Even in 2021, email remains the most popular channel for cyber criminals to launch their attacks. Bad actors use email to run phishing scams and malware-laden links. They also use it as a medium to impersonate other people or businesses in order to trick people into revealing sensitive information. Statistics estimate that up to 90-95% of all cyber attacks are initiated via email.
Email security is a hot topic for many organizations who want to protect their employees and clients from malicious hackers. This article will discuss the risks associated with inbound email, new developments in email security and how companies can stay safe from email cyber attacks in 2021 and beyond.
How cloud-based computing changed email security
Before 2011, email technology mainly communicated via physical servers to relay messages between computers on the internet. With the introduction of cloud-based email servers, that all changed. An estimated 300 million-plus corporate email inboxes harness the power of cloud-based email servers. While the convenience of cloud-based computing can’t be denied, it has introduced new challenges to the email security sector.
Before the cloud, cyber security companies with email security software relied on secure email gateways (SEGs). By relying on emails communicating through a specific server, most email security software up until 2011 had only that checkpoint to look for security vulnerabilities. With the move towards the cloud, cloud-based versions of their services had to then be released.
With the dynamic and wide reach of cloud-based servers, the SEG approach had to be updated. Many cyber security companies have increased their competitive offerings by providing software that reaches directly into the application programming interface (API) of the email providers they work with.
Whether organizations rely on cloud-based email or not, choosing an email provider that has powerful guards against malware, spam, spyware and other developing hacking methodologies is a must. Finding an email platform that engages external industry leaders to run security audits ensures that your emails are staying up to date with quickly evolving cyber threats.
Experienced email providers can provide seamless migrations and tailor customer service and user experience options to your company. Avoiding data loss or excessive downtime during a migration is important in today’s fast-paced world, as is providing a top-notch, customized user experience.
Unfortunately, many companies neglect to focus on the security of their email platforms until it is too late. Unlike online payment platforms, which are governed by local regulations and should come with PCI-DSS certified software, there are less legal standards surrounding email communication.
However, when organizations are involved in cyber security incidents that compromise the security of their clients and vendors, there are a lot of legal protocols and required disclosures. This can result in a loss of reputation as well as an overall headache for leadership. It’s better to compare and find the best email provider before, rather than after, a security incident.
Email remains the center of modern cyber attacks
Despite the growth of over-the-top messaging and chat apps, email remains the primary method that cyber criminals use. The reason email is such a popular medium for malicious actors is due to the vital role it plays in everyone’s daily lives. For the consumer, email is a digital identity, used to sign up for, and into, multiple services online. It is also a trusted digital repository of sensitive information (transaction records and receipts, tickets and itineraries and the all-important password reset function). Among other possibilities, if a bad actor gains access to your personal email, they can take control of any account or service linked to that account.
While businesses might rely on tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for instant messaging and chat functionality, email continues to be critical for all formal communication between customers, partners and core services – including billing, commercial agreements and human resources. If a bad actor gains access to this information they could intercept and redirect transactions, gain access to private and other sensitive data, or even capture a business’s intellectual property and competitive advantage and hold it to ransom.
In 2020, a record year for dangerous cyber crime, hackers found success in harnessing the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to flood inboxes with official-looking emails. Email users would receive scam coronavirus emails, claiming to come from governments or health officials. The emails were enticing to read as they generally promised important safety information or chances to gain access to pandemic related funds. These emails contained malicious links laden with malware or other harmful content.
Looking forward into 2021 and beyond, trends in email cyber security suggest that “supply chain fraud” will overtake C-suite fraud. C-suite fraud refers to a hacking tactic that targets high-level executives of top companies. This tactic is used in order to infect the recipient’s computer with malware to trigger a data breach or other type of vulnerability that can then be used in a demand for a hefty ransom.
“Supply chain fraud” involves hackers impersonating trusted third party vendors to gain access to sensitive data. This tactic is more complicated but yields a far larger return. Being able to disguise oneself as a legitimate company or organization can give a hacker access to thousands of clients, vendors or employees who are more likely to open their emails.
No matter what tactic a cyber criminal chooses, it’s clear that most hackers are moving away from emails sent en masse and sitting back, hoping for a gullible receiver. Cyber criminals are increasingly doing their homework and researching their targets, employing ever more targeted schemes to land innocent-looking messages into your inbox. With automation and AI becoming more sophisticated and widespread, hackers have a wider reach than ever before.
Although there is no way to know for sure what the future will hold, recent research and statistics point to cyber crime escalating in the years to come. As we’ve discussed, email still remains at the center of the cyber security discussion and there is no reason to think that will change any time soon.
As more and more companies roll out hybrid and work-from-home policies, there is an increased responsibility to protect remote workers from cyber crime. Organizations should give deep thought to which email providers they use to protect the data of their customers, employees and vendors.