Email Security Best Practices to Safeguard Your Business in 2023
- by Justice Levine
Previously, email security best practices could be easily summarized: use strong passwords, block spammers, don't trust offers that are too good to be true and verify requests even from trusted sources. Today, email is critical to business success, and the preferred method of communication requires a stronger set of best practices to protect against costly cyber threats such as ransomware and business email compromise (BEC).
As threats continue to emerge, inadequately secured email can put your business at great risk. This article will discuss the different types of email risk that your organization faces. We’ll then provide several simple methods to implement to improve your business’s email security strategy to defend against damaging cyberattacks and data breaches, 90% of which are initiated via email.
Threats to Your Organization
Cybersecurity threats are universal and the rapid increase of connected systems and devices makes cybercrime that much more tempting. In the event of a security breach, there are several possible consequences for an organization. This includes revenue loss, reputational damage, regulatory costs, and lost customers. Cyberattacks come in many different forms including:
Phishing is an attack that involves threat actors sending malicious emails with the intention of tricking users into falling for a scam. The motive behind a phishing campaign is typically to get people to reveal financial information, credentials, or other sensitive data. Phishing is cheap, easy, and effective and because of this, it is currently the most commonly used attack vector on organizations, leading to 53% of all cyber security breaches. Phishing campaigns can be extremely costly to their victims, often resulting in data loss, identity theft, or malware infections.
Business Email Compromise
Business email compromise (BEC) is an email cyber crime that involves an attacker targeting a business to defraud the company. The attack works once the threat actor has obtained access to a business email account and imitates the owner’s identity, in order to defraud the company and its employees, customers, or partners. Business email compromise targets organizations of all sizes, across every industry, and around the world. BEC scams have exposed organizations to billions of dollars in potential losses.
Malware is used with the intention of disrupting, damaging, or gaining unauthorized access to a computer system. Malware can be deployed to encrypt or delete sensitive data, steal, hijack or alter central computing functions, and monitor activity without permission. Malware attacks can have severe consequences for businesses. Research has shown that the average cost in lost productivity of a malware attack is 50 days, and 92% of malware is delivered via email.
Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to a computer system until a sum of money in the form of untraceable Bitcoin is paid. It does this by encrypting a victim’s files until they have made the payment demanded by the attacker. Data shows that most small businesses cannot recover from an attack, and 60% of SMBs go out of business within six months of getting hit with ransomware.
Viruses are a type of malware that spread by modifying other computer programs and inserting their own code. Computer viruses are extremely prevalent and can compromise sensitive information, destroy data, and waste copious amounts of time, resources, and energy. Email viruses can be activated after clicking on a link, downloading an attachment, or interacting with an infected email.
Watch: Best Practices to Protect Against Ransomware Attacks
Small Businesses Are Even More Vulnerable
Organizations are getting hit with ransomware now more than ever, multiple times, and often by the same ransomware variant. Many businesses have the mentality that they are too small to be the victim of ransomware, however, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are actually often targeted. This is because attackers recognize and take advantage of the fact that these companies often have smaller security teams and tend to have limited budgets for cyber defense. Data reveals that most small businesses are not able to recover from an attack, and 60% of small companies go out of business within six months of getting hit with ransomware. Other statistics concerning SMBs include:
- 46% of all cyber breaches impact businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees.
- 61% of SMBs were the target of a Cyberattack in 2021.
- Malware is the most common type of cyberattack aimed at small businesses.
- 82% of ransomware attacks in 2021 were against companies with fewer than 1,000 employees.
- 37% of companies hit by ransomware had fewer than 100 employees.
- Small businesses receive the highest rate of targeted malicious emails at 1 in 323.
- Employees of small businesses experience 350% more social engineering attacks than those at larger enterprises.
- 87% of small businesses have customer data that could be compromised in an attack.
- 27% of small businesses with no cybersecurity protections at all collect customers’ credit card info.
