What is email security?
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Published: 18 April 2024 
Contributors: Amanda Downie, Teaganne Finn

What is email security?

Email security is the practice of ensuring that sensitive email communication is confidential, secure and protected against potential cybersecurity threats. It is a critical safeguard for any organization that wants to prevent unauthorized access to its email-based communications, which, without email security, might result in a data breach or a spread of malicious content.

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Why is email security important?

An organization’s email is one of the largest targets for cyberattacks, phishing attacks, malware and business email compromise, so an effective email security plan is crucial. Together with implementing technologies to help safeguard against threats, organizations must also train their workforce and learn how to protect assets, such as email accounts and social media content, against cybercriminals.

By establishing an email security plan, an organization can learn the differences between a secure email and a malicious email and protect sensitive information from falling into the hands of hackers. A secure email system protects against email attacks and can reduce costly downtime caused by threats such as phishing emails, scams or data loss that can compromise an organization's network infrastructure.

Email messaging is fundamental to an organization's communication and daily operations. While technology is evolving rapidly, email service is still vital, and having a robust email security system in place has never been more important for an organization. Email security strategies provide the real-time protection that is necessary to keep your sensitive data safe and protected. AI-powered and automation-based security gateways are the newer, more technology-forward email security.

Benefits of email security

Having strong email protection in place helps protect your organization and its people from outside vulnerabilities. These security measures are key to threat protection and enable strong security policies for the future.

Added protection

Having email security protects an organization against cyberthreats like phishing and spoofing and helps discover the risks before any harmful computer viruses take over.

Better prevention

Email security solutions, such as email encryption and antivirus software, protect and prevent confidential information from being leaked. Information can come from all different endpoints, including email attachments and spam emails.

Enhanced safeguards

Trusted security services can provide important safeguards for an organization's sensitive information. Security awareness training can teach employees how to protect their personal emails with tools like spam filtering, strong passwords and firewall protections.

Improved productivity

With email security threats at bay, an organization can reduce potential disruptions and spend less time on email content and more time on growing their business.

Types of email threats

Email attacks can come in many different forms. But it’s important to remember they all have the same malicious intent and to be proactive in understanding the types of email threats out there. Here are some of the most common types of attacks:

Social engineering attacks

Psychologically manipulating people into unwittingly compromising the security of their information is one of the most common attack vectors.

Phishing

Phishing scams use fraudulent emails, text messages, social media content or websites to trick users into sharing credentials or downloading malware.

Spear phishing

This form of phishing directly targets an individual or an organization through a personalized email.

Whale phishing

This form of phishing targets high-level corporate officers with messages that attackers write meticulously to manipulate their recipients into giving up sensitive information. These correspondents can come in the form of emails, text messages or phone calls.

Malicious email attachment

This form of malware targets email attachments disguised as documents, voicemails, faxes, PDFs and other such files. These hackers use different tactics, such as fear, urgency and curiosity.

Ransomware

This malicious software encrypts files and is designed to block access to a system until the victim pays a sum of money.

Spoofing

Spoofing is when an attacker forges an email message with a fake sender address and disguises themselves as legitimate.

Impersonation

A cybercriminal pretends to be a trusted sender to secure money or data. An example is business email compromise, which is when a hacker impersonates an employee to try to steal from the organization.

Email security best practices

The email threat landscape is ever-changing but some best practices remain the same. Organizations must become more sophisticated in their threat intelligence and proactive against advanced threats.

Use an integrated approach

Find an email security software that is all-encompassing and provides protection across apps, devices, emails and cloud networks. Attackers hit email servers across many different platforms and your organization needs to be prepared.

Educate employees

Train the workforce on email security best practices, such as identifying phishing attempts or spoofing emails and creating strong passwords for their devices and accounts.

Ensure a secure email gateway

This best practice falls under security policies but stands on its own in importance. This software is an email security product that uses analysis and machine learning to protect and block phishing or scam emails.

Email security policies

An organization needs a strong set of rules to govern how users interact through incoming and outgoing emails. These policies can vary, but the most common are multifactor authentication (MFA), email encryption, email attachments, data retention and regular software updates.

Other important email security protocols include sender policy framework (SPF), domain keys identified mail (DKIM) and domain-based message authentication, reporting and conformance (DMARC). Best known by their acronyms, these protocols are complex and require careful attention before implementing one or all three.

SPF

This email authentication standard adds a layer of protection to your DNS servers. It creates a list of authorized senders and can prevent domain spoofing.

DKIM

This is an email security protocol that uses public-key cryptography to create an authentic digital signature and ensures that no one alters emails in transit.

DMARC

This protocol is aimed at protecting domains and is the orchestrating protocol that reacts to what the SPF and DKIM tests reveal. DMARC policies change depending on the needs of an organization.

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