Email Security

What Is Email Security?

With over 4 billion active email users and 300 billion messages exchanged each day, email is an essential component of daily business and consumer communication across the globe (Email Statistics Report). The massive international reach of email makes it one of the most common vectors for threat actors to execute cyber attacks.

Email security refers to the tools, techniques, methods, and best practices used to protect email accounts and the contents of email communication from unauthorized access. Email security tools can also be used to encrypt messages containing sensitive data, filter spam, block phishing emails from malicious domains, and identify emails that contain malicious attachments or links to viruses and malware.

Why Do We Need Email Security?

Email security is more important than ever because of the increasing prevalence of digital attacks targeting businesses and other organizations via email. Phishing and spear phishing attacks, business email compromise (BEC), executive and vendor impersonation attacks, and malware attacks are all commonly deployed against organizations with email as the primary attack vector.

To understand why we need email security in the digital age, we need to become familiar with the types of cyberattacks that hackers use to target email accounts and the potential consequences of an email security breach for both individuals and organizations.

Cybercriminals Target Business Email Accounts

Cybercriminals launch digital attacks against business email accounts in hopes of stealing private information, gaining access to restricted networks and systems, or stealing financial resources. These digital attacks may include:

  • Business Email Compromise (BEC) - Using a spoofed email address to impersonate a business executive or high-level employee, often in order to authorize fraudulent transactions to the fraudster’s bank account.
  • Account Takeover - Attempting to gain control of an email account in order to steal the contents of confidential email, commit fraud, or gain access to financial accounts and other restricted systems.
  • Phishing - Fake email messages that attempt to trick the recipient into clicking a malicious or downloading harmful attachments.
  • Spear Phishing - Phishing emails that are custom designed to target a specific person, business, or organization.
  • Malware and Ransomware - Send emails with malicious links or attachments that allow cybercriminals to lock or remotely control the victim’s computer and demand cash in exchange for releasing their control.

Cybercriminals Target Email Accounts of Private Individuals

Cybercriminals don’t just target businesses, they also target the email accounts of private individuals. Account takeover attempts, phishing emails, and emails containing malicious links or attachments are all deployed by threat actors in hopes of stealing confidential data that may be used to extort the victim, commit identity theft, or steal financial resources.

What are the Consequences of an Email Security Breach?

Email security breaches can have catastrophic consequences for both individuals and organizations who fall victim. 

Individuals may suffer financial losses, as well as having their personal information stolen by cybercriminals. This information may be used to steal the victim’s identity, which could then be used to access credit, claim tax refunds or authorize fraudulent financial transactions.

An email security breach can have even greater consequences for businesses. In addition to financial losses and identity theft, cybercriminals could leverage an account takeover into a series of impersonation attacks against both employees and customers of the business. In the worst cases, email security breaches can result in a full-scale data breach that costs millions of dollars to remediate and significantly damages the organization’s reputation and brand value.

How Secure Is Email?

Email communications are generally not very secure. Most email communications travel un-encrypted over the Internet between SMTP servers, and may also be stored on these servers in an un-encrypted format.

Research involving Google, University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign analyzed over 700,000 mail servers and found that just 35% were configured for encryption (UIUC). Another analysis conducted by researchers from University of California San Diego found that the major providers of web-based email services (AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo) provided no protection against digital threat actors (UCSD).

Based on these results, businesses and individuals who wish to communicate sensitive data through email require additional tools to prevent malicious actors from gaining access to their communications.

Email Security Best Practices

Following email security best practices is one of the best ways for both individuals and organizations to protect themselves against digital attacks. Some of these best practices are:

  • Choosing a strong email password,
  • Resetting email passwords on a regular basis (e.g. every three months),
  • Being aware of the most common email cyberattacks, including phishing, malware attacks, and impersonation,
  • Accessing email only on secured devices and over a secure network,
  • Verifying the sender of an email before opening it,
  • Never clicking a link or opening an email attachment from an untrusted source,
  • Never replying to suspected scams or fraudulent emails,
  • Keeping an antivirus program installed and up to date on devices used to access email,
  • Never sharing personal information or sensitive data through email, and
  • Deploying email protection software to detect and block suspicious emails.

How Does ZeroFOX Help With Email Security?

ZeroFOX provides enterprise protection, intelligence, and disruption to dismantle external threats from malicious actors targeting business and executive email accounts with phishing, impersonation, BEC, and other types of cyberattacks. 

View our Advanced Email Protection Webinar to learn more.