21 June 2023

Defend Your Business: Unveiling the Latest Email Security Threats and Expert Tips

Unveiling the Latest Email Security Threats and Expert Tips


In the ever-evolving landscape of email security threats, it is crucial to stay informed and proactive in safeguarding valuable data. This blog post unveils the latest trends in email security threats and equips you with expert tips and strategies to fortify your defences. By understanding the potential risks and implementing effective protective measures, you can minimise the chances of falling victim to email-related attacks and ensure the safety of your business.

Emerging Trends in Email-Based Attacks

As the digital landscape evolves, so too do email security threats faced by businesses around the world. South Africa is not immune. In the last year, several notable trends in email security threats have emerged, requiring businesses in the region to be particularly vigilant and proactive in their defences:

1. Business Email Compromise (BEC):

These attacks rely on social engineering tactics and carefully crafted email content where cybercriminals impersonate high-ranking executives or trusted partners to trick employees into transferring funds or sensitive data. According to INTERPOL’s Africa Cyberthreat Assessment Report 2023, Business Email Compromise remains the most prevalent threat vector in Africa, with businesses suffering major losses. It’s low-cost, low risk, but highly lucrative for cybercriminals who are increasingly sophisticated in their fraudulent BEC activities.

To combat BEC attacks, you need enhanced authentication practices, strict approval procedures for financial transactions, and clear communication channels for unusual requests.

2. Sophisticated Phishing Attacks:

Phishing, second on INTERPOL’s list of prevalent cyberthreats and cited as a growing concern, remains a pervasive threat, and South Africa is no exception. INTERPOL estimates that up to 90% of data breaches are linked to successful phishing attacks, making it the major source of stolen credentials and information.

Alarmingly, phishing techniques have grown increasingly sophisticated as attackers target victims with greater accuracy - crafting messages that appear to be from trusted sources such as banks, governments, or even friends and family members. These messages typically contain malicious links or attachments leading victims to malicious websites or malicious files containing viruses or malware.

To mitigate risk, business in South Africa needs to educate employees about the latest phishing techniques and implement robust email filtering and monitoring solutions to detect and block these threats.

3. Ransomware Targeting Critical Infrastructure:

South Africa is the 8th most targeted country globally when it comes to ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals use this malicious software, often delivered via email, to take control of critical business systems, encrypt data, and demand payments in exchange for restoring access. Ransomware attacks can be extremely costly to businesses, as the financial losses due to downtime and recovery efforts quickly add up.

INTERPOL notes the latest evolution in ransomware is the development of Ransomware as a Service (RaaS), which gives cybercriminals access to pre-developed ransomware to carry out attacks. This makes ransomware attacks easier than ever and attackers no longer need advanced technical skills and experience to execute.

Robust backup solutions, network segmentation, and regular security assessments are essential to protect against evolving ransomware threats.

4. Mobile Device Exploitation:

With the proliferation of mobile devices and remote work arrangements, South African businesses face an increased risk of email-based attacks targeting a plethora of devices on an increasingly sprawling network. With lines blurred between business and personal on mobile devices, and users connecting from outside the secure confines of office network infrastructure, these devises are especially vulnerable. To mitigate these risks, organisations must enforce strong mobile device security policies, including device encryption, multi-factor authentication, and regular security updates.

5. Zero-day Exploits:

Zero-day exploits are to software what sprawling mobile devices are to hardware. The more we digitise and adopt new software solutions, the greater our attack surface area. Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in software or systems unknown to the software vendor and that therefore have no available patch or fix. Cybercriminals leverage these unknown vulnerabilities to launch targeted attacks, including those through email channels. Zero-day exploits pose a significant challenge in the realm of email security, requiring that organisations are able to identify and address vulnerabilities in real time to minimise potential impact.

To address zero-day exploits effectively, organisations must adopt proactive measures including continuous monitoring, threat intelligence, and intrusion detection (and deception) systems. Rapid response and collaboration with software vendors are crucial in developing and deploying patches or mitigations as soon as vulnerabilities are identified. By staying vigilant and agile in the face of zero-day exploits, business can effectively reduce risks and protect email systems from emerging threats. Leveraging email security software with AI and machine learning capabilities can help you stay ahead of cybercriminals

Best Practices for Email Security

Cybercriminals target email because it is an easy entry point to other accounts and devices, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s vulnerable to human error. All it takes is one click to unleash a security crisis that can prove crippling for your business.

