Email has long been a target for cybercriminal activity. Once commonly plagued with schemes and scams to part message recipients from their funds, today’s operators are often focused on obtaining a different commodity – data.

From personally identifiable information (PII) retained on staff, suppliers, clients and customers to private company communications and confidential contracts, the content in company emails and accounts can prove exceptionally valuable to threat operators. If obtained, it can be used to leverage payments in ransomware attacks or be sold on hacker forums to other cybercriminals. Both of these scenarios represent expensive data breaches, resulting in enterprises incurring serious costs from system downtime, forensic investigation and fines from regulators.

Despite its security limitations, email is still the preferred communication method of international organisations, government agencies and enterprises of all sizes, from start-ups to corporations. Evidence of its vulnerability is not difficult to find. Although we’re less than halfway through the year, 2021’s headlines have been filled with a host of email security issues, from compromised data in third-party emails linked to the Ministry of Defence here in the UK to tens of thousands of email accounts accessed without authorisation across the US after flaws were exploited in the Microsoft Exchange.

While hackers were quick to take advantage of the chaos caused by the coronavirus with a host of COVID-related email attacks, this year has seen other issues become prevalent, like the leaking of private data and hijacking of private networks.

What happens to stolen email addresses?

Spring this year saw the exposure of millions of user email addresses. On April 3, around 533 million stolen personal data records belonging to Facebook users located in 106 different countries were given away for free online on a Dark Web hacking forum. Along with email addresses, the individual’s PII included full names, biographical data, locations and phone numbers.

Just three days later, on April 6, more than 500 million email addresses from profiles on LinkedIn were found for sale on the Dark Web. As well as the addresses, a wealth of other PII was included, along with work-related data. Initially, the hackers who were responsible for stealing the data posted two million data records for a low fee of only $2 to prove that the records were authentic.

Cybercriminals buy and sell email addresses so they can be used in a wide range of attacks, from social engineering tactics to targeted phishing attacks like whaling and spear phishing. Once in possession of an email address, hackers also have 50% of the data they need to access an account. If the passwords used to protect accounts are not strong enough and the data the accounts contain has not to be encrypted, attackers can access all material within, send malicious messages from them or lock users out entirely.

Why are security updates essential?

When company email systems are not protected adequately or updated regularly, they can become vulnerable to attack and can be infiltrated by hackers. On March 3 this year, threat operators identified security vulnerabilities in email software employed in the Microsoft Exchange Server and exploited them. Using the defects, the cybercriminals managed to gain access to private email accounts belonging to approximately 30,000 organisations through the United States. Victims included cities and towns, small businesses and even some local governments.

The dedicated cyberattack gave the hackers responsible complete remote control over all impacted systems, enabling them to potentially commit a wealth of data crimes. Consider how much private information is stored in the email accounts of your personnel, especially high-level executives, like your CEO or financial director. For this reason, it is absolutely essential that your email system is impenetrable.

What are the best methods of email security?

Companies looking to step up their email security should consider the following key steps. The human element is considered by cybersecurity experts to still be the weakest link in the chain when it comes to keeping email contents and communications safe. Make sure staff members are never allowed to create their own account passwords to ensure they are strong enough to avoid being cracked by hackers and ensure multi-factor authentication is required to access accounts for an added layer of protection.

All emails, whether they are being transmitted or stored in account outboxes or company servers, should always be made incomprehensible to unauthorised parties using encryption software. If an email is sent out to the wrong address or an employee’s account is hacked, no data breach can occur with all confidential content encrypted.

Finally, email-based attacks often begin with targeted phishing messages, so ensure your employees are always well educated on this potential threat and understand a clear line of reporting. Conducting phishing tests can be a useful way to keep your employees both on their toes and trained to spot the latest types of cyberattack aimed at enterprises in 2021.

Do you need powerful email encryption software you can count on?

At Galaxkey, we understand that both corporate espionage and professional email hacking are increasing threats in a world that is relying more than ever on digital services. For your business to remain resilient in these challenging times, it is critical that every email sent or received is secured appropriately to keep your communications private and compliant.

While some protective software can be unwieldy, slowing down productivity, our system has been designed for ease of use to keep your workflow streamlined. With one click, your staff can add three powerful layers of protection to emails, whether they are being stored or sent. Our government-standard encryption is practically impossible to crack and makes both your email messages and any attached documents illegible to unauthorised eyes.

Our state-of-the-art encryption can work effectively with a wide range of systems, from Windows to Android and iOS. All you’ll need to do is add our unique software solution to your system to enhance your email protection levels in an instant. For a free two-week trial for your firm, contact our expert team today.