Explore the three most common email attacks, their consequences, and the ways to avoid them.
Do you know that on average an organization receives hundreds of emails every day?
Emails have been continuously proving that it is the best communication channel in the corporate world. Most organizations are still using email as the primary communication channel to communicate with colleagues, customers, and partners. However, the disadvantage of using email is that it has become the most frequently used platform for hackers targeting businesses.
According to the N Business, the UAE witnessed more than 600,000 phishing attacks in Q2 2020. It also mentioned that 2.57 million phishing attacks were detected across the Middle East region from the beginning of April to the end of June 2020.
This figure tells us how cybercriminals are using emails to target organizations in the region. And among all the types of email-based attacks, there are three particular ones that hackers are really fond of. Read on to find out more about these three attack vectors.
In a phishing attack, the malicious actors pretend to be someone legitimate to obtain your sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and other personal information. In most cases, phishers send out a high volume of fraudulent emails that looks legitimate to trick the users into clicking a malicious link or downloading the attachment.
How phishing works:
- Phishers spoof legitimate emails so that the victim trusts them.
- They send out massive amounts of fraudulent emails to make sure a few percentages of recipients fall for the trap.
- They create a sense of urgency so that the victim does not think twice before clicking the link or downloading the attachment.
Spear phishing is another form of phishing technique, the only difference is that the method is advanced. Unlike phishing, cybercriminals target a specific individual. However, similar to phishing, the malicious actors impersonate a legitimate source in spear phishing too. But in this particular case, the actors target someone specifically to impersonate.
The person to be impersonated can be anyone who the recipient knows or trusts completely. Moreover, the hackers research in advance about the target so that they don’t make any mistakes while making the email appear legitimate. Consequently, this makes the cyber attack vector more sophisticated, convincing, and harder for the victim to identify.
How spear phishing works:
- Hackers acquire personal details of the victim such as their colleagues, seniors, home address, or places they visit the most on the internet.
- They disguise themselves as their trustworthy colleagues or seniors to obtain personal information.
Business Email Compromise (BEC)
BEC attacks occur when the malicious actors impersonate colleagues, C-suite executives, or high-ranking officials to target victims and trick them into transferring funds into the hacker’s bank account. Sometimes the hackers also hijack the senior official’s email account to run the attack. Most of the time, the email appears to be from a colleague, senior official within the organization, or business partner.
How BEC works:
- The attackers impersonate someone from the organization or business partner or hack their email account.
- Runs the campaign by sending out mass emails.
- Trick the victim into trusting them and make them transfer money or worse it will lead to a data breach.
Consequences of Email-based Attacks
There can be several consequences because of email-based attacks. Some of them are listed below:
Malware is basically a blanket term for malicious software that includes viruses, worms, trojans, and other harmful software with malicious intent. It is delivered to the victims in terms of malicious links or attachments. When the victim clicks the links or downloads an attachment, the malware gets inside the system of the victim.
Ransomware is a form of malware that locks the victim out of his system and in exchange, the hackers demand ransom from the victim. Similar to malware, ransomware is often delivered to the victim via a phishing or spear phishing attack.
- Credential theft
This occurs when the hackers obtained the victim’s credentials through a phishing or spear phishing attack. Often the hackers send out emails that include malicious links. When the victim clicks upon the link they are redirected to a fraudulent website where they were asked to submit their credentials.
- Wire transfer fraud
Wire transfer fraud takes place when the hackers trick the victim into transferring funds into the hacker’s bank account. In most cases, hackers pretend to be someone who is closely associated with the victim within the organization.
How to Mitigate the Risks of Email-based Attacks?
Though email-based attacks are the most common cyber attacks to harm an organization, there is a silver lining. The catch here is that most of these attacks are low-tech and involve manipulating the employee. As a result, organizations can prevent these attacks with the combination of training, awareness, and appropriate email security standards and tools.
Some of the best security practices an organization can implement are mentioned below:
- Educate your employees
Provide cyber security training and awareness for your employees so that they are aware of the cyber attack vectors. They should have the knowledge and experience of how to react when they face cyber attacks. To achieve this, simulated cyber attacks will help them experience how it actually works or looks in the real world.
- Check on current security infrastructure
It is advisable to know where your organization stands in terms of being prepared to combat the existing and emerging email threats. Analyzing the current security posture can help you find the loopholes and where it needs to be patched.
- Enforce a strong password policy
When it comes to defending against email-based attacks, a strong password policy acts as the first defense line. Hence, organizations should enforce a strong password policy and also make sure that employees are following the same. A strong password policy consists of having different passwords for different accounts, passwords that are a combination of uppercase and lowercase along with numbers and symbols, etc.
- Defend email spoofing
Implement tools that can help you stop impersonating your email domain. Tools such as TDMARC does the same thing. The tool monitors SPF, DKIM, and DMARC (outbound email authentication protocols) to protect your email domain against brand impersonation.