What is email security?

Email security protects organizations against dangers such as business email compromise and phishing. Learn how to protect your email and your environment.

What is email security and why is it important?

Despite the rise of social media messaging services and instant messaging platforms, email is still an essential part of our lives. The reasons for the popularity of email include its simplicity, accessibility, speed, flexibility, and convenience.

However, some of these very characteristics make email vulnerable to hackers who use attack vectors like malware, brute force attacks, and phishing. Billions of emails are exchanged globally every day, and billions of phishing emails are sent out every day.

Email security is critical because it protects people who use email, their contacts, and even the businesses they interact with from various cybersecurity attacks. Email security helps preserve an organization’s productivity, reputation, and brand, and carefully cultivated business relationships.

Despite the importance of email security, far too many individuals and organizations fail to take it seriously. Most cyberattacks start with a threat via email, and the consequences can be severe. A breached email account can result in attacks on an entity’s privacy and security. A compromised email account is also an easy entry point to other devices, accounts, networks, and organizations.

It can take years for victims of identity theft to recover from the crime. Likewise, the worldwide cost of cybercrime is estimated to be in the trillions, according to researchers.

Read this in-depth guide for more on:

  1. What is email security?
  2. Email security best practices.
  3. Common email security threats.
  4. How to create email security policies.

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Email security definition: What is email security

The collection of tools and practices leveraged to protect email communication from unauthorized access, corruption, or theft is defined as email security. Email security includes anti-malware tools, spam filters, anti-phishing technology, multi-factor authentication, and email security testing services. With good email security, individuals and organizations can mitigate the risk of data theft and protect their privacy.


Is email secure?

Email was invented when the Internet was in its infancy. It wasn’t designed to be secure from modern threats. However, there are tools and protocols that can make email more secure.


How email security works and why email security is important


Branding

A large-scale cyberattack often starts with an email. Any cyberattack can significantly downgrade a business’s branding and reputation, impacting its relationships, stock value, and customer confidence.


Productivity

A cyberattack resulting from poor email security can result in operational disruption. It can also lower employee morale and hurt workflow.


Compliance

Email security can mitigate the risk of data breaches. It helps organizations comply with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Protection of Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).


Finances

After bypassing email security, attackers can steal intellectual property or launch a ransomware attack. They can also engage in other financial crimes. For example, they may trick employees into paying fraudulent invoices.


Types of email security services


Detonation

Detonation email security services can scan emails entering and leaving an organization for malware. Such services are essential because they can block ransomware, Trojans, viruses, worms, and spyware from infecting company systems.


Email sandboxing

Sometimes network specialists need to run a malicious email attachment to learn more about it and its sender. Email sandboxing is a technique where email security services can safely run malware in an isolated environment for analysis. Observing how an attachment reacts can help an organization gain valuable intelligence.


Content control

Content and image control email security services use technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to analyze content for unsafe patterns. Such services can block different types of potentially unsafe content.


Authentication systems

Email security authentication systems are essential defense mechanisms against spoofed emails. They ensure the validity of senders and can either flag suspicious messages or reject them entirely.


Data encryption

Data encryption mitigates the risk of email interception. Encrypted emails are only readable to the sender and recipient. Threat actors are unable to read the content of encrypted emails from servers.


Spam filters

Filters will automatically block emails from blacklisted addresses or emails that carry certain keywords or display threatening patterns. They may block emails with attachments that try to access a user’s system registry or sensitive folders. Email attachments that try to communicate with external IP addresses or attempt to download external files or open websites will also be blocked.


Email security threats


Spam

Spam sent via email can be just as distasteful as the canned version. Any unsolicited message sent in bulk is classified as spam. While advertising spam is usually harmless, other types of spam can compromise email security, like malspam.

So, what is malspam? In a nutshell, malspam is a spam email that carries malicious software. Some attackers also send phishing emails in bulk, hoping to trick a few users into making bad decisions.


