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Publications_digital digest_Are you up to date on the latest email security threats_ Here’s how to protect your inbox

Can you Protect Against these Four Email Security Threats?

Between remote work, globalization, flexible schedules, and digitalization— email has become an indispensable tool facilitating seamless communication across diverse domains, including work, education, and personal interactions. However, amidst its pervasive usage, we often overlook a critical aspect: email security. 

Yes, most users are familiar with basic precautions like identifying spam and avoiding suspicious links, but a significant portion of the workforce outside of IT teams lack comprehensive knowledge to defend against sophisticated email threats. This lack of knowledge can put our inboxes at risk from various dangers, including phishing scams and malware attacks.

We can’t take on them all, but let’s talk about four major security threats and strategies that empower individuals to combat the ever-present email security threats proactively.  

1. Phishing 

Phishing involves cybercriminals sending deceptive emails, pretending to be from reputable sources, to dupe individuals into disclosing sensitive data. This stolen information can serve various nefarious ends, such as identity theft or monetary deception. These emails often appear authentic, featuring official logos and mimicking the entity’s tone they’re impersonating. Yet, they typically have minor inconsistencies that alert observant recipients to their fraudulent nature. 

Essential tips:  

  • Adopt a skeptical mindset towards emails, especially those asking for sensitive info or urging quick action.  
  • Check the sender’s email address for deceptive variations.  
  • Don’t click on suspicious links. Hover over them to preview the URL or manually enter the address.  
  • Be wary of emails using urgency or fear to prompt quick action. 

2. Malware & Ransomware 

Malware is malicious software and is intentionally crafted to cause harm or unauthorized access to computer systems and networks. This type of software seriously threatens the security of individuals and organizations, compromising sensitive data. It is commonly spread through various means, including emails, where it often hides in infected attachments or deceptive links. Opening or clicking on these can lead to the installation of damaging software on the recipient’s computer. Ransomware, on the other hand, is a specific type of malware that encrypts its victims’ files, demanding a ransom payment to restore access. 

Essential tips: 

  • Be cautious with email attachments from unknown sources to avoid malware. 
  • Use strong email filters and install reliable antivirus software, ensuring it’s always up to date.  
  • Regularly update your OS, browser, and apps to patch security vulnerabilities.  
  • Backup important data to external drives or cloud storage for easy recovery after malware attacks. 

3. Business Email Compromise  

Business Email Compromise (BEC) represents an advanced type of cybercrime focusing on businesses and organizations. In such attacks, cybercriminals either unlawfully infiltrate a company’s email network or masquerade as high-ranking executives or trustworthy partners of the firm. They trick employees into executing unauthorized financial transactions, revealing confidential data, or rerouting payments to scam accounts. 

The rise in remote working has, in many ways, simplified the process for criminals to execute BEC scams and various phishing schemes. This is because individuals working from their homes do not have the convenience of quickly consulting with a coworker to verify the authenticity of an email. 

Essential tips: 

  • Educate employees on BEC attack risks and identification tactics through regular training. 
  • Enforce strong email security with multi-factor authentication, strong passwords, and email filtering.  
  • Implement strict verification for payment changes, including dual authorisation and verbal confirmations for significant transactions.  
  • Develop a comprehensive incident response plan for BEC attacks, including escalation procedures and regular updates. 

4. Spear Phishing 

Spear phishing is a targeted form of cyber attack that involves sending fraudulent emails or messages to a specific individual or group of individuals within an organization. Spear phishing and phishing aim to deceive recipients, but spear phishing involves a more targeted approach. Unlike phishing, which blasts emails to a wide audience, spear phishing targets a specific individual or a small group. This focused approach enables attackers to tailor their emails with specific details, such as the recipient’s name or job title, significantly boosting the email’s perceived authenticity.  

To craft these convincingly personalized attacks, attackers gather information about their targets, including personal and professional relationships, employment details, residential addresses, and recent online purchases. Fortunately, obtaining such information requires minimal effort, as individuals freely share personal data on social media and other online platforms. According to a report by rt by Omdia, hackers can compose a compelling spear phishing email in approximately 100 minutes (about 1 and a half hours) of general Google searching.  

Essential tips

  • Educate yourself about the risks and techniques associated with spear phishing attacks. 
  • Exercise caution online by avoiding suspicious websites, refraining from clicking on unverified advertisements, and not downloading files from sources that haven’t been thoroughly vetted. 
  • Invest in spear phishing prevention solutions that scrutinize incoming emails for recognized malicious links or attachments. 
  • Verify the authenticity of emails with the supposed sender through separate communication channels before taking any action. 

Distilled 

By implementing the strategies discussed and embracing a proactive security mindset, you can bolster your email security defenses, shielding your inbox from potential harm. 

Nidhi Singh

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