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Email Security: Threats, Solutions, and Technology Trends

June 21, 2024
Last Updated: June 21, 2024
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What Is Email Security? 

Email security involves techniques and protocols that protect email accounts and communication from unauthorized access, loss, or compromise. It aims to safeguard the content of emails and protect against data breaches, unauthorized access, and various cyber threats.

Email security includes tools, technologies, and practices to detect, prevent, and respond to threats. This includes managing vulnerabilities in email systems and ensuring that both inbound and outbound emails are secure through encryption and secure access protocols.

This is part of a series of articles about malware protection.

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Threat Visibility for Lean IT security Teams

  • The key technologies used to provide threat visibility
  • How deception technology helps improve threat visibility
  • Why improved visibility must be accompanied by improved response capabilities

Email Security Benefits

Email security is a critical element of cybersecurity. Here are the key benefits of effective email security:

  • Protection against phishing and spoofing attacks: Email security helps identify and neutralize email threats such as phishing and spoofing. These attacks often aim to steal sensitive information or deliver malware, leading to significant data breaches.
  • Real-time protection: Email security solutions offer real-time defense against zero-day exploits with features like advanced anti-malware and anti-spam protection.
  • Enhanced confidentiality: Secure email encryption solutions ensure that only intended recipients can access the email content, bolstering the confidentiality of communications.
  • Detection of malicious and spam emails: Advanced email security solutions can detect and block malicious or spam emails that bypass standard spam filters, preventing potential security threats.
  • Regulatory compliance: Email encryption services help businesses avoid risks and maintain compliance with industry regulations by securing sensitive communications.
  • Protection of sensitive information: Email security safeguards intellectual property, financial records, and other sensitive company data from interception by cybercriminals.
  • Prevention of compromised accounts: Email encryption prevents attackers from stealing login credentials and other personal data, thus avoiding compromised accounts and identity theft.

Common Email Security Threats

Here are some of the main security threats affecting email systems:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks involve fraudulent communication that appears to come from a reputable source. The aim is to steal sensitive data like credit card numbers and login information. Attackers use deceptive emails to trick recipients into revealing personal information or clicking on harmful links.
  • Quishing: Quishing, or QR phishing, involves sending QR codes that lure users into providing sensitive information or downloading malicious software. Often, the QR codes direct the target to a malicious website or initiate malicious actions on their device. 
  • Business Email Compromise (BEC): BEC is a sophisticated scam targeting businesses that work with foreign suppliers or that regularly perform wire transfer payments. Scammers impersonate executives or partners to request transfers into fraudulent accounts. These scams can result in significant financial losses and damaging breaches of supplier trust and company integrity. 
  • Data exfiltration: Data exfiltration involves unauthorized transfer of data from a computer or other devices. In the context of email security, attackers might hijack email accounts to retrieve stored correspondence or attached documents.
  • Malware: Malware transmitted via email exploits vulnerabilities to damage systems or steal data. These malicious programs often come disguised as attachments or links that look benign.
  • Account takeover: Account takeover occurs when a cybercriminal gains unauthorized access to email accounts and uses them for malicious or fraudulent purposes. This can lead to data breaches and further account takeovers within a network, amplifying the potential damage.

Types of Email Security Solutions

Here are some of the solutions that can be used to enhance email security.

Spam Filters

Spam filters automatically screen incoming emails to prevent spam from reaching users’ inboxes. They use various criteria, including known blacklists, message headers, and content analysis, to detect and block spam. Advanced spam filters employ machine learning algorithms to adapt to new threats and more effectively differentiate between harmful and benign emails. 

Secure Email Gateways (SEGs)

Secure Email Gateways (SEGs) act as barriers between an organization’s email infrastructure and the outside world. They analyze incoming and outgoing emails for threats, such as viruses and spam, and enforce company policies on email use. Modern SEGs also provide data loss prevention, encryption, and threat intelligence. 

Anti-Phishing Solutions

Anti-phishing solutions specifically target phishing threats. They analyze emails for suspicious links and attachments, check for fraudulent sender information, and use real-time threat intelligence to identify and block phishing attempts. These solutions often incorporate phishing simulations and user education tools. 

Email Data Protection (EDP)

Email Data Protection (EDP) encompasses measures and technologies designed to secure email data both in transit and at rest. EDP solutions typically involve encryption, access controls, and data loss prevention mechanisms to ensure that sensitive information remains confidential and is only accessible to authorized parties.

Encryption is a fundamental component of EDP, converting email content into unreadable text that can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. This ensures that even if emails are intercepted, the content remains secure. Access controls further enhance security by restricting email access based on user roles and permissions.

API-Based Protection

API-based protection leverages APIs to integrate security measures directly into email systems and workflows. This provides granular control over email security, enabling real-time threat detection and response capabilities. APIs provide access to advanced security features, such as threat intelligence feeds, automated incident response, and detailed logging and monitoring. 

Integrated Cloud Email Security (ICES)

Integrated Cloud Email Security (ICES) solutions offer comprehensive protection for email systems hosted in the cloud. They combine various security technologies, including spam filtering, malware detection, data loss prevention, and encryption, into a unified platform. ICES platforms provide centralized management and visibility into email security, making it easier for organizations to monitor and respond to threats. 

Related content: Read our guide to email filtering (coming soon)

Email Security Technology Trends

The field of email security is rapidly advancing. Here are some new technologies that are helping make email more secure.

Behavioral Analysis

Behavioral analysis is an advanced email security technique that monitors and analyzes the behavior of users and email patterns to detect anomalies that could indicate a security threat. By establishing a baseline of normal email activity for each user, these systems can identify deviations that may signal malicious activity, such as unusual login times, abnormal email sending volumes, or accessing email from unfamiliar locations.

