Of all the resources businesses use to communicate with, email is the one that causes more data leakages than any other. Cyber attacks are more common than ever. Phishing attacks happen daily. Corporate email messages can accidentally release sensitive information in the public domain.
Therefore email security is a critical issue for organizations of all sizes. When an email security issue occurs, company liability can become a serious problem, leaving damage limitation as the only option. This can be costly in all manner of ways.
Use the following email security best practices and tips to protect your company against all manner of email threats. It’s also recommended that you invest in an email security solution if you haven’t done so already. Don’t just rely on what’s available in email platforms like Office 365 (now Microsoft 365) to protect your company.
1. Check your spam filter
You need to be certain that your spam filter is up and running before you start to send and receive emails. The most common way to get a virus is by downloading content from a malicious email attachment, otherwise known as malware.
A spam filter will scan any email that your organization receives to ensure that they are all virus-free before any employee opens them. This will dramatically increase your email security.
2. Use encryption methods
If your organization deals with a lot of sensitive information, all data needs to remain secure through email encryption. Current encryption methods are so secure that they have been termed military grade by data security experts.
3. Make sure your security policy is secure
An effective way to enforce company email security is to train your staff in basic email usage rules and practices. They are often your first line of defense and can help to avoid costly mistakes occurring.
Also, make sure they know how to configure their anti-virus software and understand the importance of setting up strong, unique passwords. Warn them of the danger of unknown email attachments and to never follow unsecured links.
4. Create strong passwords
Many employees use passwords that are too easy to remember. They use personal information like names, birthdays, and simple words. As a result, passwords are often too easy to hack.
A better approach is to enforce a policy where all users have to create complex passwords that use a mixture of upper-case letters, lower-case letters, characters and numbers. Then, for extra protection, make sure that users must update these passwords often (every 60-90 days) and ensure they don’t use the same password to log into other areas such as network resources. This way, if an email password is compromised, other assets remain secure.
5. Ensure compliance
Compliance regulations are there for a reason. For example, financial and healthcare institutions have to ensure that data is kept as secure as possible in order to avoid serious consequences. This also involves the use of a compliant email disclaimer in many cases.
Failure to comply with regulations not only carries financial penalties. They can seriously damage your corporate reputation too. This will impact on your future business to the point where customers might avoid working with you.
6. Launch a fightback against spam
One of the most annoying and dangerous email security issues is spam. In fact, more than 3 percent of spam mails contain dangerous malware. We all receive emails that try to make you give up important details such as your bank details. Spam also negatively impacts on employee productivity, so you will often need to have an anti-spam solution in place.
However, if you choose a product that is ‘too strict’ in how it views spam, you can end up having important emails blocked at the same time. This can also cause productivity issues. The best choice is to choose an email security solution that looks at global spam traffic trends and then modifies its strategy accordingly.
7. Watch for malware
Malware is more vicious and dangerous than ever, with new attacks emerging all the time. Your organization not only has to fight against all the malware that is currently out there; it also must be ready to defend itself from zero-day exploits. Having powerful malware engines in place is something that you simply cannot live without.
8. Don’t go phishing
If you are unaware of common phishing attempts, it is easy to give up your details unwittingly. Be aware of any emails that ask you to surrender confidential information that could be used for identity theft. Also never open an attachment unless you know the sender.
A good step is to have an email security tool that looks for keywords related to confidential data. These will not just look at keywords embedded in a message, but also in the subject line, attachments, and email address. Coupled with a policy that helps to ensure data is not sent out deliberately or inadvertently, your organization will have an extra level of protection against any number of attacks.
9. Use filtering and monitoring
Hackers are not the only issue you should be aware of. There are also many cases where the threat has occurred from inside an organization. This then leads to the loss of financial data, corporate strategies, and client details. Sometimes, employees aren’t even aware that they are putting their company at risk with their email behavior.
Having a way to monitor email content solves most of these problems. Make sure that inappropriate messages are blocked and watch for emails that might contain sensitive information.
10. Be ready for any breaches
Hackers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in how they ‘attack’ companies. Many up-to-date news articles highlight how easy it is for data breaches to occur. Social engineering is more common than ever where hackers trick employees into giving up important details.
Be prepared for all types of hacking and don’t become a victim of corporate espionage. It is impossible to be 100% protected from all threats. However, the more email security policies you have in place, the better your chances are of not suffering a catastrophic breach.
11. Implement a proper defense
If you only use basic or free email security solutions, you could end up paying a steeper price later. That’s why email security software is an important consideration for any company.
Even with comprehensive software tools in place, if your staff don’t know about threats they might face, it makes the whole email security process slightly redundant. Train your staff to resist hacking attempts, recognize malware, and avoid phishing scams. When properly trained, employees can become the equivalent of a ‘human firewall’.
12. Keep email attachments secure
Email attachments are particularly important to most businesses. However, they can be used to spread malware infections, gain access to your IT infrastructure, and leak confidential information. You always need to ensure that your company’s email attachments are as secure as possible.
A good starting point is to create a policy that blocks all email attachments that use potentially dangerous formats. Data like credit card information or social security numbers should never be sent via email. Email policies should be set up to block any email attachments that contain information of this kind. This ensures no sensitive data gets leaked into the public sphere.
Alternative methods should be provided for transferring files securely so that users don’t have to resort to email. When your company sends files legitimately, use tools like Dropbox or a portal to securely transfer files.
13. Use multiple anti-virus engines to scan attachments
There is often lag time between the appearance of a new malware threat and when anti-malware engines can detect it. This exposes organizations if to many email security risks if they are only using one anti-virus engine.
Using four or more anti-virus engines significantly increases the chance that any new malware will be quickly detected and quarantined in real-time.
14. Sanitize email attachments
The battle against malware and viruses changes daily. Targeted attacks like zero-day attacks and new malware with no anti-virus definitions can get past your anti-malware engine and end up in your users’ mailboxes.
As these threats will be unknown, email attachments should be sanitized by converting files to a different format and removing any possible embedded threats. For example, converting a Word document into a PDF will remove any potentially harmful scripts before they do any damage.
15. Beware of spoofing
Hackers often use increasingly cunning methods of fooling people into opening harmful attachments. One method used is to rename extensions so that malicious files look harmless. This is known as email spoofing.
Making an .exe file look like a .txt file means that a user is more likely to think that the attachment is safe. If there is every any doubt into the authenticity of an attachment, it is best to delete it immediately.
In the end, email security risks are out there, and they can very easily cause you untold misery. It could be any manner of cyber threats such as a virus, malicious links or even outright human error.
These risks are easily managed if the right steps are taken to protect yourself. So, it might be time to look at your email security measures and see if you are doing enough to protect your business.