Email Security Intelligence - Top Email Security Flaws Leaving Businesses Vulnerable to Attack

In this digital risk environment, email threats are evolving faster than ever. Cybercriminals employ new, increasingly sophisticated methods, tactics, and techniques like social engineering and fileless malware to deceive users, evade security defenses, and steal company money.

Too many businesses need help to adapt and adjust to the heightened digital threat landscape, especially post-pandemic, or have failed to make email security the priority it needs, leaving them at risk of a devastating cyberattack or data breach.
Traditional methods of securing business email, such as endpoint security solutions, antivirus software, spam filters, and built-in Microsoft 365 email protection, are no longer enough to secure business email against advanced and emerging attacks. This article will examine some trends putting businesses at increased risk and explain the key areas where typical email security defenses fall short in protecting users, sensitive data, and critical business assets against modern threats.

The Modern Cyber Threat Landscape Brings New & Heightened Email Security Challenges

With the challenges brought on by the pandemic, many businesses have needed help to devote adequate time and resources to securing their email in recent years. Email security is no longer just a commodity but more essential to cybersecurity and business success than ever. Email is the preferred attack vector among cyber criminals and is used to initiate over 90% of modern cyberattacks and breaches.

While email-borne cyberattacks were once simplistic and easy-to-spot phishing scams, cyberattacks have become far more advanced than they were before. Modern email threats have become so sophisticated and deceptive, employing advanced techniques such as social engineering, fileless malware, zero-day ransomware, and polymorphic viruses, that it is now much harder to blame the user for falling for a scam. Let’s examine some trends putting businesses at increased risk and critical email security mistakes, leaving businesses vulnerable to attack.

Mistake: Relying on Built-In Microsoft 365 Email Protection Alone to Make Email Safe for Business

Despite built-in email protection in Microsoft 365, 85% of users have experienced an email data breach over the past year. Native Microsoft 365 email security is a good start but leaves critical security gaps that cybercriminals will readily exploit to trick users into sharing sensitive credentials or installing dangerous malware on their devices. These gaps include: 

  • Protection is static, single-layered, and unable to anticipate emerging attacks. Microsoft EOP fails to consider human error, as well as being ineffective in foreseeing incoming zero-day attacks, malicious URLs and attachments that are not mentioned in static lists.
  • EOP lacks customizable options to meet individual businesses’ varying security needs. Businesses become vulnerable to account takeovers and spear phishing attacks that can lead to data theft.
  • Homogeneous architecture makes it easier for attackers to bypass security defenses. Because of the uniformity of the security system in Microsoft 365, cybercriminals are able to access any account, run tests on their methods until they can bypass default filters, then reuse their techniques to attack, targeting thousands of different accounts.

Mistake: Failing to View Endpoint Security as the Last Line of Defense 

Endpoint security alone is no longer enough to protect sensitive information, as businesses are quickly recognizing that protection that works at the client level on devices such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices is limited in its ability to safeguard users and key assets against current advanced threats. Despite the widespread use of endpoint protection, email-borne cyberattacks and breaches are occurring at an unprecedented rate, with one in five businesses getting hacked daily. Shortcomings of endpoint security include: 

  • Critical security gaps leave corporate networks, cloud-based services, and sensitive data susceptible to attack. Corporate networks include the cloud, network data and log data, which must be secured to prevent compromise. Endpoint protection is limited to the client layer, and cannot intercept traffic between an attacker and a target. 
  • There are no preventative safeguards against human error. Endpoint protection leaves the responsibility of identifying and responding to threats in the hands of the end-user. Endpoint security providers get involved once a user has already received a malicious email - and has possibly already disclosed sensitive credentials or downloaded ransomware.
  • The system is complex to configure and manage securely. Many SMBs lack the IT expertise, and Microsoft doesn’t provide assistance with setup and the ongoing system monitoring, maintenance and support required to prevent misconfiguration vulnerabilities and keep Microsoft 365 customers secure. Organizations with hybrid environments face the challenge of incomplete support for hybrid architectures, and need to implement and manage a separate set of security services for non-Microsoft 365 workloads and data. 
  • Organizations have limited visibility into their email security. Endpoint protection does not equip organizations with the real-time insights and the security of their email required to make informed decisions. Organizations that rely on endpoint protection alone frequently struggle with visibility gaps across their IT environment.

