By Fred Touchette, AppRiver

In today’s security landscape, email threats are one of the most common strategies utilized among cyber criminals. Much of the early spam traffic was annoying and essentially amounted to junk mail that consumed you and your company’s time. However, it wasn’t long before cyber criminals began using such messages to deliver far more destructive content. 

Email Attacks

Email-borne attacks come in the form of phishing, spear-phishing, Trojans, malicious attachments and hidden scripts.  Attack techniques are ever-evolving and adapt with technology in an effort to stay ahead of security professionals - driving malware authors to become very good at what they do.

An unwanted email can contain an exploit that gives a hacker unlimited access to your computer or your organization’s network. While spam remains the most widely used means to deliver malware, it’s not the only one. Some attackers deliver a convincing ruse to their targets via email and provide a Web link. Simply clicking on an infected link within an email can lead to a malicious website that will download malware and compromise your entire network.

For example, some sites serve as redirects, while others provide exploits that leverage vulnerabilities in popular software such as Java or Adobe Reader to gain access to machines.  Additional redirects along the way can provide payloads that help the attacker retain access to now-compromised machines as well as other components that can steal your bank account information, browser histories, cookies and other information.

Email Safety Tips

In order to ensure you are not the next victim of an email-generated cyber attack, here are five simple tips you and your business can use to combat these risks:

Use a Quality Email Filter: This can prevent you from coming into contact with a cyber-threat.

Be Aware of Unsolicited Emails: Never click on a link – or an attachment – from an unsolicited email.

Use Simple Logic: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is, so delete the email. Especially if it is from someone you did not initiate contact with.

Change your Passwords: Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts. If a hacker gets his hands on your email password, he will attempt to access other accounts using the same credentials.

Educate Yourself: The most effective preventive strategy is to educate yourself and members within your organization on potential email security threats. Be prudent email users so that possible conflicts are avoided as much as possible.

Email Encryption

In addition to the threats from malicious messages, it is important to realize your organization’s own emails can be compromised.  The best way to think about an unencrypted email is as a postcard that can be read by anyone while it is in transit.

Based on the growing volume of sensitive information crossing networks daily, regulatory bodies have turned their concerns to ensure messages are protected from unauthorized viewing.

The following list includes just some of the requirements that are driving email encryption adoption in the United States and around the world:

The consequences of violating these and other industry encryption requirements can include fines, incarceration, public embarrassment, loss of business privileges and customer/stakeholder trust.

Even though governments and law enforcement officials have begun to fight back against these cyber-criminals, it is important for you and your business to understand these threats and how you can protect yourselves. Email is one of the largest points of vulnerability within an organization, so following the basic steps listed above will help you protect valuable information and ensure you are not the victim of a cyber-attack.

Fred Touchette joined AppRiver in February 2007 as a senior security analyst. In this role, Touchette is primarily responsible for evaluating security controls and identifying potential risks. He provides advice, research support, project management services and information security expertise to assist in designing security solutions for new and existing applications. During his tenure at AppRiver, Touchette has been instrumental in assessing critical IT threats and implementing safeguard strategies and recommendations. He holds many technical certifications, including GSEC, CCNA, GPEN, COMP-TIA Security+ and GREM - GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware through the SANS initiative.