What Is Email Security? How To Protect Your Enterprise Email

Protect Your Sensitive Content With Email Security

Email security is the main line of defense to keep hackers from accessing sensitive content that is sent inside and outside of your organization. Email security also keeps spam from slowing down your email system and degrading the productivity of your employees.

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Email Security Defined

Email security is software, procedures, and techniques put in place to protect email accounts and communications from potential hackers and spam. It is the process of protecting email accounts, messages, and other sensitive information from unauthorized access, theft, and malicious attacks. Email security aims to safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of email communication.

Email Security vs. Regular Cybersecurity

Unlike traditional cybersecurity, email security aims to protect a specific channel of communication that is vulnerable to attacks. Email security addresses the risks associated with emails, including message content, attachments, and links. Email security solutions must be able to detect and prevent phishing and ransomware attacks, among others.

Why Email Security Is Crucial for Enterprises

Email has become an integral part of business communication, and hence, security risks associated with it have also increased. The importance of email security can be gauged from the fact that emails carry sensitive and confidential information that, if compromised, can have catastrophic consequences. As a result, enterprises must have robust email security strategies in place.

The Importance of Developing an Email Security Strategy for Enterprises

It is essential for enterprises to develop robust email security strategies to prevent the risks associated with email attacks. By implementing an email security strategy, organizations can ensure employee security awareness, email security best practices, and technology controls within email systems.

Email Security: Key Components

Email security involves implementing various components, such as firewalls, antivirus software, anti-spam filters, and data encryption, to detect and prevent malicious email attacks. These components work together to safeguard email accounts and communication.

Common Threats to Email Security

Email is still one of the top forms of business communication in the world. It’s cheap, ubiquitous, and built on robust, open technology that is easy to deploy and scale. Furthermore, it is flexible—emails can be long and descriptive and contain images, attachments, and even HTML formatting.

Accordingly, the most used form of communication is also one of the biggest vehicles for security threats and attacks. A recent Kiteworks survey shows that businesses are well aware that email is their most significant risk vector: 68% stated that email communications is their #1 or #2 security risk.

Enterprise email is perhaps one of the more prominent targets for some of these threats, and for a good reason—email isn’t inherently secure. In fact, email is used for sharing most forms of personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI).

Generally speaking, there are three different potential attack surfaces for securing email:

  • Mail servers: Mail servers are where received messages and drafts are stored, and outgoing emails are sent from. Essentially, they control activity and contain all the emails sent and received by users on that server.
  • Email transmission: As emails are sent, they could fall victim to theft through man-in-the-middle attacks. Most email compliance standards require some form of security for emails during transit alongside server security.
  • Mail clients: Anyone who uses a client (like Outlook or Thunderbird) essentially pulls copies of emails to a local machine. There would be additional security requirements at that point.

Some of the more prevalent and relevant threats are as follows:

Email Security Threat #1: Accidental Exposure

This is probably the most common vulnerability. Email simply isn’t protected information once it reaches its destination. Once an email is in an inbox, anyone with access to that email account, or any device connected to it, can read the information.

Email Security Threat #2: Data Integrity at Rest

Once an email is on a server, either the sender’s or recipient’s, it must be protected from hacking. For the most part, this data isn’t encrypted.

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Email Security Threat #3: Accountability

Businesses with regulatory requirements will often have criteria to ensure that only the data owner (the consumer, patients, et al.) receives their information. Outside of accidental exposure, the business has no control over who receives information after it is sent via email.

Email Security Threat #4: Social Engineering

Phishing, spam, and other scams are common with email. While this isn’t often a direct concern for businesses sending messages, it is a problem for users receiving messages who may find themselves the subject of a business email compromise attack or something similar.

Email Security Threat #5: Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks on email involve intercepting and altering communication between two parties, allowing an attacker to read, modify, or redirect emails. These attacks can occur when an attacker gains access to a network or device, allowing them to intercept emails as they are transmitted. To prevent man-in-the-middle attacks on email, it is important to use secure email protocols, such as encryption, and to be cautious when accessing email on public networks.

