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Email is one of the most effective marketing tools currently available. It is low-cost, scalable, and effective at generating great ROI. According to studies, 76 percent of customers have made online purchases as a result of an email marketing campaign.
This is why email marketing campaigns are highly valued and optimized by businesses B2C and B2B alike. The average person would assume using email with a strong password is enough to protect themselves, their company and their information from possible risks but the reality is different.
In 2020, 90 percent of cyber attacks started with an email. With the business world shifting to remote workplaces and communications, this number is only sent to rise. In an age where organizations face this risk, email security is essential to every business. This email protection guide presents tools and techniques that help email marketers protect their data and brand reputation.
What is email security?
Email security is not only crucial for the business but for the employees and clients as well. Email protection is a method that prevents unauthorized access to email content and accounts.
Hackers and cybercriminals know the value of email to businesses of all sizes. They often target marketing campaigns in order to steal consumer data or damage your credibility. Email security is the mechanism that ensures the protection of email marketing campaigns that containe valuable information and accounts against unauthorized access, loss or compromise.
Without email security, both the marketer and the client are in danger and at risk of falling victims to cybercrimes.
What threatens email security?
As cybercriminals’ techniques become more sophisticated, the scale of email threat risks grow greater. These advances and increasing numbers do not seem to influence private individuals to take email security more seriously. Businesses and individuals need to do everything within their reach to protect all sensitive information from harm at all times. The main threats to email security can be categorized into 4 types: spamming, spoofing, phishing and scams.
Spam emails are unsolicited emails sent in large numbers. Even if spam does not contain a virus-infected attachment, junk email can easily overwhelm a user, making it difficult or impossible for recipients to access legitimate messages.
The dangerous type of spam emails can contain phishing links that trick users into providing sensitive information to cybercriminals or malware sites that download malicious software onto computers. Spammers use unique softwares to crawl many sources that contain email addresses.
Another technique they use to find email addresses is dictionary harvest attacks. These attacks consist of an attempt to find valid email addresses at a domain by using all the possible combinations related to that domain. They may also obtain valid email addresses by promising free services or offerings.
Spoofing is the forgery of an email message to make it appear as though it originated from a legitimate source but the email is sent by cybercriminal. Spoofing attacks harm both the spoofed domains and the recipients of the emails.
Spoofing can take many forms. One of the most common strategies is to hide the sender’s name and the email’s origin from the recipient. Another common spoofing type is domain spoofing, in which the brand’s exact sending domain is mimicked. The name that appears before the “from” address in the email header area is mimicked in display name spoofing.
In subject line spoofing, cybercriminals mimic the subject line of original emails in order to persuade recipients to open malicious emails that may contain worms or viruses.
Viruses, worms, and Trojans are distributed as email attachments. They are destructive codes that can cause the following problems:
- Devastate the receiver’s system,
- Transform their computers into remote control slaves known as botnets,
- Cause recipients to lose significant money,
- Take over banking and credit card data.
Phishing is a form of attack in which threat actors send malicious emails to users to convince them to fall for a scam. A phishing campaign’s aim is typically to convince people to disclose financial details, credentials, or other confidential information.
Phishing tries to use social engineering to steal a specific customer’s personal and financial information. They may even claim to be government agencies or banks that the receiver is familiar with. Users are guided to malicious websites via a link, or malicious attachments are sent to them. All of this makes it impossible for users to notice the difference between legitimate and malicious emails.
Email scams have been a nightmare for both email users and marketers for a long time. This threat harms email marketers’ campaigns thus recipients of their email lists lose faith in them and stop taking them seriously. As a result, marketing emails often end up in the spam folder, negatively impacting relationships with internet service providers. This results in domain reputation damage which often impacts deliverability.
Email security best practices
Over the course of time, email users and email service providers have discovered the need for email security protocols and tools to protect themselves and their clients from risks and attacks. The world has been witnessing an increase in cyber attacks and cybersecurity professionals realized that basic protection was not enough for email users. A wide range of best practices compiled over time and email users today are encouraged to implement them into their daily usage of email services.
1. Incorporate email authentication standards
In the industry, three different email authentication standards are currently in use, some of them are used in tandem.
- Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an IP-based authentication solution that allows a domain owner to determine which email servers/IPs are allowed to send messages on that domain’s behalf.
- DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is a cryptographic, signature-based method of authentication that allows a sender to take responsibility for a message in a way that the recipient can verify.
- Domain-based Message Authentication(DMARC), Reporting, and Conformance.
These protocols allow domain owners to see who is abusing their domain and potentially harming their brand. It also gives visibility into the status of email authentication over how senders’ messages are treated if authentication fails.
Domain owners are advised to frequently check their DMARC, DKIM and SPF records to make sure no malicious activities are taking place regarding their domains.
2. Encrypt Emails
Encrypting your email content ensures complete confidentiality of your correspondence. At the same time, when an user receives an email encrypted in this way, the system will not be able to index its content for subsequent search.
Emails containing confidential consumer details are often sent by businesses. For example, customer addresses, phone numbers, credit cards’ last four digits, etc. All emails between you and your clients and business contacts should be encrypted. They’ll be unreadable to everyone other than the intended recipient.
