Most emails sent and received on a daily basis are fake and are meant to trick victims into falling for phishing schemes. The days of being able to read a message and tell right away if it was fraudulent are long gone; as technology advances, it is getting harder and harder for both people and computers to identify fraudulent emails. Organizations and people may, nevertheless, take certain precautions to guarantee that they remain safe from changing attacks and dangers.
Testing the Email Security of Your Company
You may evaluate and test the email security of your company in a few different ways. Let’s investigate them:
1. Cybersecurity Audits
Organizations might find weaknesses in their email security systems by conducting security audits. Independent audits conducted on your email systems analyze a bunch of aspects that can help surface existing flaws in your organization’s security posture, including:
- Security configuration reviews
- Access controls
- User permissions
- Encryption protocols
And these are just a few of the aspects that are analyzed during the audits! For organizations who want to review their current email security posture to uncover areas of improvement, this is a good way to do so.
2. Domain Security Analysis Tools
Your domain’s security determines how safe your emails are against impending cyber attacks. This is because domain names are often impersonated by cybercriminals to send phishing emails to unsuspecting victims. Domain security analysis tools perform the following actions:
- It analyzes the presence and validity of email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.
- It may also analyze the presence and validity of other authentication protocols like BIMI and MTA-STS.
- It detects errors in protocol configuration, including syntax errors.
- It displays the enforcement level of authentication.
- Finally, it provides a security rating or score depending on how well-protected your domain is against modern-day cyber-attacks.
Improving Your Organization’s Email Security
After testing your organization’s email security posture – it is time to make reprimands. Improving the security of your emails by implementing measures and controls to actively make a difference in how things are handled can make a huge impact on the deliverability of your emails.
1. Using two-factor authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication introduces an extra layer of security by enabling new means of verifying a user’s identity which can be done through biometrics, password, or phone number verification. One of these controls is placed after a user tries to log in to their email account following their login attempt through the password for their account. 2-factor authentication helps to significantly reduce the risk of identity theft, and unauthorized access to user accounts. If a cybercriminal is allowed access to your email they can potentially steal sensitive information that could lead to an unfortunate data breach.
2. Spreading Awareness on Attack Vectors
It is essential for organizations to take awareness very seriously. More often than not, employees become the weakest link for initiating phishing attacks leading to the next biggest data breach. Employees must learn about the dangers of clicking on suspicious-looking links and attachments on emails that come with a hook or a lure. For example: if today your employee received an email from Amazon providing an 80% discount coupon with a link that doesn’t even look like an authentic link to an Amazon webpage, they should be able to make the call of not falling for it.
3. Implementing Email Authentication Protocols
Email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC can help you take your email security to new heights! They work by verifying the origin of sending sources, checking your message’s content, and even providing actionable measures to take control of bad emails.
SPF, or Sender Policy Framework, is a protocol used to authenticate your emails that is enabled by publishing a text record on your DNS that contains a list of email-sending domains and IP addresses that are authorized to send emails on your root domain’s behalf.
Example: If a domain owner wants to authorize Google Workspace to send emails on their domain’s behalf, they would include the domain spf.google.com in their SPF record as shown below, which will help receiving servers extract all of Google’s authorized IP addresses:
v=spf1 include:_spf.google.com ~all
However, SPF comes with a few limitations. The most prominent one is that RFC specifies restrictions on the number of DNS lookups, which is currently limited to a maximum of 10 per session. This can easily be bypassed by optimizing your SPF record using SPF macros that help shorten the record and limit the lookups to never exceed the limit.
DKIM, short for DomainKeys Identified Mail allows senders to add a digital signature to emails that prevents messages from being altered by threat actors before they get delivered to the intended recipient. DKIM is also highly effective in certain situations where SPF fails to verify messages – such as in the case of email forwarding. Forwarded emails inevitably fail the sender policy framework check because forwarded emails pass through an intermediary server that is more often than not, not listed in the sending domain’s SPF record as an authorized source. However, DKIM signatures are preserved during forwarding to ensure that man-in-the-middle attacks can be reduced or prevented.
Finally, DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) is the glue that binds it together:
- Aligning your messages against SPF and DKIM
- In case authentication fails for an email, a DMARC policy provides instructions to receivers on how to respond to this email, that is what action should or should not be taken
- DMARC can also be made to instruct the recipient’s mailbox provider (google, yahoo, etc) to send back DMARC reports to the source that contains data related to the authentication results and policy configurations.
When DMARC fails, one can configure any of 3 given policies:
- None: The “none” policy can be considered as a no-action policy in DMARC wherein even if your email fails to be verified as authentic, the email faces no consequences and is safely delivered to the recipient’s inbox.
- Quarantine: The “quarantine” policy can be considered as an intermediate policy which is ideal for senders who do not want to fully commit to maximum enforcement but wish to implement some regulatory measures that can give them a certain extent of control over the treatment of unauthenticated messages.
- Reject: The “reject” policy for DMARC is ideal for domain owners who are ready to commit to maximum enforcement. Reject enables you to instruct your recipients’ email server to discard emails that fail authentication. It is important to exercise caution when on p=reject because if you are not sure of your sending sources, it is probably not a good idea to enable “reject” since it may result in false negatives and cause deliverability issues.
4. Don’t Ignore Encryption, Spam Filtering, and Antiviruses
Email senders must understand that simply implementing authentication protocols is never enough. It should always be followed by enabling encryption, spam filtering, updating security patches, and using the latest version of your antivirus software. Email encryption (eg. using Transport Layer Security of TLS) allows senders to enable end-to-end encryption on their emails to secure their transmissions and ensure that man-in-the-middle attackers cannot eavesdrop on your conversations.
Major mailbox providers like Google and Microsoft have built-in spam filtering mechanisms in place that are quite powerful. However, if you are using external services for these protections you must make sure that they are always up-to-date to make sure that you stay protected against sophisticated and evolving threats.
To ensure you don’t end up falling victim to phishing scams, you need to frequently evaluate your email’s security and update your methods to tackle more sophisticated attacks. Cybercriminals are getting smarter every day, coming up with tactics that are undetectable to even experienced professionals, however with improvements in technology and having an alert mindset – mitigation is possible!