The Essential Guide to Email Security: Threats, Costs, and Strategies
We all use email on a regular basis, but we aren’t always cognizant of the email security standards we use. If a hacker gains access to your account, or manages to fool you into downloading an attachment with malware via email, it could have devastating consequences for your business.
That’s why many companies choose to invest actively in their email security. But what exactly does email security entail, and how important is it for an organization?
Types of Email Threats
We have to start by identifying the major types of threats associated with email. These threats include:
- Account access, personal data, and more. If someone gains access to your email account, how much personal data would they be able to access? If you’re like most people, your email contains messages from your financial institutions, your favorite stores, and your personal contacts. Anyone with access to your account will have access to all these data, which can easily be used against you.
- Phishing and other schemes. Many cyber criminals attempt to use email to execute social engineering schemes. They send links to web pages mocked up to look like authentic sites, but when you enter your password, you’re basically handing your login credentials over to a hacker. Detecting these threats proactively is vital if you want to avoid them.
- Malware. Malware is still commonly sent via email, because people are still willing to impulsively click suspicious links and download suspicious attachments—even if they should know better. All it takes is one click, and your computer could be infected with ransomware or other types of malware.
- Evolving threats. It’s also worth noting that cyber threats are constantly evolving. Cyber criminals are always trying to find new vulnerabilities, and new ways to exploit our hardware and software.
Are these threats really that dangerous? Well, let's consider the costs of a potential attack:
- Financial. The average cost of a cyber attack is now more than $1 million. Attacks on large businesses tend to be costlier, of course, since they usually involve the theft or destruction of more data, but even attacks on small businesses can be devastating.
- Logistical. After an attack, it can take weeks, if not months to fully recover. You’ll have to make up for whatever damage was done to your organization, instate new security measures, and deal with investigations and paperwork along the way.
- Reputation. Even if you put better security standards in place as a reaction to this attack, your reputation may never fully recover. Your customers will know your lax standards led to compromised data, and they may never trust you fully again.
Email Security Strategies
Fortunately, there are many email security strategies you can employ and email security software you can use to reduce the possibility (and potential severity) of an email-related attack.
- Account security strategies. First, you can work to secure your account. Most accounts are compromised because of simple mistakes on behalf of the user; for example, if you choose a simplistic, easy-to-guess password like “qwerty1234,” you’re practically asking for your account to be hacked. Choose a strong password with a mix of different characters, and make it as long as possible. Then, enable multi-factor authentication so no one can gain access to your email account with just a password. You’ll also need to be mindful of phishing and social engineering attempts; never give your password to anyone. These basic steps have the power to prevent the majority of would-be hacks.
- Spam and phishing filters. Most modern email services have built-in spam filters that attempt to weed out the majority of phishing attempts and other schemes; for example, Google claims that its Gmail filters catch more than 99.9 percent of spam. However, this isn’t enough to detect all phishing schemes or malicious emails. You’ll need to invest in additional filtering if you want to proactively identify these.
- Virus scans. It’s also a good idea to invest in a malware scanner; this way you can automatically scan new emails (and especially attachments) that come into your account. If your scanner detects a threat, it can warn you and eliminate the threat before it has the chance to do any real damage.
- Message encryption. Some organizations and individuals invest in additional message encryption, making it practically impossible for prying eyes to read or obtain the data within individual messages. This is especially important if you’re exchanging sensitive personal information, like social security numbers or bank account information.
Just how important is your email security? That’s difficult to say since every business and individual will bear a different level of risk. However, even a single email vulnerability has the potential to have devastating consequences. And securing your email doesn’t take much time, money, or effort at all. Accordingly, email security should be a top priority for every organization—and every individual.
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