Endpoint security solutions have their place in a defense-in-depth email security strategy, but must be seen as the last line of defense against cybercriminals.

Mistake: Failure to Invest in Fully-Managed Email Security Services

Managed services is a key area where even the most innovative, modern email security solutions consistently fall short. An effective email security solution cannot simply be selected and purchased, leaving the responsibility of configuration and management in the hands of the administrator. Small businesses often lack a full-time IT department or mail administrator, and even with these positions filled, organizations cannot rely on IT professionals, who are often not trained email security experts, to secure corporate email accounts.

Rather, securing business email is an ongoing process that requires around-the-clock monitoring and maintenance by a team of experts, dedicated to understanding the evolving risks and applying the specific real-time guidance necessary to each individual business. Failure to implement a business email security solution accompanied by ongoing, expert management, system monitoring, and support services often leaves businesses vulnerable to attack - even with supplementary email security defenses in place. Investing in a fully-managed email security solution can enhance security, improve productivity, extend IT resources, and offer a rapid return on investment (ROI).

Trend: The Digital Attack Surface Has Increased with the Widespread Adoption of Cloud Platforms

Cloud computing information technology concept, data processing and storage platform connected to internet network, specialist engineering systemThe transition to a predominantly remote workforce has led many businesses to migrate their email services to the cloud, resulting in a greater area of vulnerability for cybercriminals to exploit. Organizations are now more susceptible to infiltration by malicious hackers if they fail to adequately secure their systems and networks.

Furthermore, the use of insecure networks and shared devices by remote workers further increases a company's digital risk. Given these vulnerabilities, it is crucial for businesses to implement supplementary protection measures when migrating their email services to cloud platforms such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Unfortunately, many companies have overlooked the importance of additional security defenses, leaving cloud email users highly exposed to various threats, including credential phishing, ransomware, and other malicious attacks. Without critical layers of security in place, the risk of falling victim to spear phishing and fileless malware attacks is significantly heightened. 

Trend: Phishing Scams Are A Harder Catch Than Ever

Phishing attacks, a long-standing threat to email security, have remained the primary method of infiltration for cybercriminals for decades. However, as businesses rely on cloud email services more extensively, and widespread deployment of inherently insecure and frequently misconfigured cloud systems have increased this threat, this problem has only intensified.

What's particularly alarming is that not only have the overall numbers of phishing scams increased dramatically in recent years, but the sophistication and specificity of these attack campaigns have also grown. Phishers now employ advanced social engineering techniques and utilize stealthy fileless and payload-less tactics to create highly targeted scams. These tactics are designed to bypass security defenses and deceive even the most security-aware individuals into sharing their login credentials or unknowingly downloading malicious software.

It is essential for businesses to remain vigilant in this evolving threat landscape. Implementing effective security measures, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), regularly updating software and systems, and providing comprehensive user education and awareness programs, can help mitigate the risks associated with phishing attacks.

Trend: Ransomware Attacks Have Risen Sharply with the Emergence of RaaS

Red word "Ransomware" hidden in the middle of a binary code sequence.The prevalence and impact of ransomware attacks have been steadily increasing, resulting in severe consequences for victims, including data loss, expensive recovery costs, damage to reputation, and even the potential for permanent business closure. The growing potential for threat actors to profit from these attacks has driven rapid innovation in ransomware development.

One significant factor contributing to the rise of ransomware is the emergence of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) schemes on the dark web. These schemes allow individuals and groups with varying levels of knowledge and skills to have a disproportionately large impact, thus expediting the innovation and distribution of ransomware. 

Furthermore, mobile ransomware has emerged as a prominent focus in modern ransomware development. Cybercriminals have increasingly turned their focus and resources towards developing ransomware designed specifically for mobile devices, driven by their vulnerability. Mobile phones lack adequate protection, yet contain valuable data, making them attractive targets for attackers. Businesses face increasing difficulties as this form of ransomware becomes more commonplace and widespread.

