Many businesses and individuals still rely on email as their primary method of communication, and likely will for the foreseeable future. However, it’s also an incredibly popular tool for cybercriminals to launch their schemes. To keep your business safe, you must understand the most common email security threats and how they work.
What are the most common email security threats?
While there are many different types of email security threats, you will likely encounter one or more of the following in your daily operations:
Phishing scams are unsolicited emails that are designed to deceive recipients into sharing sensitive information such as login credentials and credit card details. These emails often employ spoofing tactics, where cybercriminals use email addresses with domain names similar to those of legitimate companies. Companies cybercriminals like to impersonate include financial institutions, government agencies, or well-known brands because these tend to look trustworthy, lulling victims into a false sense of security.
Another hallmark of a phishing scam is the messaging. Phishers will usually create urgency by requesting that you act quickly, or use fear tactics to prompt a response. These tactics force unsuspecting recipients to interact with the fraudulent email without critically examining it. Once a recipient takes the bait, they may unknowingly click on malicious links, download infected attachments, or provide sensitive information directly to the attacker.
Malicious software, or malware, can be hidden within email attachments as part of a phishing scam, often appearing as Word, ZIP, or EXE files. If the recipient downloads these attachments, malicious actors can steal valuable data, spread malicious code to other devices, or hold data and systems hostage until a ransom is paid. What makes malware-laced emails particularly dangerous is that it only takes one lapse in judgment from a single user to compromise the entire system.
Business email compromise (BEC)
A BEC attack is similar to a phishing scam in that it tricks victims into providing sensitive information or performing certain actions. BEC attacks target employees with privileged access to company systems.
In a BEC attack, cybercriminals typically impersonate an executive requesting for sensitive information or an emergency wire transfer. The targeted employee may then comply, thinking they’re obeying a legitimate request from their boss or partner, when in actuality they’re handing over sensitive data or transferring money to the attacker.
BEC attacks are particularly effective today because cybercriminals can easily research the business executives they’re impersonating online. Everything from the executive’s locations, writing patterns, and personalities can be used to create a convincing copycat persona over email.
Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack
An MitM attack is a cybersecurity threat where an attacker covertly intercepts the communication between the two parties. In this type of attack, the malicious actor positions themselves between the sender and recipient often by compromising the company’s email server or monitoring poorly protected public Wi-Fi networks that employees may be connected to.
By placing themselves in the middle, cybercriminals can eavesdrop on the communication, capture sensitive data like login credentials or financial information, or manipulate the data exchanged, potentially leading to data breaches, identity theft, or unauthorized access to confidential information.
Email account hijacking
Email account hijacking occurs when attackers gain unauthorized access to an individual’s email account by exploiting a vulnerability in the system, guessing passwords, or using stolen login credentials. Attackers can then use the compromised account to access even more sensitive data and further their fraudulent activities.
Spam emails inundate inboxes with unwanted and often irrelevant messages. While not always inherently dangerous, spam can be a real nuisance and disrupt anyone’s workflow. In the worst cases, spam can also be used as a mass delivery method for malware and phishing scams, so it’s always important to exercise caution when dealing with these types of messages.
Accidental data disclosure
Data leaks can occur when confidential information is inadvertently disclosed via email. For example, an employee might mistakenly send sensitive data to the wrong recipient or leave confidential files attached in a reply. Data leaks of this kind are particularly dangerous because it’s often impossible to track and recall the messages after they’ve been sent out.
How can organizations protect themselves from email threats?
Follow these best practices to bolster your company’s defenses against email threats.
- Educate employees on how to avoid phishing, BEC, and malware attacks as well as password best practices and data sharing policies.
- Implement robust email filtering solutions that can automatically block malicious emails, including phishing attempts, spam, and malware-laden attachments, before they reach employees’ inboxes.
- Utilize virtual private networks and end-to-end encryption solutions to protect sensitive information in transit.
- Enforce multifactor authentication for email accounts so users will have to provide additional login credentials and not solely rely on passwords.
- Implement data loss prevention policies to monitor and prevent sensitive data from being unintentionally or deliberately shared with the wrong parties via email.
Businesses need strong email security now more than ever, and Varsity Tech can help. We not only help you implement robust security protocols to protect against malicious actors, but we also provide comprehensive training and support for your business. Contact us today to safeguard your business from email threats.