Malware

Malware, also known as malicious software, is any program that can harm a system or network. Threat actors often use email as an attack vector to deliver the following types of malware:

  1. Ransomware
  2. Trojans
  3. Bots
  4. Info-stealers
  5. Cryptominers
  6. Keyloggers

Attackers may also enslave computers, smartphones, or company endpoints into their botnet via an email attachment or link that carries DDoS tools. But what is DDoS? DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. Attackers use this type of attack to attack websites and online services with hijacked devices that form botnets.


Ransomware

As mentioned, ransomware is a type of malware that is often delivered via email. The malware can hold data hostage for an extortion fee. Although larger organizations have the resources to recover from a ransomware infection, many small to medium-sized businesses fail to recover from such an attack. We suggest businesses invest in Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) technology that can stop ransomware. Read up on what is EDR to understand how it can protect your organization from ransomware.  


Business email compromise (BEC)

Business email compromise is a type of attack where scammers use email to deceive someone into sending them money. BEC attackers can use phishing or different account hacking techniques to achieve their goals. Recovery, like a recent example of 800K recovered from a BEC attack by law enforcement, is uncommon.

Some BEC scammers go after more than just money, according to a joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA). For example, they may also steal data and products. But the ultimate goal is financial gain.   

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Phishing

Phishing is a common social engineering attack technique on email. Attackers trick recipients into opening malware or links that lead to malicious websites. The website may either deceive the user into sharing confidential information or download malicious files without their consent or knowledge in a drive-by download.

Likewise, the contents of the email may also lead the user to make a mistake, like offering their password, paying for a fraudulent invoice, or emailing compromised software to the entire office. You can read about the different types of phishing attacks and learn how they breach email security.


Spoofing

The process of email spoofing is as simple as it is effective. An attacker uses an email address that appears legitimate to make the email appear convincing. For example, instead of john@happyfriday.com, the email might say john@hapyfriday.com or jon@happyfriday.net.


Impersonation

Impersonation is a type of business email compromise phishing attack where a threat actor pretends to be a trusted person or entity to commit a financial crime. For example, an attacker may pretend to be a lawyer in an email to a client asking for payment.


Data exfiltration

Data exfiltration is a common goal for attackers of email security. By transferring sensitive data through phishing, spyware, or Trojans, hackers can commit different kinds of cybercrimes, from extortion to data sales on the Dark Web.


Brute force attacks

If you use email regularly, you should be concerned about brute force attacks. So, what is a brute force attack? Essentially, a brute force attack against email is a technique where a threat actor uses different password combinations to hack into an account by trial and error.


Email security tips: Best practices for email security

  1. Keep work and personal email accounts and devices separate.
  2. Utilize specialized email security software that protects you from phishing attacks.
  3. Activate your spam filters and ensure they block emails from known malicious addresses or carry unsafe content.
  4. Take advantage of email authentication tools to stop email spoofing.
  5. Ensure that your email gateways prevent sensitive data from leaving your network without authorization.
  6. Try an email service provider that offers end-to-end encryption.
  7. Use anti-malware software to protect your email account.
  8. Scan questionable emails with your antivirus program.
  9. Update your security software and operating system regularly.
  10. Set strong passwords to mitigate the risk of losing your account to a brute force attack.
  11. Learn how to use password manager apps to keep track of complex passwords.
  12. Take advantage of multi-factor authentication (MFA) to make it harder for someone to breach your email account security with a hacked password.
  13. Use a secure email gateway to scan incoming and outgoing emails for threats.
  14. Avoid using unsecured public WiFi to access your email account unless you’re using a secure VPN service.
  15. Log out of your email account when you’re done.

In addition to these tips, organizations should educate and train employees to manage phishing and other threats on email. Staff must stay vigilant and verify suspicious emails that may bypass protection measures. They must avoid opening strange links and attachments, and validate any unusual requests, even in today’s fast-paced work environment.