Common Vulnerabilities in Enterprise Email Systems

Enterprise email security is a critical aspect of enterprise security, and businesses must ensure they have robust security protocols in place to protect against vulnerabilities and achieve compliance with regulations. Common vulnerabilities in enterprise email systems include:

Outdated Email Servers and Software

Outdated email servers and software pose significant security risks, as cybercriminals can exploit existing vulnerabilities to infiltrate enterprise email systems. Enterprise email systems that rely on outdated servers and software are more susceptible to security breaches, such as phishing attacks and malware infections. To mitigate these risks, it is recommended that businesses use the latest email servers and software that offer the most up-to-date security features and protocols.

Free Email Services

Enterprises that use free email services for business purposes are exposing themselves to a range of security vulnerabilities. Free email services often do not offer the same level of security as enterprise-grade email systems, and data breaches have been known to occur on these services. Additionally, free email services may not provide sufficient backup and recovery options, which can be problematic if emails containing sensitive or confidential information are lost.

Email Forwarding and Auto-reply Features

Email forwarding and auto-reply features, while convenient, can pose security risks if not configured correctly. Hackers often exploit these features to gain unauthorized access to email accounts, as they can use them to forward emails to their own accounts or send phishing emails to large groups of people. To prevent these types of incidents, it is crucial that businesses configure their email forwarding and auto-reply settings with robust security protocols in place. They also should implement controls and tracking within a private content network to prevent unauthorized file and email views and shares.

Email Storage in the Cloud

Storing email data in the cloud can be a cost-effective solution for businesses, but it also poses a range of security vulnerabilities. Cloud service providers are attractive targets for hackers, as they store vast amounts of data for numerous clients. Enterprises must work with cloud providers that offer robust security protocols, and implement additional security measures such as two-factor authentication and encryption to mitigate the risks associated with cloud-based email storage. Also, most email solutions in the cloud are hosted in multi tenant environments, which can be exploited by cybercriminals and rogue nation-states, and security and scalability issues affecting other tenants can impact others in the same environment.

Email Security Technologies and Solutions

Thankfully, there are several technologies or mechanisms enterprises can utilize to secure their sensitive email communications. Here are some standard security approaches that providers may follow:

Transport Layer Security (TLS) for Email Security

TLS encryption, a descendant of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) tunneling encryption, protects information during transmission between one email server and another. Since TLS is an open protocol that obfuscates data between servers, most email providers will use TLS to protect emails between servers.

End-to-End Encryption for Email Security

E2E is the process of encrypting an email message from the moment it is sent from the sender’s client to its final destination on a recipient’s client. Unlike TLS, end-to-end solutions also include encryption for messages at rest and allow for securing messages on a server so that only the recipient can read them. Some popular forms of end-to-end encryption include S/MIME or PGP public-key cryptography.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) for Email Security

Most popular providers (and almost all providers following email compliance standards) include MFA to protect access to user accounts.

Email Gateways for Email Security

Gateways are a security screen where an automated system literally screens emails to catch threats. This includes removing disallowed attachments, raising alerts for emails from external domains, and blocking emails from other domains or ranges of IP addresses.

Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems for Email Security

Firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are additional security tools that can be applied to enterprise email systems. Firewalls and IDS monitor network traffic and identify potential threats or suspicious activity. They can block suspicious incoming email traffic or outbound emails that contain sensitive information, such as intellectual property or personally identifiable information (PII). IDS and IPS detect and prevent unauthorized access to corporate email servers and prevent email-based attacks, such as ransomware, malware, and phishing attempts, from infiltrating the network. These technologies can be configured to automatically notify IT security teams in real time when a potential threat is detected, allowing prompt action to be taken before any harm is done.

Data Loss Prevention for Email Security

Data loss prevention (DLP) solutions monitor email traffic and detect potential data leaks or unauthorized data access. DLP solutions are designed to stop sensitive or confidential data from being leaked through email by analyzing the content of all outgoing emails to identify sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or corporate intellectual property. Unauthorized emails can be blocked, and alerts can be sent to security teams if suspicious behavior is detected, such as an employee emailing large amounts of data outside of business hours.

Email Filtering and Spam Protection for Email Security

Email filtering and spam protection are essential email security tools that help to identify and block unsolicited emails and spam messages. These tools use a set of predefined rules to analyze email traffic and identify emails that are potentially spam. Email filtering and spam protection technologies can be used to block emails from specific domains or IP addresses, block emails containing specific keywords, or block emails with specific attachments. These tools can also identify phishing emails by analyzing the content of incoming emails, links, and attachments. Advanced email filtering and spam protection solutions use machinelearning algorithms to improve spam detection accuracy and reduce the number of false positives, ultimately helping to prevent email-borne attacks from infiltrating the network.

