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Email Security

What Is Email Security?

Email security includes the techniques and technologies used to protect email accounts and communications. Email, which is an organization’s largest attack surface, is the primary target of phishing attacks and can be used to spread malware. 

Email is a critical component of organizational communication because it enables users to communicate quickly, easily, and with a variety of devices. Further, email can be used to send a number of different types of media, and communications can be tracked, stored, and organized according to attributes such as time and date stamps and size.

Email security is important because email contains sensitive information, is used by everyone in the organization, and is therefore one of a company’s largest targets for attacks. The shift to cloud-based email like Gmail and others comes with several benefits, but cloud-based email has become a tempting attack surface for cyber criminals.

How Secure Is Email?

Email is a top threat vector because it is a ubiquitous tool that everyone in an organization uses. It is in an open format that can be read on any device without decryption once it is intercepted. 

An email does not go straight to the recipient. Rather, it travels between networks and servers, some vulnerable and unsecured, before landing in an inbox. Even though an individual’s computer may be secure from an attacker, the network or server the email has to travel through may have been compromised.

Also, cyber criminals can easily impersonate a sender or manipulate email content in the form of body copy, attachments, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), or a sender’s email address. This is fairly straightforward for a hacker attacking an unsecured system because each email has fields that contain metadata detailing information about the email, who it came from, where it is headed, etc. A hacker only needs to access this metadata and change it, and it will look like the email came from someone or someplace it did not.

Types of Email Attacks

Cyber criminals use many different tactics to hack email, and some methods can cause considerable damage to an organization’s data and/or reputation. Malware, which is malicious software used to harm or manipulate a device or its data, can be placed on a computer using each of the following attacks.

Phishing

A phishing attack targets users by sending them a text, direct message, or email. The attacker pretends to be a trusted individual or institution and then uses their relationship with the target to steal sensitive data like account numbers, credit card details, or login information.

Phishing comes in several forms, such as spear phishing, regular phishing, and whaling. Spear phishing targets a particular person, while a whaler targets someone high up in the organization by pretending to be someone they trust.

Spoofing

Spoofing is a dangerous email threat because it involves fooling the recipient into thinking the email is coming from someone other than the apparent sender. This makes spoofing an effective business email compromise (BEC) tool. The email platform cannot tell a faked email from a real one because it merely reads the metadata—the same data the attacker has changed. 

This makes the impersonation of a person the victim either knows or respects relatively easy for an attacker.

Email Security Best Practices

Email is a primary weapon for spreading ransomware, an advanced threat that can affect multiple endpoints as well as steal sensitive data. Therefore, an email protection plan needs to include the following best practices to protect email traffic in real time.

  1. Spam filter: A spam filter can detect spam and keep it from either hitting your inbox or file it as junk mail.
  2. Email encryption: Email encryption can disguise corporate email by changing communications into a garbled arrangement of letters, numbers, and symbols that someone who intercepts it cannot read.
  3. Antivirus protection: Antivirus protection screens emails and attachments for viruses, providing the user with warnings if anything suspicious is detected.
  4. Secure email gateway (SEG): An SEG filters out potentially dangerous emails according to the settings of an IT administrator.
  5. Multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA is a key data loss protection and anti-hacking tool because it requires a user to provide more than one authentication factor to prove they should be granted access to a system.
  6. Employee education: Employees can be educated to recognize social engineering, phishing, and other types of attacks that are typically executed using email.

How Fortinet Can Help

A secure email gateway (SEG) acts as a firewall between outsiders and users’ email accounts. It protects both inbound and outbound communications using a message transfer agent (MTA) or an application programming interface (API) to scan email and enforce security policies. An SEG checks emails for spam, malware, and other elements designated by your IT team.

FortiMail can protect against threats such as phishing, spam, and various types of malware by scanning the contents of emails. It can also detect attempts to leak data from your system and apply encryption to prevent your messages from being read by eavesdroppers.