Security teams must be trained to monitor network traffic and utilize secure email gateways. Advanced threat protection tools, such as endpoint protection, can also help beef up email security.


Creating email security policies

An email security policy is a set of rules that governs email communication within an organization. It outlines the protocols for email usage, storage, device access, and managing email security threats. Create an email security policy to protect your organization, its employees, partners, and clients from different kinds of attacks.

A typical email security policy should highlight:

  1. The breadth of the policy, including the systems, networks, devices, and users.
  2. Rules for email usage in terms of devices, networks, ethical conduct, and business data security. Rules should also cover email forwarding, deletion, and retention.
  3. Password, encryption, filtering, and other security tool usage.
  4. Training material for recognizing and reporting potentially unsafe emails.
  5. Company email monitoring and recording practices.
  6. Where to report malicious, offensive, or illegal material.
  7. Email verification protocols.

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Featured Resources

FAQs

What is email security awareness training for employees?

Email Security Awareness Training is one of the most effective strategies to safeguard your company’s data. Through company-wide security awareness email training programs, your organization ensures everyone is educated on email safety best practices, reducing the risk of phishing incidents and email introduced malware. Read more on: What is a Phishing Attack?

Top Email Security Awareness Training Tips:

  1. Refrain from opening emails from unknown senders
  2. Watch out for inconspicuous links and avoid clicking them
  3. Avoid opening suspicious attachments
  4. Scan for typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors
  5. Create a strong email account password

Do I need email security?

Everyone with a computer or device probably needs email security. If you use email to authenticate your social media, banking, or cryptocurrency accounts, email security can protect you from account takeover attacks. Likewise, if you use email to store or exchange sensitive data, such as pictures or documents, you need email security to preserve your privacy.

Even if you send and receive emails irregularly, email security can protect your computers and devices from malware. For example, an email filter may stop a malicious attachment like a macro virus or another type of malware from downloading to your system. Email password security will reduce the risk of a hacker breaking into your account and targeting your contacts with malware or phishing scams.

How do I secure my email?

Here are some tips that can help you secure your email:

Finally, stay vigilant. Verify any suspicious emails that may have bypassed your filters and antivirus programs. Never click strange links or unsolicited attachments. And validate any unusual requests.

Who needs email security?

Anyone who uses email needs email security. Top email security can protect your security, and privacy, and shield you and your contacts from different types of attacks. Here are some people and entities that need email security the most:

  1. Children: Email is an important tool for young people such as children and teenagers. They use email on computers and devices to communicate, socialize or learn. However, younger people can be vulnerable to email threats from marketers, pranksters, cyberbullies, stalkers, and even predators. Email security can prevent them from being targeted by hate mail, adult content, malware, and social engineering scams.
  2. Adults: In addition to using email for communication and productivity, adults also use email to exchange confidential data such as financial or medical information. They may use email to authenticate their accounts. Email security protects adults from different types of cybercrimes, harassment, spam, and more.
  3. Businesses: Whether it’s a small to medium-sized business or a large enterprise, every organization needs advanced email security to protect its employees, partners, vendors,  intellectual property, operational capacity, and reputation from different types of threats that utilize emails as an attack vector.
  4. Nonprofits: In the last few years, we’ve learned that cybercriminals attack organizations indiscriminately. Charities of different sizes, geographical locations, and industries have been hit by serious attacks, including ransomware threats. Email security can keep nonprofits safer from various threats that exploit communication vulnerabilities.
  5. Healthcare organizations: The cost of a cyberattack on a healthcare organization can be heavy. In addition to losing vital operational assets, healthcare organizations may be held to ransom by extortionists. Email security can help healthcare organizations steer clear of some types of ransomware, Trojans, and spyware attacks. Email security also helps healthcare organizations comply with regulations like HIPAA to keep patient information confidential.
  6. Government organizations: Not only do government organizations face attacks on email from everyday cybercriminals but state-sponsored agents too. Sophisticated email security tools and protocols can keep sensitive information away from those with malicious intent.