Mobile Device Management for Email Security

Mobile device management (MDM) solutions are crucial in securing enterprise email communications on mobile devices. MDM solutions allow organizations to monitor and manage mobile devices that access the corporate email network. These solutions can be used to enforce security policies on mobile devices, such as device encryption, passcode policies, and device tracking. MDM solutions can also be used to remotely wipe data from lost or stolen devices, ensuring that sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands.

Many types of email security are deployed in most providers (MFA, TLS), while some are selectively deployed in enterprise email (gateways). End-to-end encryption, however, isn’t typically included with general-purpose email because incompatibilities between internal encryption standards can be problematic and incur complexities and inefficiencies. According to Kiteworks research, 79% of respondents said that they spent 20+ hours per month dealing with encrypted files from third parties, with 41% of respondents stating they spent over 30 hours per month on that problem.

That inefficiency is a problem, and not just because it wastes time and money. Of those participants we surveyed, a full 60% reported that, when given an encrypted email that they don’t have the technology for, they simply ask the sender to resend that message or file unencrypted.

Additionally, these providers wouldn’t be able to scan or otherwise read a message with end-to-end encryption because the decryption process would only occur when the user opens the email.

Email Security and Regulatory Compliance

Compliance regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR require businesses to protect sensitive data during email communication, and compliance frameworks provide a structured approach to achieving email security and compliance.

Understanding Email Compliance Regulations

Email compliance regulations are put in place to ensure that businesses protect sensitive and confidential data during email communication. Enterprises must understand the regulations that apply to their industry and ensure that they are compliant with them. This includes regulations such as PCI DSS for the payment card industry, and SOX for publicly traded companies. To achieve compliance, businesses must implement robust email security protocols and processes.

HIPAA Compliance for Healthcare Organizations

Healthcare organizations must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations which require them to protect sensitive patient information during email communication. HIPAA compliance requires healthcare organizations to ensure that email data is encrypted during transit and storage, and to implement access controls and audit logs to track email activity. Failure to comply with HIPAA regulations can result in significant financial penalties, as well as damage to an organization’s reputation.

GDPR Compliance for Businesses Operating in the EU

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to businesses operating within the European Union (EU) and requires them to protect personal data during email communication. GDPR compliance requires businesses to implement robust email security measures such as encryption, access controls, and the ability to erase personal data upon request. Failure to comply with GDPR regulations can result in significant financial penalties, as well as damage to an organization’s reputation.

Compliance Frameworks for Email Security

Compliance frameworks provide a structured approach to achieving email security and compliance. Examples of compliance frameworks include ISO 27001, NIST, and COBIT. These frameworks provide guidelines and best practices for implementing email security protocols and processes, as well as auditing and monitoring email activity. Compliance frameworks help to ensure that businesses are following a standardized approach to email security and can help to improve overall email security posture.

Best Practices for Achieving Email Security

Securing email involves coordinating your technical capabilities with the needs of your business. Not every enterprise needs a complex gateway or encryption standard to make their email secure. On the other hand, other companies may eschew email altogether in lieu of other solutions to share information without breaching privacy or confidentiality regulations.

Some best practices organization needs to follow for securing email communications include:

  • Protect employee emails with encryption and MFA: Whether organizations are working with either on-premises email or a third-party provider (most likely the latter), they need to ensure they are using TLS encryption for data in transit and have encrypted servers using AES-256 to protect information at rest. Using MFA, including biometrics, prevents attackers who have stolen a user’s credentials via phishing from successfully accessing that encrypted email, since they don’t have the second authentication factor.
  • Implement a secure email gateway: A gateway can help protect emails by creating a contained, secure channel between multiple parties through which secure emails can be sent, with email encrypted at the sending through the one receiving the email. This approach also minimizes social engineering attacks, specifically by limiting how people send emails over the channel.
  • Use secure portals: Secure portals, often called webmail, allow organizations to store attachments locally on encrypted servers protected with MFA rather than in the email server. Emails direct recipients to create accounts and log into the portals to securely download and decrypt the attachments in full regulatory compliance.

