeneity of the Microsoft 365 security system enables cyber thieves to open any account, test their methods until they are able to bypass default filters, and reuse these methods in attacks targeting thousands of different accounts. The Microsoft 365 setup and configuration process requires IT expertise that many SMBs lack, and Microsoft fails to provide assistance required to prevent misconfiguration vulnerabilities and safeguard sensitive data.

Key Findings: 

  • Despite the existing email protection provided by Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) in Microsoft 365, 85% of users have experienced an email data breach over the past year.
  • About 40% of Office 365 customers plan to supplement their security with a third-party solution by 2023.

Additional Resources: Learn more about the hidden dangers of cloud email and how to safely navigate Microsoft 365 while working remotely in this blog post.

Phishing Scams Are A Harder Catch Than Ever

Phishing attacks have dominated the email threat landscape for decades; however, businesses’ increased reliance on cloud email, the proliferation of SaaS cloud-based platforms and anxieties surrounding the pandemic have led to a resurgence inWorkingRemoteCloudEmailDangersThumbnail this notorious threat. Our EnGarde Cloud Email Security platform has identified and blocked more phishing emails in July of 2021 than in any month prior throughout our 21-year history.

Not only has the number of phishing scams risen exponentially in recent months, so has the sophistication and specificity of these attack campaigns. Phishers employ advanced social engineering techniques and stealthy fileless and payload-less tactics to craft highly targeted scams designed to evade security defenses and trick even the most security-aware users into sharing credentials and downloading malware. 

How Can I Regognize a Phishing Email?

  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors which can indicate that an email is fraudulent or malicious. Also, keep an eye out for suspicious subject lines and signatures.
  • If an email appears strange in any way, make a phone call to the sender to confirm the legitimacy of the email.
  • If you receive an email from a source you know but it seems suspicious, contact that source with a new email, rather than just hitting reply.
  • Verify shared links and attachments to ensure that they do not lead to fraudulent websites or malicious code.
  • Think before you act! Take time to evaluate each email you receive before clicking on links or downloading attachments. For example, ask yourself: Does an order confirmation email you’ve received correspond to a recent purchase you have made? Do the sender and recipient addresses make sense?

Key Findings: 

  • 95% of cyber attacks begin with a phishing email.
  • There has been a 600% increase in phishing attacks due to COVID-19.
  • Users are now three times more likely to click on a malicious link embedded in a phishing email and then disclose their account credentials than they were pre-COVID. 

Additional Resources: Get tips for recognizing and protecting against phishing scams in this blog post.

Ransomware Attacks Have Risen Sharply 

The prevalence and impact of ransomware has never been more clearly apparent. Earlier this month, the closure of one of the US' largest pipelines due to ransomware highlighted the real-world consequences of a successful cyberattack. Ransomware attacks dominate security news headlines daily, and addessing this threat is a top priority for the US government with the creation of stopransomware.gov and a specific task force devoted to combating ransomware.

The growing potential for threat actors to profit from ransomware attacks is driving rapid innovation in ransomware development. Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) schemes on the dark web - which enable individuals and groups to have a disproportionately large impact relative to their knowledge and skills - are expediting this innovation, and are expected to become increasingly prevalent in the coming years.

Mobile ransomware is at the forefront of modern ransomware development. Because mobile phones often lack adequate security defenses and contain valuable information, cyber criminals are devoting more time and resources to mobile ransomware development than ever before and, as a result, this emerging type of ransomware is becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic. 

How Can I Prevent A Ransomware Attack?

  • Think before you click! Make sure you have confirmed the legitimacy of an email before downloading any attachments it contains.
  • Make sure your OS is patched and updated - this reduces the chance of vulnerabilities existing that cyber criminals could exploit.
  • Back up your files frequently and automatically and protect the back-ups you create. This won’t prevent a ransomware attack, but it can reduce the damage caused by one. Be aware that backups are not foolproof: ransomware may sit idle for weeks until it is triggered, potentially destroying backups.
  • Critically Important: Invest in an effective, multi-layered email security solution that provides real-time protection against malicious URLs and attachments such as those containing ransomware, preventing these malicious emails from being delivered to the end user.

Key Findings: 

  • 29% of SMBs have experience with ransomware, making them more likely to be unprepared for the threat.
  • The consequences of a ransomware attack are disproportionately large target for SMBs, with 60% of these companies going out of business within six months of an attack.
  • 50% of security professionals do not believe their organization is prepared to repel a ransomware attack.

Additional Resources: Learn more about how to prevent ransomware attacks in this blog post

Cybersecurity Should Be a Top Priority Amid the Pandemic

It is no secret that these are challenging times for most companies. In many cases, cyber security has been put on the back burner, as organizations scramble to adapt and adjust to accomodate remote workers. However, the reality is that in this heightened digital threat landscape, cybersecurity has never been more important. 

The COVID-19 crisis had driven rapid, widespread migration to Microsoft 365 to meet businesses’ email needs, providing threat actors with the perfect environment to craft timely, convincing email scams and conveniently distribute them across thousands of accounts simultaneously. Even after we emerge from this pandemic these new threats will persist, as cyber thieves now have a mechanism in place to distribute phishing attacks exploiting the latest trends.

Next Steps

The dominant theme of 2020 and the first half of 2021have been the scale and impact of cyberattacks on our society. Effectively securing users and data in this era of heightened digital risk demands a defense-in-depth approach to security and expert, ongoing system monitoring, maintenance and support. Signature-based antivirus software and endpoint security solutions alone are insufficient in combating today’s advanced exploits like targeted spear phishing and fileless malware, which are crafted specifically to evade traditional detection methods.

Now more than ever, businesses cannot afford to leave their email accounts inadequately protected. It is critical to keep in mind that the cost of a successful cyberattack or data breach could be a shut-down or worse - permanent closure.

Use our free Email Risk Assessment Toolkit to understand the risk you face and actions you can take to improve your email security strategy to prevent attacks and breaches in less than two minutes. Take the Assessment>

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