Given how often email is the preferred entry point for cyberattacks, it’s critical that businesses adopt a robust email security posture. You can enhance your email security posture by establishing policies and using tools that protect against malicious threats such as BEC, malware, and phishing attacks.

Because email sits at the intersection of people and platforms, and because email threats are reliant on human error, education is a key component of effective email security. Your employee email security education initiatives should include:

Educating and Training Employees on Email Security

  1. Phishing Awareness Training: Teaching Employees to Identify Suspicious Emails
  2. Social Engineering Simulations: Testing Employee Response to Manipulative Tactics
  3. Reporting Procedures: Encouraging a Culture of Cybersecurity Awareness

But it would be unfair and unwise to rely on education, alone – we are all human after-all, and where we can mitigate further against human error through systems and technology, we absolutely should. In addition to educating employees, the following email security best practises should be adhered to:

Email Security Best Practises

  1. Strong Password Policies: Creating Secure Login Credentials
  2. Encryption: Safeguarding Email Content from Unauthorised Access
  3. Regular Software Updates: Patching Vulnerabilities

In addition to these best practises, robust email authentication measures to validate your domain are essential to protect your organisation against spoofing attacks, and to maintain the health and credibility of your brand and business:

Implementing Robust Email Authentication Measures

  1. SPF, DKIM, and DMARC: enhancing email authentication
  2. Identity Threat Protection: reducing the risk of Business Email Compromise with SPF verification, bypass protection, domain anti-spoof and executive fraud protection.
  3. Effective SPAM Filters : blocking suspicious incoming messages, links and attachments with advanced SPAM and URL threat detection and 100% virus protection.

Finally, given how rapidly the threat landscape is evolving, it isn’t enough just to detect and prevent threats as they arise. You need an effective way of monitoring mailboxes for proactive threat protection, and a framework for responding to any breaches: -

Proactive Monitoring and Incident Response

  1. Real-Time Email Monitoring: Detecting Anomalies and Suspicious Activities
  2. Incident Response Plan: Establishing Steps to Mitigate and Recover from Email Security Breaches
  3. Threat Intelligence: Investigating Email Security Incidents and Gathering Evidence

Email security is essential, but getting it right requires specialist skill. The good news is that there are a number of email security software solution providers who can help you on your journey to email security peace of mind.

Secure Email Service Providers: Choosing the Right Partner

Finding the right partner for your email security requirements can feel like a mine field. But there are a number of criteria you should consider when evaluating providers: -

1. Security Features: Encryption, Data Leak Protection, and Anti-Malware Measures

At a minimum, your provider should meet basic security requirements including domain authentication (SPF, DKIM, and DMARC), spam detection, virus protection, and Identity Threat Protection (ITP).

2. Privacy and Compliance: Ensuring Regulatory Compliance in Email Communications

We live in a privacy-first era, and it’s governed by legislation that varies across national borders. A breach in data-privacy legislation can be as costly as a cyberthreat data breach. Consider where you house your mailbox data and whether your hosting and email security provider is well-versed in (and more importantly, compliant with) relevant, localised legislation.

3. Service Level Agreements (SLAs): Understanding Security Commitments and Support

Finally, consider the service level commitments providers promise, as a guarantee to the services they provide. Look for a provider who guarantees protection. Also consider value added services like training and support – and whether provider’s local footprints and infrastructure can support those services in a way that makes sense for your business needs.

Conclusion: Strengthening Your Business's Email Security Defences

To protect against email security threats, businesses in South Africa must adopt a multi-layered approach. This includes implementing advanced email security and authentication mechanisms, and educating employees about emerging threats. It is crucial to prioritise employee training on identifying phishing attempts, social engineering tactics, and to identify anything suspicious.

Furthermore, businesses should consider partnerships with secure email service providers that prioritise a Privacy First approach, data protection, and compliance with data regulations. Partnering with a provider who helps you stay updated on the latest email security trends, threat intelligence, and industry best practices is essential for maintaining a robust security posture.

By implementing these measures, businesses in South Africa can significantly enhance resilience against email security threats. You can safeguard valuable assets, protect your reputation, and maintain the trust of customers and partners.

Remember, email security is not a luxury but a necessity. Prioritising and investing in email security today will go a long way in fortifying the defences of your business tomorrow and in the future. Stay vigilant, stay proactive, and stay secure in the face of evolving email security threats. Download our TRENDS & TIPS infographic and Contact us to find out more.