Secure Email Gateway (SEG) for Enterprise

Secure email gateway (SEG) is an enterprise-level security solution that provides advanced protection to email communications. The SEG functions as an email filtering and monitoring tool that checks every incoming and outgoing email for possible security risks.

SEG technology works by analyzing and scanning email content, attachments, and links to identify potential threats. If a suspicious email is detected, the SEG can eliminate or quarantine the email. The SEG also utilizes machine learning and artificial intelligence to recognize patterns of email behavior that may be indicative of a security threat.

What is a Secure Email Gateway?

A secure email gateway is an essential element of a robust enterprise email security program. This protective measure serves as a formidable barrier between your company’s email infrastructure and cyber threats, significantly reducing the potential for data breaches and cyber attacks.

With a secure email gateway, businesses can proactively enhance their email security strategies, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive correspondence at an enterprise level. Therefore, investing in a secure email gateway is a smart move for any business committed to top-tier enterprise email security.

What Type of Email Threats do Secure Email Gateways Protect Against?

Secure email gateways protect against various types of email threats such as phishing attacks, malware and ransomware, spam and unwanted email, email spoofing and business email compromise (BEC), email scams and fraud, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, and other advanced persistent threats (APTs) targeting email infrastructure.

How Does a Secure Email Gateway Work?

A secure email gateway works by applying various security measures to incoming and outgoing emails to prevent unauthorized access, avoid data breaches, and protect against cyber threats such as phishing, malware, and spam.

The gateway scans emails before they reach their destination, looking for signs of suspicious activity or content, such as unknown or suspicious senders, suspicious attachments or links, and malicious code.

  1. Email filtering: The secure email gateway filters incoming and outgoing emails to detect suspicious emails, which are then blocked or quarantined.
  2. Sender authentication: The gateway checks the sender’s credentials and verifies the sender’s identity to prevent spoofing.
  3. Content Inspection: The gateway analyzes the email content to detect malicious content, including viruses, malware, and phishing attempts.
  4. Encryption: Some secure email gateways use encryption to protect confidential or sensitive data during transit.
  5. Spam filtering: The gateway also filters out unwanted spam or promotional emails, reducing the chances of users clicking on malicious links or downloading dangerous attachments.
  6. DLP (data loss prevention): A secure email gateway can also prevent data loss by monitoring emails for confidential or sensitive information and preventing unauthorized access or sharing of that information.
  7. Threat intelligence: Many secure email gateways use threat intelligence to proactively protect against known or emerging threats. This involves continuously monitoring the email environment for new threats and updating security protocols accordingly.

Achieve Maximum Email Security With Kiteworks Email Protection Gateway

The Kiteworks Private Content Network delivers secure, compliant email that doesn’t compromise enterprise usability. It provides enterprise-grade encryption and uniform security controls via a Microsoft Outlook Plugin, a web app, mobile apps, and enterprise application plugins for Google Workplace, Microsoft Office, iManage 9 and 10, and Salesforce Service Cloud. Recently, Kiteworks acquired totemo to integrate automated email encryption supporting the S/MIME, TLS, and OpenPGP encryption standards in users’ existing email clients, with end-to-end and gateway encryption options.

Further, Kiteworks-enabled PCNs allow organizations to:

  • Unify secure content communication technologies like secure file sharing, Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), managed file transfer (MFT), and secure forms for ease of use and standardized content audit trails. This includes natively extending standard email clients to promote a seamless user experience and protecting every email containing sensitive content sent through these clients.
  • Track content, metadata, user activity, and system events to boost security operations center (SOC) effectiveness, report on third-party access, and easily meet regulatory compliance reporting requirements.
  • Control content access and functional rules matched to risk profiles and user roles. Leverage centralized administration to cover emails alongside web forms, managed file transfer (MFT), and secure file sharing for a comprehensive administration experience.
  • Secure data through encryption of content at rest and in motion, protecting against unintended exposure of sensitive information to malicious actors.

Email is a major security risk, and a lack of comprehensive end-to-end encryption is a significant contributor to that problem. Kiteworks enables organizations to mitigate this risk through innovative email encryption.

Schedule a custom demo to see how the Kiteworks Email Protection Gateway can enable your organization to protect sensitive content sent and received over email while leveraging a platform model to extend privacy and compliance of sensitive content across numerous digital channels.

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