Top Email Security Threats of 2020

The volume and extent of email security breaches rise each year, and 2020 was far from an exception. In a year where we relied heavily on digital technologies, hackers developed increasingly sophisticated methods to take advantage of the situation, and 2021, looks set to be no different. As we are now well and truly into the New Year, we are still coping with the global pandemic. As rules and regulations change across the globe, it is more vital than ever that we remain vigilant of the growing size and sophistication of email security threats to our businesses, our employees, and our customers.

The Popularity of Email as a Threat Vector

Email has been around for a long time, almost five decades in fact. Yet, it remains to be an integral part of the way we all do business. Our need for online communication has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating more opportunities than ever for our adversaries.

The problem is, the more we use email, the bigger target it becomes. Whether threat actors use spam, malware, phishing or ransomware via compromised accounts, vulnerable insiders or social engineering, email remains a commonly used entry point to our organisations. As of the end of 2020, more than 90% of cyber attacks have been launched by email with threat actors continuously developing new tactics and techniques to overcome our technology and defences.

Evaluating the Top Email Security Threats in 2020

There are four key types of email security threats that businesses need to be aware of as we move into 2021:

- Spam

Spam is, unfortunately, something we are all used to, accounting for over 50% of all email messages in March 2020 alone. While it may seem harmless, in the wrong hands, it creates a serious data security risk. Email bombing has become increasingly popular, where the recipient is flooded with confirmation messages as they are unwittingly signed up for as many unprotected sites as possible. More than just an annoyance, it works to distract the user, making them less likely to notice malicious behaviour.

- Malware

Malware often accompanies spam and phishing attacks, with email being a prime point of entry to an organisation’s internal systems. When a computer is infected with malware, it adds its own malicious code. The code, or payload, can erase an organisation’s hard drive, corrupt files, steal passwords or crash the system. The overall aim is to intentionally cause damage. 94% of malware is delivered by email.

- Phishing

Phishing is the use of email and other communication channels to impersonate a trusted figure. The idea is to fool recipients into giving over sensitive information such as bank account details or login credentials or social security details. It happens because the recipient believes the message is from a reputable source. This means they’re also more likely to open unsecured attachments and expose themselves to viruses. A staggering 85% of organisations were hit by phishing attacks in 2020.

- Ransomware

Ransomware, a form of malware, works to encrypt an organisation’s files and then hold them hostage in demand for a ransom, usually in bitcoin. It is a hugely prevalent form of cyberattack. According to Mimecast, over half of organisations were impacted by ransomware attacks in the last 12 months. And that impact is more than financial; it also resulted in data loss, downtime, and reputational damage.

How to Mitigate These Threats

The consequences of an email security breach can be catastrophic to an organisation. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the threats of a breach, such as implementing the following:

1. Secure Email Gateway

A secure email gateway (SEG) is the first form of defence against email-borne attacks. It works to prevent the transmission of emails that break a company’s policy. The SEG achieves this by filtering both incoming and outgoing email traffic, blocking certain messages and flagging others that have suspicious attachments. To get the most from an SEG, automated email encryption can also be used to stop hackers accessing sensitive or confidential information if it does end up in their hands.

2. Email Security Awareness

Human error plays a huge role in many of today’s data breaches, and that is certainly the case when it comes to email-borne attacks. Even the most robust perimeter-based security systems are rendered useless if attackers are able to penetrate the network. To mitigate the risk of human error, frequent and engaging cybersecurity awareness is a must.

3. Email Fraud Prevention

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) is an email validation tool that aims to uncover anyone that is using a domain without authorisation and block delivery of related mail. It helps protect customers by monitoring who is sending email on an organisation’s behalf and protects employees by blocking fraudulent senders.

Building Email Security for Your Organisation in 2021

While your organisation might have the latest antivirus software, it will never block every attack, especially when it comes to advanced social engineering. Furthermore, with employees working remotely in unprecedented numbers, the risk of email-borne attacks has only risen. Organisations big and small need to couple advanced email security defences with continual, effective cybersecurity awareness training if they are to protect themselves against these threats into the future.

Contact InfoTrust today to find out more on how you can secure your email ecosystem.

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