Digitization is spreading around the globe and making it easier for people to communicate and coordinate tasks. However, it carries significant risks, with cyber-attacks being the most prominent one. Every day, hackers attempt to exploit email services aiming to break into enterprise networks. That’s why you must imbibe solid email security practices to reduce the chances of falling victim to increasingly sophisticated hacking schemes.
Why Should You Care About Email Security?
There are over 4 billion active email users worldwide. Virtually every active internet user has at least one email, so it’s no surprise that emails are a major target of malicious actors. You either care about implementing the best practices for email security or risk having your organization’s network breached.
Hackers can cause a lot of damage by breaching a corporate network. They could steal sensitive files to sell them to competitors or steal confidential user data and land the business in regulatory trouble. They can also use a corporation’s IP address to send bulk spam emails or execute phishing attacks on unsuspecting customers — the list of potential harm is endless.
The top threats to email security that you should pay attention to include:
- Weak passwords: the most common way hackers try to break into emails is by guessing passwords. That's why you need a strong password for your email account or any other account you access online. A strong password includes a mix of symbols, letters in lowercase and uppercase, and digits, and should have at least eight characters.
- Malicious Attachments: hackers often send email messages containing malicious attachments that can secretly install malware on your device when you click on them. Hence, avoid downloading any attachments sent from an unknown email address.
- Phishing: this method involves a hacker impersonating an organization that you’re familiar with to trick you into disclosing sensitive details. For example, they can impersonate your bank to trick you into giving up your bank login credentials or verification codes. As a precaution, never provide sensitive information to anyone who claims to represent a platform you’re familiar with.
Strong Login Authentication Methods
One of the best tips for email security is to enable strong authentication methods for all your email accounts. A password alone will not suffice as hackers may be able to guess it. You may consider using one of these methods:
1. Multi-Factor Authentication
Generally speaking, there are three basic factors of authentication: knowledge factor — something you know, e.g., password; possession factor — something you own, like your mobile phone; and inherence factor — something you are, e.g., your fingerprint.
Multi-factor authentication implies requiring at least two of these factors before granting access to your email account. The first is your password and the other is usually a one-time code sent to your phone number or another email address. This way, a hacker won’t be able to break into your email account even if they lay hands on your password.
Virtually all email providers allow users to set up multi-factor authentication, and you’ll likely find it easy to enable it.
2. Single Sign-On
Single sign-on (SSO) is a system that allows you to use a single authentication service to log into multiple accounts. You'll need to hand over your authentication process to a trusted provider like Okta, Auth0 or Google, and you’ll be able to use your credentials from the single provider to log into multiple email addresses.
Single sign-on makes it easy to manage multiple accounts as you don’t need to input separate passwords and one-time codes for every platform you want to log into. It is also easier to adhere to strong authentication methods if you do not need to keep in mind a multitude of diverse procedures. However, if your single sign-on provider gets breached, the hacker will gain access to all your accounts, which is a significant risk.
Configure Your Sender Authentication Protocols
There are four main authentication mechanisms that internet service providers (ISPs) use to prove your brand identity. Implementing them means that the emails you send will have higher deliverability rates and spammers will find it difficult to impersonate your brand.
The methods you can adopt as part of your email security policy include:
1. Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
This protocol involves providing a domain name service (DNS) record that specifies which IP addresses or hostnames you have authorized to send emails on behalf of your domain name. The SPF is a TXT-type entry on your DNS provider that enables any receiving mail server to verify that an email claiming to come from a specific domain name is actually connected to an authorized IP address.
2. Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC)
DMARC uses the DNS system to indicate policies on how an email from your domain should be processed should it fail verification checks (e.g., accept, reject, or quarantine). Nearly all email clients can follow the policies you set as they are also published via the DNS system.
3. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
This protocol uses a digital signature that's added to email headers to verify the authenticity of certain headers in your message, like sender address, timestamp, and so on. It's akin to a watermark or fingerprint unique to the email sender. If the correct digital signature isn’t detected, then the receiving email client will likely mark the email as spam.
4. Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI)
BIMI involves adding a brand logo image for your domain. Email clients supporting this technology will display a brand’s logo next to authenticated messages in the recipient's inbox, so it's easy for the recipient to identify if an email is authentic.
Keep Your Infrastructure Safe
Another email security policy you must consider is keeping the underlying infrastructure of your personal or organizational email activities safe. Steps to take include:
1. Monitor User Sessions
As an administrator, you can monitor all email users within your organization from a single dashboard. For instance, you can see the number of active users, their IP address (location) and the level of security each user has enabled. Be on the look for suspicious details such as unknown locations and an unusually high number of users
A sample email monitoring dashboard.
2. Implement Session Timeouts
You can set a particular period for which every user within your organization will be automatically logged out of their mailbox and have to log in again if they want to continue using it. Timeouts can be annoying, but they help stop attackers from disguising themselves under an existing user session. Typical session timeouts are between 1 and 2 hours.
3. Minimize User Seats
The higher the number of users, the higher the potential security risks to your organization's email infrastructure. Thus, you can minimize user seats by blocking inactive users and ensuring that new accounts are only created if necessary.
Monitor Your Software
There are various email security tools that enable you to monitor all activities concerning your organization’s emails. These tools make it easy to identify suspicious patterns and take action when called for. Examples include:
1. Email Analytics
Email Analytics is a well-known tool that can be deployed to monitor all email activities within an organization. It gives the administrator access to a broad set of information, such as the number of emails sent and received by employees and the most frequent email addresses that employees interact with.
The dashboard gives an integrated view of various email statistics and metrics that you can monitor for suspicious patterns. For example, if you notice frequent emails coming from an unknown address, it’ll likely be spam, and you can quickly block it to prevent further issues.
Teramind is a threat detection and employee monitoring software. It includes an email monitoring tool that can identify and block sensitive data transfer in outgoing emails. For example, you can block all email users within your organization from sending a specific confidential file or link.
You can also configure the platform to issue alerts whenever anyone in your organization sends an email to a non-corporate or suspicious email address. This feature goes a long way in preventing confidential information from being shared through emails.
InterGuard is one of the most popular email security tools. It lets an administrator monitor email activities across an organization and get alarms for activities based on criteria set by the administrator. For example, you can set an alert for a specific keyword like "password" or "data" — if the software detects the keyword in an email, it’ll automatically capture a screenshot that you can check later to see if anything was compromised.
It’s necessary to provide email security training to people working for your organization. It's much easier to create awareness and rapport than to try to enforce rules by yourself — no matter how stringent your rules are, a human is a weak link to break them.
The training should cover relevant email security practices, such as the importance of using strong passwords and identifying signs of phishing. You should also let employees know the next actions to take and the person to contact if they suspect that they’ve fallen victim to an email scam. Training sessions should be regular and always cover the new methods that hackers are adopting to break into emails.
Email security is extremely important because we live in a period of exploding cyber threats. You must adhere to certain email security policies to reduce the risks of falling victim to hacking activities, and we’ve mentioned the most important ones.
As a brand, you should also adhere to specific security practices to prevent hackers from impersonating you. Most importantly, configure your sender authentication protocols to enable receiving mail servers to verify emails coming from your domain. Also, ensure you use an email service provider with a strong security reputation, e.g., UniOne.