To protect against ransomware attacks, it is crucial that individuals and organizations implement robust cybersecurity measures. This includes ensuring end-to-end session security, implementing multi-factor authentication for administrators, protecting and monitoring identity systems, mitigating lateral traversal, promoting rapid threat response, and incrementally removing risks to make it harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access. Additionally, maintaining up-to-date antivirus software and regularly backing up critical data can help mitigate the impact of potential attacks.

Trend: CEO Fraud is a Growing Threat to All Employees and Executive Team Members

CEO fraud poses an ever-increasing threat to all employees and members of an executive team due to its highly targeted nature and potential financial and data losses. A typical CEO fraud attack involves cybercriminals gaining unauthorized access to an executive email account and using it to launch spear-phishing attacks against other employees while masquerading as this individual, luring them into carrying out illegal acts by impersonating him or her; for instance transferring money or disclosing confidential data without their knowledge or consent.

One of the primary reasons CEO fraud is a growing threat is the level of sophistication employed by cybercriminals. They meticulously research their targets, gathering information from sources like company websites and social media platforms to craft convincing emails. This level of personalization makes it difficult for employees to detect fraudulent messages, increasing the likelihood of falling victim to the scam.

As the threat landscape evolves, it is crucial for all employees and members of the executive team to remain vigilant and adopt best practices to defend against CEO fraud. Organizations should also establish clear procedures for verifying and authorizing financial transactions, particularly those involving sensitive information or changes to account details. By fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and implementing proactive defense measures, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with CEO fraud and protect both their employees and their financial well-being.

Why Cybersecurity Needs to Be a Top Priority for All Businesses

Why Cybersecurity Needs to be a Top Priority for All Businesses Guardian DigitalDownload

In today's digital landscape, cybersecurity must be a top priority for businesses across all industries. The increasing prevalence and sophistication of cyber threats necessitate proactive measures to safeguard sensitive data, protect intellectual property, and maintain the trust of customers and stakeholders. Here are several reasons why cybersecurity should be a priority for every business:

  • Protection of sensitive data: Businesses handle vast amounts of sensitive data, including customer information, financial records, and proprietary data. A data breach can have severe consequences, leading to financial losses, legal liabilities, and reputational damage. Prioritizing cybersecurity ensures the implementation of robust security measures to protect valuable data from unauthorized access, breaches, or theft.
  • Mitigation of financial and operational risks: Cyberattacks can disrupt business operations, leading to significant financial implications. Downtime, recovery costs, legal expenses, and potential regulatory fines can all impact the bottom line. Organizations can minimize these risks by prioritizing cybersecurity by implementing proactive security measures, conducting regular vulnerability assessments, and developing incident response plans.
  • Preservation of reputation and customer trust: A successful cyber attack can severely damage a company's reputation and erode customer trust. Customers expect businesses to safeguard their personal information and maintain data privacy. Prioritizing cybersecurity demonstrates a commitment to protecting customer data, building trust, and maintaining a positive brand image.
  • Compliance with regulations and industry standards: Many industries have specific cybersecurity regulations and compliance requirements, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Prioritizing cybersecurity ensures compliance with these regulations, reducing the risk of legal repercussions and potential penalties.
  • Safeguarding intellectual property: Intellectual property (IP) is a valuable asset for businesses, and protecting it from cyber threats is crucial. Cyberattacks aimed at stealing trade secrets, patents, or proprietary information can result in significant financial losses and competitive disadvantages. Prioritizing cybersecurity helps safeguard IP through measures like data encryption, access controls, and employee awareness training.

Businesses should prioritize cybersecurity as an essential investment to safeguard themselves against cyber attacks, protect sensitive data and ensure operational continuity, build customer and stakeholder trust, and maintain operational continuity within any digital organization. Cybersecurity investment contributes significantly to any enterprise's long-term success and resilience in today's digital environment.

Keep Learning About How to Overcome Common Email Security Mistakes

Securing business email against modern threats requires defense-in-depth protection, advanced technology, and expert, ongoing system monitoring, maintenance, and support. With an awareness of common shortcomings of typical email security defenses, organizations are equipped with knowledge that can be used to select and implement an effective third-party email security solution to protect their users, key business assets, and brand image in this heightened digital threat environment.

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