As we see more news and incidents about phishing attacks and targeted email threats, we believe people are seeking for proper measurements to take to keep their devices threat free.
The majority of cyber-attacks are initiated by a Social Engineering approach where hackers contact victims over phishing emails. Emails are more often used for transacting sensitive information related to business confidential information and personal identity, having higher potential in causing enormous damage when in case of interception and information leakage. Therefore, applying an extra security caution becomes extremely important when it comes to dealing with email transactions.
It is known to be that 99% of email-driven threats lead to infecting the target system due to some kind of action done by the user. In another word, 99% of the email threats can be prevented simply by each of us being aware of email threats and follow the proper security practices.
In this article, we will look into the email threats' infection mechanism and key countermeasures to protect your devices.
The Necessity in Email Security
An email has become an extremely useful tool in our daily life. It lets us send and receive messages as we wish, conveniently associate online service accounts to our identity, and drives business communication nationwide.
On the other hand, email can be a dangerous time to time especially with an intention to bring harm. Hackers tend to exploit email functionalities to spread malware, steal secure information, and focus attacks on a specific target especially in the area of business domains.
Neglecting email security brings all sorts of risks and troubles, including malware infection, phishing scam, spam email, content interception, impersonation, falsification, and many other attack techniques.
Modern email-driven cyber-attacks are becoming complex and cleaver requiring countermeasures to adopt according to the increasing risks.
For example, malware infection produced via email may cause unexpected malfunctions and potential data breach by sending out confidential information to an external source where hackers have full control.
These types of risks will not only cause financial damage especially for corporation environments but also loses trust from business customers.
Data Breach Threats Caused by Emails
Malware email attachments are one of the most common ways users devices get infected by malware. Types of malware that gets sent over email are executable (.exe) and macro-enabled Microsoft Office files. These emails are sent using the Social Engineering technique tricking the reader by making them believe it is from a legitimate source, especially for spear attack cases.
If infection victims keep using the device without knowing the malware contamination, their device can potentially send out malware attached emails to other devices on the email contact list. This often occurs on computer worms and Emotet trojans.
Phishing and Social Engineering
Phishing attacks are conducted by sending pretentious emails that looks like it was sent from a formal corporation or a financial institution. Email content includes URLs that are linked to malicious websites designed to steal credit card numbers, Social Security, account username and password, and even online money transactions.
Spear attacks or targeted attacks is a type of scam performed by narrowing the focus to a specific classified information or target personal identity. Contrast to most phishing attacks that target an unspecified majority of groups, spear attacks occur by hackers preparing tactics and target status that will increase the chance of tricking the victim.
This kind of attacks are not conducted for trolling or mischievous purpose, but rather to steal specific confidential data that often lead to a large amount of financial impact or bureaucratic damage. Many spear attack incidents performed by international criminal groups were reported in act of stealing governmental information.
4 Major Security Countermeasures
The best defense method is to install antimalware software into your computer. By constantly running an antimalware software you can prevent malware infection and minimize further spreads over the network.
A variety of features comes with antimalware and many are specifically designed to protect you from email-driven infections. An automatic email scan will check any incoming emails before reaching your attention to catch the attached threats beforehand.
Security Configuration against Spam Email
Spam emails are advertisements and product commercial purpose emails that get sent to an unspecific wide range of people. Many dating services and sales campaigns use span mails to spread out their product information.
Clicking URLs that are contained in these emails can cause unexpected device hijacks and further spam mail targets. Some spam mails will even associate the Unsubscribe link to a malicious website so that they can expose victims into additional threats instead of stopping the subscription.
There are two effective countermeasures that can be used against spam mails, Mail Server-Side Solution and Client-Side Solution. To place protection on the mail server, the configuration will be applied to the Gmail or provider's service environment. These services equip features that allow a user to set up an email filtering system. By specifying characteristics associated with the spam content, the server can proactively filter out emails that have a higher chance to be categorized as spam.
On the other hand, the client-side solution will archive or deny emails based on a specific email. These specifications can be configured on most of the email software. Some spam email filter feature can intelligently detect spam mail by performing machine learning while analyzing each incoming mails.
Recently the security method based on encrypted email messages has become more popular. By encrypting email communications it can lead to following security measurements.
Interception Prevention: Prevents hackers from extracting email contents over public networks.
Manipulation Prevention: Protects against content manipulation leading to false communication and threat injection.
Anti-spoofing: Avoids mail being sent through impersonation, which can by a hacker or malware.
Email Encryption can be applied in two ways, the TLS/SSL method and the S/MIME method.
With TLS/SSL method once its configured all emails will be sent encrypted, but will not able to prevent emails from being impersonated.
In contrast, the S/MIME method is an encryption technique driven by e-signature authentication technology. Encryption is applied using the digital certificate issued by the certificate authority. A digital signature is commonly used to apply anti-spoofing and resolve known impersonation issues.
There is a way for users to check email content and attachment by using a technique called threat extraction. There are two main methods to extract threats while observing the content. One way is to extract the content from the potential threat, and another is to extract the attack program from the email.
Some programs will let users harmlessly observe the content of the email by only extracting the message content to a text or image file. This way user can check the details without triggering infection through any sorts of execution.
There is also a program designed to extract malicious URL threats by converting links to an un-clickable format or entirely removing links. Extracting HTML to plain text mail is another effective countermeasure.
However, threat extracted emails tend to arrive at the receiver's computer in an un-equivalent structure causing potential confusion and issues. If you need the original format of these emails, contact the service administrator as they are most likely stored on the server or associated system storage.
We described the major security risks and countermeasures related to emails. Email is used as a standard communication tool throughout many business and personal environments. Applying security improvements to an email system can prevent harm and infection that can lead to critical damages.
Start improving your security by learning about email threat security risks and applying proper security standards. Your day to day preparation is the key solution to maintain your technology safety.