How to defend your business against sophisticated email threats.

Man reading email on desktop computer.

Essential steps for robust email threat protection.

For most businesses, email is a critical form of daily communication. However, it’s also one of the primary avenues for cyberthreats. 

Despite constant advances in protection, email threats continue to evolve, becoming more sophisticated and elusive. As businesses increasingly become targets, it’s important to better understand the nature of these threats and proactively work to implement robust defenses.

The growing complexity of email threats.

Email threats have come a long way from the simplistic spam of the Y2K era. Cybercriminals are now deploying highly complex and targeted attacks that can bypass traditional gateway security measures. Without advanced email protections in place, many of these attacks are harder to detect—and more dangerous if they succeed.

Recent reports indicate a significant rise in phishing attacks, ransomware, and business email compromise (BEC). Cybercriminals are leveraging advanced social engineering techniques, machine learning, and automation to craft personalized and convincing messages. This evolution poses a significant challenge for businesses of all sizes, requiring a proactive and informed approach to email security. 

Understanding different types of email threats.

To effectively defend against email threats, it’s essential to understand the most common methods. Below are some of the primary attack vectors that CMIT Solutions has identified in the last few years:

  • Phishing. This is the most common type of email threat. Phishing emails aim to deceive recipients into divulging sensitive information like login credentials, financial details, or personal data. These emails often appear to come from legitimate sources and can be highly convincing.
  • Malware. Emails often arrive carrying various types of malware, including viruses, trojans, adware, and spyware. Typically included as an attachment to an email, these malicious programs can infiltrate a network, steal data, or cause other forms of damage.
  • Ransomware. These attacks involve malicious email-borne software installed on a user’s computer, quickly encrypting the recipient’s data. The attacker then demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. These attacks can cripple business operations and lead to substantial financial losses and data breaches.
     
  • Spearphishing. Unlike general phishing attacks, spearphishing attacks are highly targeted. Hackers often research their victims and create customized emails that appear to come from trusted sources. This personalization increases the likelihood of the recipient falling for the scam.
  • Business email compromise. BEC involves the compromise of a legitimate business email account through social engineering or hacking. Once inside, attackers can manipulate financial transactions, request sensitive data, or engage in other fraudulent activities. These attacks are highly sophisticated and can result in significant financial losses.
  • Impersonation. This attack method involves hackers mimicking high-level executives or trusted partners to trick employees into divulging information or initiating financial transactions. Impersonation can be used as part of a spearphishing or BEC campaign, or as a separate tactic.
  • Credential harvesting: Some emails contain links to fake websites that mimic legitimate login pages. When users enter their credentials into these illicit forms, they inadvertently give attackers access to their accounts.

How to defend against email threats.

Defending your business against sophisticated email threats requires a multi-layered approach—and collaboration with a trusted IT provider. Here are some actionable steps that can enhance your email security. 

  • Implement multi-factor authentication. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification before granting access to accounts. This could include a combination of something a user knows (like a password), something a user has (like a security token or unique code), and a personal piece of user information (like biometric verification). MFA makes it significantly harder for attackers to gain access, effectively reducing the risk of account compromise.
  • Deploy advanced email filtering. These solutions can detect and block phishing attempts, malware, and other malicious content before they reach your inbox. These filters use machine learning and AI to analyze email content, identify suspicious patterns, and prevent harmful messages from reaching users. Advanced filtering can also adapt to new threats, ensuring continuous protection.
  • Install automated software updates and security patches. A trusted IT provider can ensure that all systems—including email clients and security software—are regularly updated to protect against the latest threats. Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to launch attacks. Regular updates and patches fix these vulnerabilities, closing potential entry points for attackers.
  • Use secure email gateways. Free consumer email accounts don’t offer the same level of security as enterprise-grade gateways that provide additional protection. These gateways act as a first line of defense, scanning incoming and outgoing emails for threats and malicious content and blocking harmful messages. By filtering out dangerous emails before they reach your network, secure gateways help prevent malware infections and data breaches.
  • Encrypt all data. To protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, end-to-end encryption is a must. Encryption converts data into a coded format that can only be decoded with the correct decryption key. This ensures that even if attackers intercept the data, they cannot read or use it without the key, safeguarding your information.
  • Execute regular data backups. In addition to encryption, reliable data backups can mitigate the impact of malware and ransomware attacks. Backups should be performed frequently and stored securely, with periodic testing to ensure data can be restored quickly and accurately. In the event of a ransomware attack, having recent backups allows you to restore your data without paying the ransom.
     
  • Develop reliable incident response plans. These protocols quickly address and mitigate the impact of email-based attacks. A solid plan should outline the steps to take in case of an attack, including communication roles and responsibilities, system recovery steps, and virtualization procedures. Having a well-defined plan in place enables a swift and effective response to email-based attacks, minimizing damages and downtime.
  • Deliver employee training and education. It might seem like a simple step, but training employees on how to recognize and respond to email threats is a critical part of cybersecurity defense. This training should include identifying suspicious email characteristics, spotting unfamiliar senders, avoiding unexpected attachments, and using caution with urgent requests for sensitive information. Simulated phishing exercises empower employees to be vigilant, reinforcing their ability to spot and report potential threats. Security awareness training and education fosters a security-conscious culture, making employees a crucial line of defense.

All of these steps are best implemented with the help of a trusted IT provider who can implement robust security measures, monitor email traffic, and respond quickly to any incidents. At CMIT Solutions, we offer expertise, advanced tools, and continuous monitoring that extends the ability and capacity of in-house IT teams. 

Leaning into this kind of collaboration delivers comprehensive email security and overall business protection, keeping you up to date with the latest threat intelligence. Staying informed about emerging risks allows you to proactively adjust your security measures and prepare for future attacks.

By staying informed about the evolving landscape of email threats and implementing proactive security measures, businesses can significantly reduce their risk and safeguard their operations. Partnering with a trusted IT provider like CMIT Solutions can enhance your defenses and boost your preparedness.

Want to learn more about protecting against email threats? Contact CMIT Solutions today.

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