Businesses, freelancers, and all working professionals have one thing in common: they all use email as a preferred platform for communication. And even though email has become an inherent part of our work lives, how often do you think about its security before using it so freely?
Just look at this real-life case where a business lost $190,000 because their supplier’s business email was hacked!
In fact, did you know that a whopping “91% of all cyber-attacks start with an email”?
But that is not it. The entire situation is even more complicated due to the high number of email exchanges. In 2019, 293 billion emails were exchanged every day, and that number is expected to increase to over 347 billion in the next three years.
With email being such an essential part of our business communication, it is crucial to know the importance of email security. Even a minor breach can be detrimental to your business reputation or lead to significant monetary loss.
Why are Emails so Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks?
Before we dive into the possible reasons that make emails so vulnerable to attacks, you need to acknowledge that emails are inherently insecure by their very nature.
If we talk about the various reasons that lead to their vulnerability, three main factors come to mind:
- Easy to Use: Anyone and everyone can send emails. It is relatively simple and easy to use. You don’t necessarily have to be a technical mogul to be able to use an email. However, this very ease is problematic as one simple mistake can cause your information to be leaked.
- Easy to hack if unsecured: The simplicity of emails is what attracts hackers to it. Anyone with enough knowledge of the workaround(s) can gain access to unencrypted or unsecured emails.
- Usage of Public Networks: Using a public network makes your information even more vulnerable. When you use a public network, the electronic signal travels through servers that belong to other people or organizations.
These intermediate organizations can easily intercept your information as it passes through. Any unsecured emails you send can be stopped, read, and edited before they reach their destination.
Do you think that none of these factors apply to you, that you use emails very carefully or use a dedicated EPN or VPN, and your emails are safe? We hate to break your little bubble of safety, but you may need an extra layer of protection for your inbox.
Why do You Need to Protect Your Inbox?
While you can be extremely careful of what information you send to someone, you can still be vulnerable, to attacks due to two main reasons:
1) Human Error is Inevitable
Companies conduct a lot of information exchange through emails, such as sharing deals, contracts, and Non-disclosure agreements, and a minor error can leave that information vulnerable. A study conducted by the Ponemon Institute reveals that 25% of all US data-breach is caused by human error or carelessness.
2) You Cannot Control Technical Attacks
Viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware attacks can come in many forms, leaving your sensitive information, such as your passwords, personal information, and bank information vulnerable.
Out of these, phishing attacks have the highest chance to lure you into the trap because of how authentic they look to an unsuspecting eye.
Moreover, since scammers and hackers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to get through to your sensitive information, the need for email security is indisputable.
Seven Best Email Security Practices That Businesses Should Follow
While the numbers and reports that show the vulnerability of emails are alarming, you can curb that insecurity and the risk of your emails being hacked by following a few security practices and doing regular sanity checks.
Let us take a look at some of these practices that every business ought to follow:
1) Never Allow Employees to Use Company Email for Private Purposes
Deploying some limitations as to how your employees can use the company email can very well protect it from getting hacked.
If you feel awkward about it, keep in mind and remind your employees that this is in the company’s as well as their own best interests. They can always use personal emails for any task that is not related to the company’s operations.
You can always ask your employees to refrain from using company email for private purposes. The best way to do so is to apply advanced ‘Endpoint Security Solutions’ as it automates the process of ensuring that work-related emails are exchanged using the company email.
2) Use Two-Factor Authentication
Hackers are known to guess passwords easily. However, two-factor authentication can block them from reaching your inbox.
So, how does it work? You keep a regular password required to enter your email but add another layer of authentication that requires you to enter a code that may be sent to your phone via text.
Since only you have access to your phone, it will prevent unauthorized persons from getting access to your inbox. Moreover, you will stay tuned and get a notification in case anyone tries to hack into your email.
3) Be Wary of Email Spoofing
Email spoofing has become a common hacking practice, wherein the hackers use tactics like display name deception, using legitimate and lookalike domains to deceive users.
Out of all these, spoofing with display name deception is often the most common and most successful, because when you receive a new email, you can only see the display name of the sender. This gives hackers the chance to deceive you by keeping their display name as someone you may trust (for instance, the name of your bank or the name of the CEO of a company).
