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Email security portrays different procedures for keeping sensitive information in email communication and accounts security against unauthorized access, loss, or compromise. Email is a popular medium for the spread of malware, spam, and phishing attacks, using deceptive messages to entice recipients to divulge sensitive information, open attachments or click on hyperlinks that install malware on the victim’s device. Email is also a common entry vector for attackers looking to gain a foothold in an enterprise network and breach valuable company data. Email security is necessary for business email accounts, and there are multiple measures organizations should take to improve email security.

Email Security Need

Email is a popular attack vector, the total number of emails sent and received daily worldwide exceeds 281 billion and is forecast to grow to over 333 billion by 2022. Cyber-criminals have taken advantage of this era of email and turned it into number one attack vector used to breach enterprises, infiltrate networks and extort money or sensitive data. Enterprises should take measures to secure their email accounts against common attacks as well as attempts at unauthorized access to accounts or communications. Malware sent via email messages can be quite destructive. Phishing emails sent to employees often contain malware in attachments used by attackers to inject malware into an organization to create the beachhead that facilitates the rest of the attack. They are designed to look like legitimate documents or include hyperlinks that lead to websites that serve malware.

With employees opening hundreds of emails every day, or clicking on a link in an email can be all that it takes for accounts or devices to become compromised. Phishing emails can also be used to trick recipients into sharing sensitive information, often by posing as a legitimate business or trusted contacts. Phishing attacks against businesses often target departments that handle sensitive personal or financial information, such as accounts payable or human resources. In addition to impersonating known vendors or company executives, attackers will try to instill a sense of urgency in phishing emails to increase their chances of success. Phishing emails aimed at stealing information typically will ask recipients to confirm their login information, passwords, social security number, bank account numbers, and even credit card information. Some even link to counterfeit websites that look exactly like that of a reputable vendor or business partner to trick victims into entering account or financial information.

For example, an attacker could send a normal-looking PDF file attached to a plausible CV application email to organization’s HR department that would bypass security checks; however, the file is only masquerading as legitimate and, in fact, could contain a form of malware, able to infect the user’s machine and even the entire network. The nature of those threats allows them to remain unnoticed because ⅔ of inbound phishing attacks use a company’s own domain name in the From field, making the security teams extremely hard to detect, leaving organizations exposed to significant risk. As cyber-attackers continue to reveal new levels of ambition in recent years, organizations should make securing their communication channels a top priority.

The majority of security teams today rely on defense technology based on the knowledge of past attacks which analyze their behaviors, explore their symptoms and the common attack methods. As the threat landscape is constantly evolving, it can be hard to keep up with the latest attack techniques. However, all email-borne attacks rely on tricking standard business applications to run the attacker’s code instead of the legitimate application code.

For example, when a user opens a document in MS Word sent to them via email by a colleague, she/he is unaware that the file secretly carries malicious code. This code could execute a malware attack, ransomware or any other malicious activity straight away on user’s device, or stay on the system under the radar for future activation. To make sure any execution of malicious code is detected and stopped before penetrating the organization, security teams need to embrace a more proactive approach in identifying and eliminating the email-based threats. These threats are dominating the cyberspace and are getting smarter. A bank’s email systems suffered a series of phishing attacks, which took phishing techniques another step further by embedding a malicious office file inside a different attachment, to bypass traditional security solutions.

Best practices for email security include:

  • Utilize email encryption to protect both email content and attachments.
  • Require employees to use strong passwords and mandate password changes periodically.
  • Implement security best practices for BYOD if your company allows employees to access corporate email on personal devices.
  • Ensure that webmail applications are able to secure logins and use encryption.
  • Implement a data protection solution to identify sensitive data and prevent it from being lost via email.

Email security best practices for end users/employees include:

  • Change passwords often and use best practices for creating strong passwords.
  • Never open attachments or click on links in email messages from unknown senders.
  • Never share passwords with anyone, including co-workers.
  • Try to send as little sensitive information as possible via email, and send sensitive information only to recipients who require it.
  • Avoid accessing company email from public wi-fi connections.

Ways to prevent phishing attacks:

  • User Behavior Analysis and Mailbox Profiling This type of profiling is crucial to ensure the detection and prevention of hyper-targeted phishing emails. Source: Ironscales
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication Enforce multi-factor authentication on users who handle the most sensitive information to help prohibit credential theft. Source: KnowBe4
  • Share Threat Intelligence Harnessing verified email phishing intelligence and event information can help organizations proactively defend their network gateways and endpoints. Source: Ironscales
  • Use Secure Email & Web Gateways Configure these to do URL filtering and block the most common malicious domains. Source: KnowBe4
  • Implement scanners and other tools to scan messages and block emails containing malware or other malicious files before they reach your end users.

All the above practices can be found on single platform, i.e, Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection. Here you can Protect your email, files, and Office 365 applications against unknown and sophisticated attacks.

Secure your mailboxes against advanced threats

New malware campaigns are being launched every day, and Office 365 has a solution to help protect your email, files, and online storage against them. Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection can help protect your mailboxes, files, online storage, and applications against new, sophisticated attacks in real time. It offers holistic protection in Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business. By protecting against unsafe attachments and expanding protection against malicious links, it complements the security features of Exchange Online Protection to provide better zero-day protection.

Protect against unsafe attachments

With Safe Attachments, you can prevent malicious attachments from impacting your messaging environment, even if their signatures are not known. All suspicious content goes through a real-time behavioral malware analysis that uses machine learning techniques to evaluate the content for suspicious activity. Unsafe attachments are sandboxed in a detonation chamber before being sent to recipients. The advantage is a malware free and cleaner inbox with better zero-day attack protection.

Protect your environment when users click malicious links

            Exchange Online Protection provides protection against malicious links by scanning content. Safe Links expands on this by protecting your environment when users click a link. While the content is being scanned, the URLs are rewritten to go through Office 365. The URLs are examined in real time, at the time a user clicks them. If a link is unsafe, the user is warned not to visit the site or informed that the site has been blocked. Reporting is available, so administrators can track which users clicked a link and when they clicked it.

Get rich reporting and track links in messages

            Gain critical insights into who is being targeted in your organization and the category of attacks you are facing. Reporting and message trace allow you to investigate messages that have been blocked due to unknown viruses or malware, while URL trace capability allows you to track individual malicious links in the messages that have been clicked.



Article curated by Aarthi M.





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