5 Essential Email Security Protocols Every Business Should Use
Email security is the most common form of communication on the web today. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most targeted by cybercriminals.
Password resets and stringent cybersecurity policies are the simplest ways to combat hacking attempts. Adding multifactor authentication (MFA) and encouraging employees to separate personal and professional email accounts are other essential steps.
Email encryption is critical to any business’s data and email security program. It prevents messages from being saved, modified and resent by malicious actors who intercept emails as they travel between email servers.
Encryption converts an email’s content into unreadable code by unauthorized parties without access to the key. This protects emails from being intercepted and read by criminals, competitors or government agencies. It also prevents unauthorized viewing of confidential work information or trade secrets if an email is mishandled.
As email communication expands across borders, time zones and even nation-states, ensuring that emails are encrypted becomes more important. In addition to protecting the privacy of email contents, implementing email encryption protocols helps businesses meet regulatory compliance requirements and reduce their cyber risk profile.
Authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM and DMARC help secure email by preventing spoofing and phishing attacks. They check that an email is legitimate by verifying the sender’s domain and brand. This enhances email deliverability and improves brand trust.
Authentication is the process of ensuring that someone or something is who they claim to be. It can protect sensitive information and prevent cybercriminals from stealing passwords or accessing email accounts. This is particularly important for small businesses because they often rely on staff members who use their devices to access company emails.
When employees use their devices to send and receive work-related emails, knowing who the email came from can be challenging. This is where authentication comes into play, and it involves cryptographic standards and protocols that help verify an email sender’s identity.
Authentication protocols such as Sender Policy Framework and Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting & Compliance (DMARC) help fight email spoofing. This allows hackers to spoof a sender’s name to trick people into clicking malicious links or providing personal information. Email encryption supports authentication, ensuring emails are unaltered in transit and at rest. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is another technique that adds a layer of security by requiring users to use a verification app with a code in addition to their login. Other methods include specialized spam filters, which help reduce the amount of spam or phishing emails reaching users’ mailboxes.
Email security protocols like STARTTLS enable SMTP, IMAP, and POP3 to upgrade plain text connections to secure SSL/TLS connections. Encrypting the message helps protect sensitive information from eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks. Only the session key matching between the server client can decrypt the encrypted message.
In the past, it was common for SMTP and POP3 to be connected using plain text on standard ports (143 or 110). STARTTLS allowed these connections to be upgraded into secure encrypted SSL/TLS using a different port number.
It was not the perfect solution, as a separate port had to be opened by the mail server to support implicit TLS. Also, the inability of the server to switch back to the previous connection could cause data leaks when the new server has a different security certificate than the original. German security researchers found multiple attacks against the STARTTLS protocol that could be used to downgrade connections from secure to insecure. On the NO STARTTLS site, you can read more about these STARTTLS attacks.
MFA is a security measure that requires users to provide multiple authentication factors. These factors make it more difficult for hackers or brute-force attacks to crack.
MFA makes it more difficult for bad actors, even if they already have a user’s login details, from data breaches or phishing attacks. All businesses should enable MFA for all bills and encourage employees to do the same with personal and business emails.
MFA comes in many different forms, and the level of security depends on which authentication method is used. MFA can be implemented in many ways. Some of the most common include using security keys, such as thumb drives that are physically on the device. Other methods use biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition. For example, some online banking apps require users to select a security question that only they can remember reliably and provide the correct answer to log in.
An email digital signature certificate verifies that the email is from a trusted source and has not been tampered with during transit. It works by hashing the data and encrypting it with the email’s public key. This prevents hackers from inserting malicious links, redirects, viruses, malware, ransomware, rootkits, or spyware into emails.
A digital certificate can also authenticate an email’s sender. This is done by verifying the certificate holder’s identity through a trusted third party, such as a Certificate Authority (CA). This information includes the certificate holder’s name and public key. It can then encrypt emails so only the intended recipient can read them.
An email digital certificate is one of the most critical protocols every business should use. By using this and other layered security measures, companies can significantly reduce the risk of cyber attacks that could compromise their systems, proprietary designs, client information, and data backups. This can seriously damage an organization’s reputation and cause it to lose revenue or even close its doors.