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3 Email Security Risks That Endanger Your Business

Sam Bocetta
Sam Bocetta

Businesses that don't ensure their emails are secure are giving cybercriminals an opening into their network.

Email is one of the most important modes of communication in any business. However, as more and more sensitive or business-critical information is sent via email, it becomes a vital target for cybercriminals on the lookout for information they can put to ill use.

Because email can both send and receive sensitive information, cybercriminals have multiple angles of attack, and these require the appropriate defensive measures. They can both target outgoing messages across unsecured networks and deceive unsuspecting employees with manipulative phishing emails.

This article will explain some of the most common email security risks and the approaches businesses and online stores can take to improve their security when using email.

Ensuring all employee devices are secure 

Allowing employees to use their own devices at work can greatly enhance their ability to enjoy flexible and remote working arrangements. This can, in turn, increase employee output and job satisfaction. However, ensuring that each of these devices is secure can be challenging.

As more and more employees decide to use their own devices at the workplace, and with 4.7 million Americans now working remotely, it is incredibly difficult to control how (and when) devices are used outside the office, and how well email security is implemented. Employee devices are almost always unprotected, which is concerning, because these same devices are used to access corporate files. 

This means that while it may be better for employees to allow them to use their own devices, it is simultaneously difficult to do so and remain secure and compliant with data protection. 

This is especially true when your business is using an email hosting service with poor security. You need to be very selective when choosing an email host for your business because while there are many great email hosts as well as web hosts on the market, most are consumer-oriented and not the best fit for professional use. The best email hosting services for businesses always have a security-first approach, and at the bare minimum, should offer spam protection, DDoS protection and regular backups. 

Despite all of this, if you allow your employees to work remotely or flexibly, there are key steps you can take to ensure your data is protected. Training employees on the risks of unsecured devices is one of the most important steps you can take, because when an employee understands just how vulnerable their device is, what kind of threats are looking to target those vulnerabilities, and what the cost would be the business, they are far more incentivized to make the necessary changes. 

Such changes could be advising them to use VPNs to hide their activity and IP address, educating them on using password managers and strong passwords (that aren't the same as their personal ones), and using two-factor authentication. 

Doing so doesn't just protect your device, but your entire business network. This is particularly important if you are using cloud-based or SaaS platforms, because while these models come with many benefits, they also can be more susceptible to breaches.

Devices are also regularly lost each year, so ensuring that they are adequately protected, such as screen locked and password-protected, is essential in case they fall into the hands of a bad agent.

Likewise, ensure all devices have adequate antivirus and firewall software, as well as the most recent operating system patches, helps ensure there aren't any gaping security holes. If this is a case where it is someone's personal device, it is a good idea to offer this software at a cost to the company, to ensure security and compliance.

Watch out for spam

An easy way to put your company at risk is to fail to appreciate the dangers of the spam folder. Over 50 billion spam emails are sent out every single day, and all it takes is one for your company to be put at risk of a serious data breach.

Spam emails carry a number of different threats. One way they can attack is by attaching infected files that once opened release malware onto your company's system. Another way is by spamming emails that cause a server crash, leading to downtime and a loss of business productivity. Similarly, an influx of spam can cause employees to delete with reckless abandon which can lead to valuable emails being lost.

By using intelligent filters for email inboxes, you can reduce some of this risk. Suspicious emails or even those with attachments can be sent to specific quarantine folders where they can be reviewed during a set, focused time, where malicious emails are less likely to slip through the cracks.

Educating employees on the risks of replying to, or even opening spam emails is also critical. Making sure they understand how easy it is for malware attachments to infect one device (or all of the business devices through the cloud) is key.

Companywide email signatures

There is one less-obvious email security risk that needs to be addressed: signatures.

Company email signatures have become part and parcel with brand identity. This is because a branded email helps to increase your level of brand awareness while also deeming your correspondence to be more trustworthy from the imagery alone.

But using branded email signatures irresponsibly can come with enormous costs. For example, one company was placed into the legally binding contract because it's correspondence contained a poorly-thought-out automated signature.

Every business's email signatures need to be managed responsibly and should reflect the needs of the company. After all, what company wants to be tied to a contract they can't leave?

However, if you can ensure that your employees are using the same signature block for every piece of correspondence – both internal and external – you can be sure that bad agents are using your employees' poor signature practices to their advantage. 

One of the most important ways to give yourself peace of mind when it comes to email security practices is to include disclaimers that protect you from being held responsible for every piece of correspondence that is sent. For example, you should include information that reflects how any views expressed in the email are those of the original sender.

Likewise, you should be careful to restrict the amount of personal information included in employee signatures. If they are the victim of data theft, the perpetrator can use this additional information to forge a more compelling "profile" of them.

In that regard, make sure to always use a service provider that actually makes your privacy a priority using quality encryption. Most major email platforms (Google and Yahoo) allow U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor communication and store user information on their servers, so it's vitally important that you go with an email service provider that will keep your emails private from the government, marketers and advertisers. 

Emails are one of the most effective forms of communication a business can use. But they are not without their risks. By failing to appreciate how unsecured devices can harm your business, you can expose yourself to the risks of a data breach. Likewise, educating employees on the risks of spam and email signatures will go a long way to keeping your business secure.


Image Credit: Rawpixel/Getty Images
Sam Bocetta
Sam Bocetta Member
Former defense contractor for the Navy. Security analyst and freelance correspondent for a number of media outlets. I find radical -- often heretical -- solutions to "impossible"? network security problems, and push early stage concepts from research to development. Program setup, people acquisition, deployment. Specialties: Naval engineering, Mechanical engineering, Marine Ops. Agile Management. InfoSec. Cryptography. Cyberwarfare & Cyberdefense. PRESENTLY: KRACK attack prevention, micropower systems defense. Writing my first book, democratizing personal privacy solutions for the broader public, due to publish in early 2021.