Email encryption consists of the encryption of these components:
- Email provider’s connection
- Email messages
- Archived, stored and cached emails
Encrypting the connection stops unauthorized network users from blocking and capturing your credentials and emails you send or receive when these exchanges leave the server of your email provider and move from one server to another around the web.
Encryption of email messages before they are sent makes your emails unreadable to a hacker or anyone to whom the email was not intended. This step makes the attacker’s efforts useless.
Lastly, backed-up email messages that are stored in an email client, such as Microsoft Outlook or Gmail, can get in the hands of hackers despite account and device password protection. Encrypting your emails ensures that even if someone gets access to them, their content will always be unreadable and protected.
3. Make sure to only use high-quality email tools
When it comes to protecting your marketing addresses, the mechanism or tool you use to send them out is important. Your emails are at risk of falling into the wrong hands if the mail server is easy to manipulate or infiltrate.
ESPs (email service providers) help marketers protect their email addresses by ensuring the following:
- Use of Acceptable Use Policy : defining acceptable and unacceptable email behavior
- Choose new clients carefully
- Monitor clients and enforce policies
- Improve and monitor email deliverability
The biggest blunder you’ll make is choosing options that cost less or are totally free without checking if they offer good protection. In the long run, investing research time and budget to make sure your emails are protected will cost you less. Since the damages of cyber-attacks are costly, try to secure your marketing emails from vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks do not only ruin a business’ reputation offline but when email domains have vulnerabilities and deliverability problems, ESPs and domain servers recognize them and thus prevent emails coming from these domains to reach the targeted recipients.
4. Verify your email list and secure deliverability practices
Poor deliverability practices will cause your emails to end up in the spam folder, you must take reasonable action to ensure that your emails are classified as legitimate.
Here are several steps you need to take to ensure your emails are getting to the inbox of the intended recipients:
Avoid spam traps
Spam traps are email addresses that ISPs and blacklist providers use to recognize and block users who send emails to expired or unverified lists. Spam trap emails will damage your domain and expose it to hackers. Spam traps are more likely to befall email marketers who buy email lists or refuse to refresh their email lists. Make sure you personalize your emails as much as possible and use CRMs and email clients that support your email marketing goals.
Use a dedicated IP address
To avoid problems from other email senders, use a dedicated IP address rather than a shared IP address. You have full control over your emails when you use a dedicated IP address, and you can easily protect them. Request a dedicated IP address from your email service provider.
Set up an opt-in mechanism
The easiest way to gain consent from individuals is to set up an opt-in mechanism that allows them to confirm their subscription. You’ll be in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act. Furthermore, you’ll need a simple opt-out procedure to avoid any ISP issues caused by complaints from subscribers.
5. Create awareness – educate employees and perform routine check-ups
Spread information through your emails, blogs, FAQs, etc. Make sure the employees are aware of the value and seriousness of email cybercrimes. Since many email users report business emails as spam, you must carefully curate your emails to ensure that they do not appear to be spam.
Cultivate a cybersecurity culture in your workplace. Employees should be taught how to identify possible risks, how to prevent them, and what to do if a computer virus or other danger is suspected. Make sure that your customers are aware of cyber threats and scams.
6. Enable firewalls and use email security software
Many security tools (these include tools such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and network-based antivirus programs) are available for free or at low cost. Email firewalls can detect and block emails that contain malware or other potentially harmful content. Before you download something, antivirus software will search it for viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.
One of the most effective security tools and one of different options is a secure email gateway. A secure email gateway (SEG) is a software or device that monitors emails that are being sent and received. An SEG’s goal is to stop unwanted emails and deliver the good ones. Unwanted emails are smap, malware, phishing attacks and fraudulent content. Additionally, outgoing emails are also analyzed to prevent sensitive information from getting in the wrong hands and are automatically encrypted. Depending on requirements, SEG functionality can be deployed as an on-premises appliance or a cloud service.
An SEG deployed either way should offer multi-level protection from malicious, BEC and unwanted emails as well as business continuity for companies of all sizes. These security tools allow security teams to secure users from threats and maintain email communications with confidence, in case of an outage.
As mentioned in the second point, email encryption is also a security tool used to reduce risks associated with violations of regulations and corporate policy as well as data loss while enabling important internal and external business communications. Businesses that deal with an ample amount of sensitive data would benefit from this email security solution. While email encryption protects from outsiders, it makes access and ease of use of information available to partners, affiliates and employees. Organizations that are required to follow compliance regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR or SOX are encouraged to adapt email encryption into their mails.
Protecting your marketing emails from cybercriminals is critical for maintaining your customer relationship and brand image.Malware, spam, and phishing attacks are often distributed via email. Scammers deceive victims into disclosing confidential information, opening attachments, or clicking on hyperlinks that install malware on their devices.
The way in which you deliver your emails has a significant impact on their security and protection from hackers. You must use a safe system to send your emails, and a mechanism should be in place to monitor how emails are delivered.