Email Protection Software
Just a few years ago, all businesses needed was a spam filter to block spam email and malware, but today, a much greater range of email protection software is required to block increasing numerous and sophisticated email attacks. A spam filter alone is no longer sufficient.
Email is the communication channel of choice for businesses as it allows information to be communicated almost instantly with employees, vendors, and customers. According to Statista, in 2020, 306 billion emails were sent each day, and that number is expected to increase to 333 billion in 2022 and 376 billion in 2022. Many of those emails are unsolicited and unwanted. Estimates for 2022 put the percentage of spam emails at between 45% and 48% of all emails sent. While the majority of those spam emails are fairly benign, estimates suggest that over 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent each day.
Phishing is a type of social engineering that involves tricking people into disclosing sensitive information such as login credentials or installing malware. Email is also used by threat actors to trick employees into making fraudulent wire transfers. Compromised email accounts can be used for DDoS attacks on business email servers, vulnerabilities in email software can be exploited to gain access to vast amounts of sensitive data, and emails can be intercepted and tampered with in transit. Email protection software is required to block all of these threats.
What are the Different Types of Email Threats?
- Phishing – Emails that manipulate people into taking actions that benefit the attacker
- Spear phishing – A targeted form of phishing conducted on small groups of individuals
- Whaling – A highly targeted form of spear phishing targeting the highest value individuals in a company. E.g., the CEO
- Email impersonation – The impersonation of trusted individuals to trick people into believing they are engaging in legitimate communications
- Malware distribution – The delivery of malware via email attachments and embedded hyperlinks in emails
- Man-in-the-middle attacks –Interception and tampering of emails in transit
- Business email compromise – The use of genuine business email accounts for tricking employees and vendors into disclosing sensitive information or making fraudulent wire transfers
- DDoS attacks – The use of compromised email accounts to flood email servers with traffic to cause the servers to crash
- Brute force attacks – Automated attacks on email accounts to guess weak passwords
- Exploitation of vulnerabilities in email servers – The exploitation of vulnerabilities in email software to gain access to email servers and email accounts.
Email Protection Software and Email Security Best Practices
Given the variety of ways that email is abused, different types of email protection software need to be implemented to block attacks as there is no silver bullet when it comes to email security. Businesses need to adopt a defense-in-depth approach and have multiple layers of protection. That means email protection software should be implemented that can protect against all types of email attacks and email security best practices should always be followed. Only by implementing a range of email security measures will it be possible to block increasingly sophisticated email threats. Email protection software vendors may provide several of the solutions below, with more comprehensive email security platforms having many of these capabilities in the same platform.
Email Security Software
The most important email protection software to implement is an email security solution that scans all inbound and outbound messages to identify phishing emails and malicious files. Advanced email security solutions feature antivirus engines for detecting malware and sandboxing for behavioral analysis to identify zero-day malware threats. Email security solutions scan message headers to identify known sources of spam and malicious emails, heuristics to identify spam and phishing emails, and Bayesian analysis with machine learning algorithms to improve the effectiveness of the software over time.
Advanced email security solutions will scan emails for malicious hyperlinks and may follow those hyperlinks to check for malicious content, but oftentimes, multiple redirects occur which can fool email security solutions. Emails may be delivered with benign hyperlinks, with malicious content added after delivery. A web filtering solution can protect against advanced email attacks by providing time-of-click protection against hyperlinks in emails. The final destination URL will be assessed in real-time for malicious content and web filters can block malicious file downloads from the Internet that are linked in phishing emails.
Email Backups and Archives
There has been a massive increase in ransomware attacks over the past two years. Ransomware encrypts files to prevent access and a ransom must be paid to regain access to encrypted data. All data must be backed up, including email systems. You should ensure multiple backups are made, with at least one copy stored offsite. There are legal requirements for retaining data, including data in email accounts. A ransomware attack that results in permanent loss of email data could have devastating repercussions. In addition to creating backups, businesses should also archive their emails. Not only can this ensure emails are not lost, email archives ensure business continuity by making sure emails can always be accessed, even in the event of a ransomware attack or email server outage.
Adoption of passwordless authentication is growing, but for the majority of businesses, email accounts will be protected with passwords. Cyber threat actors are well aware that creating unique, complex passwords for all accounts is difficult and shortcuts are often taken. The same password is often used to secure multiple accounts, and weak passwords are set to make passwords easy for users to remember. It is important to set and enforce password policies to make sure that all employees set strong, complex passwords that are resistant to automated brute force attacks. To prevent shortcuts from being taken, provide employees with a password manager. A password manager features a complex password generator and encrypts passwords in a password vault. When passwords need to be entered, they will be auto-filled, so users never need to remember them.
Multifactor authentication provides an additional layer of security and can prevent stolen passwords from being used by unauthorized individuals to access email accounts. If a password is stolen in a phishing attack or is guessed using brute force tactics, with multifactor authentication implemented, access to the account will not be permitted unless an additional form of authentication is provided. Multifactor authentication will block the majority of attacks on accounts.
Email accounts can be protected with complex passwords and multifactor authentication, but emails are often transmitted in plain text, which means that can easily be intercepted. This can result in the disclosure of sensitive information, and threat actors can tamper with emails in transit. End-to-end email encryption ensures that even if emails are intercepted in transit, the content of the messages cannot be viewed or altered and only the intended recipient(s) can view the emails and attachments.
Data Loss Prevention
Not all threats come from outside the business. Steps should be taken to protect against insider threats. Email is commonly used to send sensitive data externally to personal email accounts by rogue employees. Businesses should implement email protection software that has data loss prevention capabilities, which will identify sensitive data in emails and will block attempts to send that information externally to protect against data loss and theft.
Security Awareness Training
According to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations report, 85% of all successful cyberattacks involve the human element. Mistakes are made that leave the door open to hackers, and employees are tricked into taking actions that allow threat actors to access business networks. In addition to email protection software, businesses should provide regular security awareness training to their employees. Employees need to be informed about the threats they are likely to encounter, be told how to practice good cyber hygiene, and recognize and avoid email threats. Even with advanced email security solutions in place, the increasingly sophisticated tactics of cybercriminals mean some malicious emails will bypass email defenses. Through regular training and phishing simulations, the susceptibility of employees to email-based attacks can be significantly reduced.
Keep all Software Updated
All software should be kept up to date with patches applied promptly. Prioritize patching to fix the critical vulnerabilities first, and any vulnerabilities that are being actively exploited. Ensure that your email software is kept up to date as threat actors are quick to exploit vulnerabilities in email solutions such as Microsoft Exchange.
Email is the most common method of malware delivery and the easiest way for cybercriminals to reach employees. Defending against email attacks requires a range of email protection software and end-user training. Businesses that fail to implement comprehensive email defenses face a high risk of suffering a costly cyberattack and data breach; however, implementing email protection software intelligently and ensuring cybersecurity best practices are followed will allow businesses to block the vast majority of threats.