Since you are likely to open such emails and check out the contents from such senders, the hackers have a higher chance of stealing your information or inserting malware or ransomware into your system.
While it is practically impossible to stop hackers from spoofing emails, what you can do on your part is to use a secure email cloud with an email security provider.
4) Learn to Recognize Phishing Emails
Phishing attacks are one of the oldest tricks of hacking emails. You will be surprised to know that in the ‘2019 phishing and email fraud statistics,’ 76% of all surveyed businesses claimed to be a victim of phishing attacks!
So, it is imperative that you watch out for any such emails. If you have not encountered a phishing email as of yet, here is how you can recognize if an email is not authentic or is a phishing email:
- They contain unsolicited links
- They ask for personal details like email, password, social security number, or any OTP
The next time you are exchanging emails with a stranger, watch out for the information you share. Any genuine company, supplier, or bank would never ask for sensitive information, especially your password or OTP.
5) Take Precautions Against Email Fraud
Email fraud is yet another favorite trick in the hat of cybercriminals. If you fall prey to email fraud attacks, you or your business may lose its reputation, without you even knowing it!
Email fraud is also referred to as BEC or Business Email Compromise. In this case, the hackers impersonate your corporate identity to steal confidential information, steal sensitive company data, or make fraudulent money transfers.
Most email frauds use one of the following techniques:
- Email spoofing
- Use clickbait subject lines
- Target a range of employees
Whatever the case may be, if enough cases are registered, your compromised email will be reported as spam or fraudulent, which will be a severe blow to your reputation.
So, how can you protect yourself against it? Get access to an email security provider that can help you assess and rectify such threats.
6) Employ Encrypted Communications Protocol
By now, you know that email by its very nature is unsecured. This is because emails run over a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which is unencrypted. So, any email you send may travel through several SMTP relay servers before reaching its actual destination.
The problem here is that if your message is unencrypted and goes through a malicious server, the content of your information falls at the risk of getting compromised.
Luckily, you can prevent this by employing Transport Level Security (TLS), which encrypts all your email messages and ensures that the content can be read by the intended receiver only.
You don’t have to worry about getting TLS separately if you use Gmail, but if you use any other service provider, it would be wise to implement TLS on your system.
7) Authenticate Your Email
As we have already established, spammers can easily impersonate your email address. You must authenticate your email if you wish to avoid email spamming from your account and maintain the reputation of being a legitimate business in the industry.
We recommend you choose any of the below methods for authenticating your email:
- DKIM: DKIM refers to ‘Domain Keys Identified Mail.’ It protects your business from being used for email spoofing by adding your chosen digital signature to all outgoing email headers.
A private domain key will encrypt all the email headers being sent from your domain and add a public version of this key to the DNS (Domain name system) server of the domain. The receiver can then get this key from the DNS records and use it to decrypt the email header.
This way, anyone who receives an email from your address can be completely sure it has been sent from your domain and is not tampered with on the way.
- DMARC: DMARC refers to ‘Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance.’
The DMARC policy allows the authentic senders to show within their messages that their email is protected by DKIM or SPF (Sender Policy Framework), and tells the recipients what they can do (reject the message or move it to junk) if an email fails the DMARC authentication.
DMARC is the most helpful way of handling email spoofing as compared to other methods. This is because it allows the email recipients to recognize if a message is from your email address and provides a way for the recipients to report if they receive any suspicious emails from your name/domain.
Knowing emails and how easily a cybercriminal lurking at your business can taper it, it is best to protect your inbox by following some simple email security best practices.
You can keep cybercriminals at bay from using fraudulent methods to take advantage of your business by following all these above measures and strengthen your business’ overall security.
If your business relies on email automation, it’s good to take note of the security measures these ESPs (Email Service Providers) provide. In case your first instinct is to go for the most popular tools like MailChimp or Active Campaign, we encourage you to check if the pricing matches your needs, and you get what you pay for.
And, in case you have already tried one of these popular ESPs and are now looking for better, more flexible options, check out these alternatives to MailChimp and Constant Contact. Or just try SendX for a 14-day free trial.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget that the online world is filled with hackers waiting for you to make a simple mistake to break into your business and take advantage of your data. How you protect your business is in your hands.
Implement a robust security system for your emails now.