This technology leverages machine learning algorithms to continuously improve detection accuracy. Behavioral analysis helps in identifying sophisticated threats that may bypass traditional security measures, such as spear-phishing or account takeover attempts, by focusing on the behavior of users rather than just the content of emails.

Generative AI

Generative AI is being increasingly used in email security to create more sophisticated and adaptive threat detection models. These AI systems can identify highly sophisticated phishing emails by analyzing language and other nuances in message contents. They can also generate realistic phishing emails to train security systems and employees, improving the ability to recognize and defend against these types of attacks.

Moreover, generative AI can assist in creating automated response strategies to mitigate the impact of detected threats. For instance, it can generate automated replies to suspicious emails to stall attackers, giving security teams more time to analyze and respond to the threat effectively.

Email Authentication

Email authentication technologies, such as SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance), are crucial for verifying the legitimacy of email senders. SPF allows email systems to check if incoming mail from a domain is being sent by an authorized IP address, reducing the risk of spoofing.

DKIM adds a cryptographic signature to the email, ensuring that the email content has not been altered in transit. DMARC builds on SPF and DKIM, providing a policy for how to handle emails that fail authentication checks and offering reporting capabilities to monitor and respond to fraudulent email activities. Implementing these technologies helps organizations enhance trust in their email communications and reduce the incidence of email-based attacks.

eXtended Detection and Response

eXtended Detection and Response (XDR) is an advanced security approach that integrates multiple security products into a cohesive system, providing comprehensive threat detection and response across an organization’s entire digital environment, including email systems. XDR platforms collect and correlate data from various sources, such as endpoints, networks, and cloud services, to provide a unified view of security incidents.

By integrating email security with other security layers, XDR enables faster detection and response to threats that span multiple vectors. This holistic approach enhances the ability to identify complex, multi-stage attacks and ensures coordinated defense mechanisms across the organization’s infrastructure.

Best Practices for Email Security

Here are some tips for ensuring email security in your organization.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an additional layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to their email accounts. This typically includes something the user knows (password), something the user has (a smartphone or hardware token), or something the user is (biometric verification).

MFA reduces the risk of unauthorized access, as even if a password is compromised, the additional verification step helps prevent attackers from successfully logging in. Organizations should implement MFA across all email accounts and services to enhance security.

Use Email Encryption

Email encryption ensures that the content of emails is protected during transmission and while stored. Encryption converts the email content into unreadable text that can only be decrypted by the intended recipient, protecting sensitive information from interception and unauthorized access.

There are two main types of email encryption: transport-level encryption, such as TLS (Transport Layer Security), which secures the email during transit, and end-to-end encryption, which ensures that only the sender and recipient can read the email content. Both types should be implemented to ensure comprehensive email security.

Establish Clear Email Usage Policies

Email usage policies help set expectations and guidelines for how employees should use email within an organization. These policies should outline acceptable use, prohibited activities, and best practices for handling sensitive information.

Policies should also cover guidelines for recognizing and reporting suspicious emails, protecting against phishing and other email-based threats, and maintaining compliance with data protection regulations. Regularly reviewing and updating these policies ensures they remain relevant.

Keep Business and Personal Emails Separate

Keeping business and personal emails separate reduces the risk of cross-contamination of sensitive information and helps maintain organizational security. Employees should be encouraged to use their corporate email accounts exclusively for business purposes and to refrain from using personal email accounts for work-related communication.

This separation helps in enforcing security policies and minimizes the risk of personal email compromises affecting corporate systems. Organizations can also implement technical controls to prevent the forwarding of corporate emails to personal accounts.

Train Employees on Email Security

Regular training on email security provides employees with the knowledge and skills to recognize and respond to email-based threats. Training should cover topics such as identifying phishing attempts, understanding the importance of strong passwords, and following best practices for secure email usage.

Interactive training sessions, simulated phishing exercises, and up-to-date threat intelligence can help reinforce learning and keep employees alert to new and evolving threats.

Get our Complete Guide for

Threat Visibility for Lean IT security Teams

  • The key technologies used to provide threat visibility
  • How deception technology helps improve threat visibility
  • Why improved visibility must be accompanied by improved response capabilities

Email Security with Cynet

Cynet Email Security is a holistic security solution that provides mail protection for Cloud Email Gateways. It combines a variety of capabilities including attachment and URL scanning to ensure your inbox stays safe, real-time link protection which allows scanning the original target in real-time each visit, attachment extension filtering to block risky attachments and avoid malware disguised as harmless files, and policy controls  letting you block what’s bad and allow what’s trusted using customizable allowlists and blocklists.

Cynet Email Security provides the following capabilities:

  • Automatically configure your Office365 gateway to be used with Cynet Email.
  • Email attachment protection.
  • Email link protection (including real-time checking of link targets when you open them).
  • Tag emails that were sent from a domain that doesn’t match the administrator’s Office365 domain as External emails. You can also add domains that you consider “safe” and don’t need to be tagged as external.
  • Create allowlists and blocklists for emails using the following parameters:
  • Domain (URL)
  • Sender email
  • Recipient email
  • File SHA256

In addition to email security, Cynet provides cutting edge capabilities:

  • Advanced endpoint threat detection—full visibility and predicts how an attacker might operate, based on continuous monitoring of endpoints and behavioral analysis.
  • Investigation and validation—search and review historic or current incident data on endpoints, investigate threats, and validate alerts. This allows you to confirm the threat before responding to it, reducing dwell-time and performing faster remediation.
  • Rapid deployment and response—deploy across thousands of endpoints within two hours. You can then use it to perform automatic or manual remediation of threats on the endpoints, disrupt malicious activity and minimize damage caused by attacks.

Learn more about the Cynet 360 security platform. 

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