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Six ways to thwart malicious emails

While today’s cyber news is dominated by the type of large-scale attacks perpetrated by black-hat hackers, the threat of targeted, malicious emails remains prominent.

Email scams and phishing attempts continue to be a significant threat with Verizon’s 2022 Data Beach Investigations Report citing email to be the second most common source of breaches in 2022.

With this in mind, here are six ways to ensure that your email activities remain secure and your organization’s employees do not fall victim to the cyber criminal’s tactics.

People are the best line of defense

The target of a malicious email will always be the individual who receives it. As such, it is important that you ensure that your employees are capable of identifying malicious or phishing emails and know what the proper procedure is once they have done so.

Organizations must ensure employees understand who they should call or highlight the emails to in these instances.

IT security should be included in technology procurement discussions so that it is known what solutions are being deployed and unusual behavior can be identified quickly.

Closed-loop email analysis

One approach for educating employees on how to best identify what a phishing email looks like is closed-loop email analysis.

Closed-loop email analysis involves sandboxing a questionable email in the abuse mailbox, regardless of whether it has been seen previously, applying automation to screen the message and offers the security team valuable information.

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By acting on this information, the security team can identify opportunities to provide additional training and education to employees, effectively targeting the weak links in the organizational email security process.

Personalize adaptive controls

Phishing email attacks can be carried out in a broad manner, with thousands of emails targeting many individuals across multiple organizations. More targeted phishing attempts require more preparation and research for the cybercriminal to pull off but can be far more convincing.

These types of phishing attack will target individuals with the highest level of risk, such as those responsible for making payments. Security teams must understand an individual’s level of visibility, attack profile and privileges in order to implement the necessary adaptive controls to the individual worker.

Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning

A large part of an employee’s capability in detecting fraudulent or malicious emails comes from their knowledge of the normal workings of the business and, consequently, their ability to identify emails that seem out of place.

Humans will always be fallible however, and as phishing emails become more and more advanced some of these emails slip through the cracks. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) come into play, as the algorithms and models built with them have the capacity to identify unusual emails with an accuracy that beyond human ability.

Advanced imposter detection solutions

As mentioned above, the application of advanced technologies such as AI and ML can equip organizations with an unprecedented ability to detect malicious emails.

The application of such technologies in the imposter detection solutions that are available to businesses can take security a step further than this. Not only do they have the capability to automatically detect and flag suspicious or malicious emails, but they can also identify and remove potentially harmful URL’s from emails automatically. With this functionality the opportunity for an employee to make a mistake is reduced as the ability to click a harmful link has been removed.

Make a phone call

While there are many technologies, solutions and optimized standard operating procedures being developed and deployed in the cyber security space, sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

If an employee receives an email asking for payment to an account, even if they believe the email looks legitimate, they may be at risk of falling for a phishing scam. One of the only surefire ways for employees to verify the authenticity of such a request is to simply pick up the phone and speak with the relevant individuals within the organization to verify it.

If employees are busy however, they may be less than willing to do this, so embedding this process as part of the standard operation procedure and company culture could go a long way toward thwarting phishing attempts while expending minimal resources.

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