Simple Tips to Improve Your Cybersecurity Posture
As email is one of the most commonly used attack vectors by cybercriminals, it is critical an organization and its employees follow email security best practices, such as:
A spam filter is a program that detects unsolicited, unwanted and infected emails and prevents messages from making their way into a user's inbox. Like other types of filtering programs, a spam filter looks for specific criteria to determine whether an email is malicious or not.
Encryption is the process of scrambling information so that only authorized users can access it. SSL certificates are an encryption-based technology that helps secure the communication between sender and receiver. Users should also consider implementing SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, three protocols that are highly effective in combating sender fraud.
Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA security requires multiple authentication methods to confirm the user’s identity for logins and other transactions. MFA combines the user’s credentials to confirm that the user logging into the account is the owner. The credentials include what you know (knowledge), what you have (possession), and what you are (inheritance).
Back-Up Important Files
Organizations should back up critical files frequently and automatically to reduce the potential damage of an attack. To protect backups from malicious attacks, supplement backups with additional copies kept in multiple locations; isolate backups and test backups frequently. Perform restoration exercises on a regular basis to identify any issues or vulnerabilities.
Training your employees is a valuable investment that helps prevent cyber attacks from occurring. Security awareness training teaches employees to understand vulnerabilities and threats to business operations.
Stronger Methods of Email Protection
With proper preparation, you can drastically lower the cost and impact of an attack. Implementing even stronger practices can reduce an organization’s exposure to email threats and minimize potential damage. This includes:
Strengthen Your Email Security Strategy with Proactive Additional Layers of Protection
Many businesses continue to make the mistake of relying on endpoint security alone to safeguard users and key business assets. Endpoint security is a good first start, but it is ineffective in combating sophisticated and evolving threats without additional layers of proactive protection accompanied by expert, ongoing system monitoring, maintenance, and support. This protection must be able to anticipate and learn from emerging attacks and offer the real-time cybersecurity business insights required to improve decision-making and policy enforcement.
Protect Email With Sender Authentication
Sender authentication prevents phishing attacks and protects email accounts against other threats like email spoofing and business email compromise (BEC) by providing a way to verify that an email actually comes from who it claims to be from. This is possible with the help of SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. Sender Policy Framework (SPF) specifies a method for preventing sender address forgery. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) verifies that an email message was not faked or altered. DMARC unifies mechanisms used in SPF and DKIM, allowing domain owners to declare how they would like an email to be handled if it fails an authorization test.
Invest in Fully-Managed Email Security Services
In order to fortify business email against today’s most advanced attacks, it is essential that organizations have a fully-managed email security solution in place, designed to protect against the specific threats each individual business faces, to provide the level of expertise and support needed to safeguard sensitive data and other key assets in this modern digital threat environment. With an intuitive, multi-layered design, your solution must offer various layers of security that detect and block threats in real-time and build on each other to provide more effective protection.
Money Wiring Service Suffers Data Breach
In December of 2021, a terminated Cash App employee downloaded stolen customer details as an act of revenge. According to the April 2, 2022 filing with the Securities Exchange Commission by Block (CashApp’s parent company), the employee required access to the financial reports as part of their daily duties. After termination, the culprit downloaded these reports without permission, stealing the following customer details:
- Full names.
- Brokerage Account numbers
- Brokerage portfolio values
- Brokerage portfolio holdings
- Stock trading activity for one day of trading.
Four months later, in April of 2022, Cash App notified approximately 8.2 million current and former customers that were likely to have been impacted by the breach after effectively prolonging the risk of follow-up cyberattacks targeting impacted customers. The failure to contact victims has resulted in a class action filing against Cash App Investing and its parent company, Block.
Now more than ever, businesses cannot afford a weak email security strategy. Implementing a comprehensive email security system can help prevent advanced threats, such as targeted spear phishing, and ransomware.
- Learn more about effectively protecting your business from ransomware.
- Improve your email security posture to protect against attacks by following best practices.
- Keeping the integrity of your email safe requires securing the cloud with spam filtering and enterprise-grade anti-spam services.
- Get the latest updates on how to stay safe online.
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