Email Security Intelligence - What Are Cyberthieves After & How Do They Leverage Email to Obtain It?

Organizations continue to rely on email for confidential business communications, giving cybercriminals a general starting point for attacks. Threat actors inflict damage on companies by exploiting traditional email security weaknesses to create corporate network shutdowns, integrate ransomware, and access sensitive information to use for personal gain.

Over ninety percent of email security breaches result from a phishing email, a type of threat that has increased in popularity by six hundred percent since the pandemic, according to Guardian Digital. Security news reports new ransomware and phishing email attacks daily as these issues grow more dangerous, disruptive, and costly. This article will discuss cyberattacks, methods used in a breach, some FAQs, and a few real-world examples.

What is a Cyberattack? How Do Cybercriminals Use Them?

cyber security A cyberattack can come in various forms:

  • Phishing email attacks focus on sending urgent messages to victims to get recipients to open or download malicious links and attachments that lead to platforms that can steal sensitive data.
  • Business Email Compromise can access corporate assets by impersonating CEOs and higher-ups in a company to trick users into relaying private credentials.
  • Account takeover can compromise your system when initiating fraudulent wire transfers and infecting servers with dangerous malware.
  • Social engineering attacks, used in ninety-eight percent of breaches, establish trust between the victim and attacker to obtain information to use in compromises. Threat actors have countless resources online to gather data about the target and their colleagues that help with an attack.

Cybercriminals utilize these tactics more frequently as remote and hybrid work environments become the norm for businesses. Cloud email users might open malicious URLs, spear phishing emails, and other scams that threat actors set up for an attack.

How Do Cyberattacks Happen? What Methods Are Used?

There are a variety of methods cybercriminals can choose from when deciding on how to instigate an attack. Here are the most common tactics threat actors use:


Hackers execute phishing campaigns in small- and large-scale attacks that convince users to click on or download malicious links and attachments that prompt victims to input sensitive credentials into false login websites. These attacks succeed since they use social engineering techniques to appear trustworthy or convey a tone of urgency. Email security breaches with phishing can lead to data loss, compromised email addresses, and account takeovers. Once one person falls for the trap, the cybercriminal can use the victim’s information to attack others in a company and steal the information they have locked away. 

Spear Phishing

A type of phishing attack, spear phishing is more focused, as hackers intend on reaching a specific individual or company to compromise systems and install malware on computers that can allow for account takeover. Attackers research and collect data on an organization they use to create domain spoofing attacks for systems. Hackers can steal sensitive information for attack when users click on the links and attachments on these servers.


Another threat type that relies on social engineering malware attacks creates a sense of urgency in email recipients. Malicious emails contain coding that installs malware as a remote access trojan that lets hackers enter a system undetected for a long time. Once inside a server, hackers can compromise other systems and accounts to steal data and disrupt business operations. In Word documents, Macros can install malware that can siphon your data in a long-lasting tunnel between your network and the hacker without your knowledge.

Fileless Malware

Threat actors use phishing email attacks to deliver fileless malware that can run in a computer’s Random Access Memory. When a victim opens the links, malicious coding scans for cybersecurity vulnerabilities in Flash, Java, and the rest of the system to see what to exploit in an attack. This attack does not rely on leveraging executable files, so this type of threat leaves no signature behind.


A malware ransomware attack is a variation of a malware breach. Ransomware stands apart by encrypting files, blocking victim access to a computer system, and demanding money to return sensitive data to users. Hackers purchase ransomware on the Dark Web or hosted services that they can use to manipulate targets in social engineering attacks. Phishing and spear phishing attacks can help cybercriminals gain a victim’s trust before installing the ransomware on their system. These ransom payments usually come in the form of untraceable Bitcoin and do not guarantee that the server will return to its previous state.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise is a complex attack with first steps similar to a spear phishing scam. Hackers research businesses and their databases, social media, and websites so they have all the information they need to make a targeted attack. Typically, threat actors impersonate an executive, CEO, or CFO while expressing urgency and exploiting preexisting trust to get the victim to share information without thought. In speedy replies, victims may not look at the email carefully enough to identify it as an email security breach that can cause data loss once hackers acquire the login credentials they ask for. 

Cyberattack FAQs

What Are the Signs of An Attack? How Do I Detect Them?

Whenever you open a new email, be sure to look for these signs, among various others, that could be an indicator of compromise or an attempt at account takeovers. See if there have been alterations to subject headers and email addresses that could result from email spoofing. Sometimes, the “From” does not match the email account, which is how hackers get into systems quickly. Read messages for grammatical issues, spelling errors, and vague language that threat actors utilize to go past malware URL scanners and email security software undetected. Avoid opening links and downloading attachments from websites and senders you do not trust and always reach out to senders separately to confirm any email you are unsure about. These tactics are the first steps you can take toward combating email threats.

What Are the Repercussions of an Attack?

Email security issues can have critical consequences for businesses, including data loss, lateral phishing, recovery costs, financial problems, significant downtime, and reputational damage. Ponemon Institute has provided a few staggering statistics:

  • Seventy-four percent of businesses lost customers following a data breach.
  • Sixty percent of ransomware victims go out of business within six months.
  • Fifty-nine percent of attacked companies face litigation.
  • Thirty-three percent of breached organizations face fines.
  • Thirty-two percent of victimized platforms experience a decline in share value.

How Can I Protect My Business From Attack and Prevent Issues?

On top of checking emails for any of the signs we mentioned above, you can install an email security software solution that can mitigate risks before they become a significant issue. Consider adding Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security to your cybersecurity platforms. EnGarde uses a multi-layered, comprehensive, proactive setup that safeguards users with 24/7/365 customer service support and constant monitoring from our cybersecurity professionals.

What Are Some Real-World Attack Examples?

cyber security programer focused writing code encounters system failure while parsing algorithm sitting desk system engineer having unexpected compiling error while creating softwareOn April 29, 2021, cybercriminals hacked a Virtual Private Network that provided companies access to Colonial Pipeline’s computer network. Though the breached account was no longer in use, the decryption tool cost over $5 million in Bitcoin to obtain access to 100GB of stolen data. Experts believe the attack resulted from a successful phishing email, an unpatched vulnerability, or previously obtained login credentials, which could have led to the compromised account.

In July 2021, enterprise client Kaseya and MSP IT solution developers announced they were victims of an attack. 800-1,500 businesses faced Zero-Day exploits that gained access to customer systems, from where they distributed malicious software through REvil, ransomware that compromises systems and encrypts files due to cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In September 2018, 500 million Marriott International customers faced a phishing attack after an unauthorized party copied and encrypted sensitive information. The Chinese government was behind the attack, as it was part of a larger-scale, state-sponsored, intelligence-gathering effort.

Keep Learning About Cyberattack Protection

Cybercriminals utilize email in their most common email security breaches due to how easy, efficient, and effective accessing valuable data and infecting systems can be. So many organizations use email for private, confidential interactions but need to implement the best practices for email security that can combat email threats and prevent data loss. Microsoft 365 and endpoint security email protection are not enough on their own, so you must use cloud email software to protect your users from any risks you may face now and beyond.

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