Email security risks and how to safeguard your email and network.

Many people do not fully realize that email is not a private form of communication. Personal or company information is always vulnerable because emails messages contain information valuable to hackers and inboxes provide a potential entryway in corporate IT networks. Once a hacker has access to an email account, they may be able to find your credit card information or transfer money from your bank accounts — and even steal your identity. For companies, an email breach can expose their networks to information theft, malware, and other harms.

The financial consequences of an email breach can be huge, resulting in compromised accounts and data, user downtime, remediation costs, loss of customers, and legal fees. Depending on the type of business, hackers can steal information ranging from customer data and sales figures to banking, insurance, and medical data.

Let’s take a look at email security risks and how to protect your email account or IT network.

Types of email threats

There are two major types of email threats from hackers: hazards sent to inboxes and attempts to intercept your messages while in transit.

Hackers often use emails as a way to deliver malware or to seize an organization’s or individual’s sensitive information. When employees read a hacker’s email and open an attachment, they open up their organization’s network to a possible attack. Email threats include:

  • Viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, worms, and malware.
  • Phishing: This is the use of deceptive email messages to trick users into responding to an email to download malware or disclose sensitive information, such as account numbers and user names and passwords, or perform actions that cause data or financial losses.
  • Spearfishing: This is a type of phishing that targets specific individuals. Hackers research victims and craft individualized messages to increase the odds that recipients will open the email and an attachment.
  • Ransomware: This type of malware prevents authorized users from accessing some or all of their IT network, often by locking or encrypting user files. The hackers then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key.

Cybercrimes are not the only threats involved with email. Employees and other authorized users can unintentionally send sensitive information via email, exposing the organization to potential monetary losses, reputational loss, or legal action.

Hackers also target emails that are in transit. Most emails are sent over external networks beyond the reach of an organization’s security measures. The content of emails sent over untrusted networks can be read, copied, and modified at any point along.

Information that shouldn’t be sent via email

It may seem obvious, but there are many types of information that people should not include in work or personal emails:

  • Credit card details, particularly the expiration date and CCV number
  • Social security numbers
  • Social security numbers, birth dates, and other personal information.
  • Account numbers and PINs
  • User names and passwords

You should pass along this information only by phone (by voice, not text) or online via secured networks.

In the workplace, employees need to be vigilant not to divulge computer log-ins and passwords. Hackers target these authorized credentials to gain access to the organization’s network and get the information they need. Email security also has a compliance aspect. For example, healthcare providers are required by law to safeguard patient information, so transmitting patient information via email may constitute a HIPAA violation.

Security safeguards

Every day, hackers successfully gain access to corporate or individual emails and email accounts. Armed with access to an email account, they can reset passwords on banking and e-commerce sites or further infiltrate an organization’s IT network.

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your email accounts and emails in transit.

  • Use management controls: Organizations should implement security processes and procedures to lower the risk of email hacks. For example, security awareness training can help employees identify and report suspicious emails.
  • Make sure your mail server is secure: Reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities by configuring user authentication and access, protecting log files, upgrading server software, downloading all security patches, and periodically testing mail server application security.
  • Make sure your mail client is secure: Disable automatic opening of messages, patch and upgrade mail client applications, and enable antivirus, antispam, and anti-phishing features.
  • Make sure email transmissions are secure: Encrypt user authentication sessions and, if desired, encrypt messages. Adopt a digital rights management system to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Individuals can take these two simple steps to help protect their emails:

  • Use a password manager to change all of your online passwords to make them strong and unique for each account.
  • Use email providers that offer two-factor authentication security.

For added protection

If you want additional protection against hackers, your organization can adopt a transport layer security (TLS) solution. It will encrypt emails and data transfers, providing end-to-end security of data sent between applications over the internet.

You have invested a lot in your IT infrastructure. To ensure its performance, reliability, and security, a network solutions provider can provide a qualified team to protect your network and data. Contact us today to learn more about our managed IT security services.

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