Email Security in 2024: A Look at Three Emerging Trends

In 2023, the world underwent significant post-pandemic changes, with technological advances at the forefront. New trends and challenges have emerged that we will see continue to grow as the world of technology becomes increasingly advanced.

For many years, security has been an issue for individuals and organizations that have become vulnerable to cybercriminals who find ways to steal and monetize their sensitive information. This has long been done by sending a notice or something to grab the users’ eye through a phishing email. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, deceiving victims has become significantly easier for malicious hackers.

Looking ahead to 2024 and reflecting on 2023, it is apparent that 2023 has presented many challenges in the tech world for individuals and businesses alike. It’s no secret that these are unpredictable times. As technology continues to change how people work and businesses operate, there must be new ways to reach goals and objectives, including managing the latest technologies and challenges brought on by the increase in cyberattacks.

Everything from enhanced phishing defense techniques to increased use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to combat evolving email threats will be some of the biggest trends to kick off 2024.  We’ve identified three overarching trends in email security everyone can expect and plan for to experience a safe and prosperous 2024.

Enhanced Phishing Defense Techniques

phishingCyberattacks are constantly occurring. Cybercriminals find a way to outsmart a business and users who don’t necessarily research or know what they’re clicking on, which can be dangerous and take their information in seconds. A robust phishing defense strategy must be in place to safeguard against human error. Human vulnerability remains significant, as employees can inadvertently turn a reason for successful phishing attacks. Businesses should take the following measures to protect users and critical assets against phishing:

  • User Education and Vigilance- programs must be implemented to familiarize employees with phishing techniques, including spear phishing, and the red flags to look for. 
  • Robust Email Security Measures- Email continues to be a prime channel for phishing attacks, necessitating strong email security measures. You can employ cutting-edge technologies, such as Machine Learning (ML) algorithms and advanced threat detection systems, to identify and halt phishing emails before they reach users’ inboxes.
  • Strengthening Perimeter Defenses- Employing firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems can bolster an organization’s defenses against phishing threats.
  • Endpoint Protection and Endpoint Detection and Response- Protecting individual endpoints, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices, is a critical defense against phishing attacks. Organizations can detect and stop phishing attempts at the endpoint level by implementing robust antivirus, antimalware, and EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) solutions. However, these solutions alone are not enough to protect against today’s advanced threats and must be implemented as part of a defense-in-depth security strategy.

Increased Use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Cybersecurity

The rise of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is currently in its prime. Looking back at 2023, AI found its footing in every major outlet and discussion. It has helped improve medical diagnosis, identify potential national security threats more quickly, and solve crimes. However, some significant concerns remain—including education, intellectual property, and privacy. As well as the ability for cybercriminals to get to their subjects more efficiently without any problems as AI essentially does the job for them, and they just send it off.

Artificial intelligence. Information concept. 3D renderAI can create text images, audio, video, and other content when prompted by a user. This technology continues to gain global attention for its benefits. But there are concerns, too, such as how it could replicate work from authors and artists, generate code for more effective cyberattacks, and even help produce new chemical warfare compounds, among other things.

Machine Learning is a second application of AI that is growing in use. This technology is used in fields requiring advanced imagery analysis, from medical diagnostics to military intelligence. It can identify hidden or complex patterns in data, detect diseases earlier, and improve treatments. AI technologies have enormous potential for good, but much of their power comes from their ability to outperform human skills and comprehension.

Evolving Email Threats

It’s no secret that cybercriminals use email as one of the most efficient forms of getting businesses and individuals to let their guard down and steal their information as a ploy to succeed in getting what they want. Email threats will continue to evolve, with new attacks emerging faster than ever in 2024. Below are some attacks we expect to dominate the 2024 cyber threat landscape:

QR Code Phishing

QR code phishing is a form of phishing that takes advantage of quick response (or QR) codes. The attacker, often disguised as a legitimate individual or organization, will send the target a QR code and deceive them into scanning the code for what the target believes is a valid reason. The code then leads the target to wherever the attacker wants them directed, be it a spoofed login page or a landing page that downloads malware.

Like other kinds of phishing, QR code phishing can be used in various ways and for multiple reasons. Depending on the specific desires and means a bad actor or criminal organization possesses, QR phishing can be deployed via email, text message, or even on paper—anywhere they can entice users into scanning the code. Cybercriminals use a variety of social engineering tactics to make their targets scan codes quickly and without thinking about it first.

Ransomware-As-A-Service

Ransomwareransomware is malicious software, or malware, designed to encrypt files within a device, rendering the files, systems, and/or network unusable. Cybercriminals will demand a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption code.

Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) is the latest business model in ransomware. Unlike other "as-a-service" offerings, inexperienced hackers can now use on-demand tools for malicious activities. Instead of creating and deploying their ransomware, they can pay a fee, select a target, and launch an attack using specialized tools provided by a service provider.

It reduces the time and cost required to execute a ransomware attack, especially when identifying new targets. Service providers are encouraged to use this to bypass security defenses. RaaS operates similarly to legitimate businesses. Customers, commonly called "affiliates," have various payment options, including flat fees, subscriptions, or a percentage of the revenue. 

Numerous recommendations for defending against ransomware emphasize the importance of business continuity. These include maintaining reliable backups and implementing adequate disaster recovery plans to minimize the impact of a successful attack. While these measures are undoubtedly valuable, it is crucial to note that they do not directly address the risk of data exposure.

Ransomware attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated, resulting in more powerful, targeted, and agile threats. To effectively defend against this evolving menace, utilizing targeted tools fueled by the latest intelligence is crucial.

Fileless Attacks

Fileless malware, true to its name, is malicious code that uses existing legitimate programs in a system for compromise. It operates directly in the Random Access Memory (RAM) without requiring any executable files in the hard drive. These attacks have no identifiable code or signature. When a victim accidentally clicks a malicious link or an attachment in a phishing email, it triggers the exploit, often using shellcode such as PowerShell to avoid detection and eliminate the trace of its activity. Afterward, it runs commands to download and execute payload solely within the system memory.

email malwareThere are many different types of fileless malware to be familiar with:

  • Memory resident malware – Exists solely within the memory of a valid Windows file, rendering the malware fileless and resistant to detection by standard antivirus tools.
  • Windows registry resident malware remains in the Windows registry, using a program known as a “dropper” to insert harmful code. It can run whenever the system starts, bypassing traditional antivirus scans.
  • Rootkits – Rootkits exist within the operating system kernel rather than a file. Rootkits masquerade as the standard operating system, allowing them to evade detection completely.
  • Exploit kits – Exploit kits are sets of tools targeting system vulnerabilities. They target the system memory without writing to the storage media. They include exploits for multiple vulnerabilities and a management console. Some even scan existing vulnerabilities and launch tailored attacks instantly.
  • Fileless ransomware - Today's ransomware attacks use fileless tactics, concealing malicious code in documents through macros or exploiting memory. This enables ransomware to control built-in system tools like PowerShell, encrypting files without leaving a trace.
  • False credentials – The threat actor gains access to the system using the compromised username and password combinations to implement a shellcode to execute an attack. They remain persistent in the system by hiding code in the registry or kernel or creating user accounts for system access.

Fileless malware is a subtle yet evolving threat that manipulates genuine processes, which makes detection highly difficult. It encompassed the variations mentioned above and often uses phishing tactics for execution.

Keep Learning About Email Security Trends Predicted for 2024

2024 will bring many cybersecurity challenges and new trends affecting users and businesses. By staying informed about these trends and adopting the caliber of protection required to combat modern threats, individuals and organizations can better protect themselves from the growing email security risks they face and continue communicating securely in this digital age.

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