Mandatory Email Security: Best Practices for the Financial Services Industry

May 14, 2022 by Guest author

The Ponemon Institute reports that 69% of financial services organizations have now experienced a cyberattack at some point during their lifetime. Organizations in the financial services industry are now realizing that effective email security is essential.

Email Risk Is Big for Financial Services Organizations

Companies in the financial services industry face a series of dangerous email-borne threats daily. This includes costly exploits such as phishing, ransomware, and business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

Phishing

Phishing is a popular method of attack among cybercriminals, who leverage advanced social engineering and impersonation techniques to trick victims into giving up account credentials and sensitive data. Phishing can have a series of severe negative effects on a business, including financial loss, loss of intellectual property, reputation damage, and disruption of operational activities. The effects of a phishing attack can cause loss of company value and even permanent closure.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a destructive type of malware that encrypts computer files and demands payment for access to a digital key needed to decrypt the data. Typically delivered as a malicious attachment in a phishing email, a ransomware attack can have severe consequences for companies, especially those in the financial sector. This includes extensive, costly downtime spent trying to secure remaining files and networks and recover lost work, and severe reputation damage.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is an exploit in which a threat actor gains access to a corporate email account and sends fraudulent emails posing as the account owner in order to steal sensitive information and money from victims. This scam is highly effective and has generated losses of $26 billion worldwide.

Breaking Down the Financial Services Industry Threat Landscape

Banks & Credit Unions

The focus of phishing and ransomware attacks is being narrowed down by cybercriminals, specifically aiming their attacks at the banking and credit union industry. As companies continue to reduce in-person contact and rely heavily on email, the digital attack surface increases. Additionally, breaches targeting this industry sector will continue to become more complex and difficult to prevent as attackers are refining their tactics, making attack campaigns increasingly effective.

Payroll & Billing Firms

The payroll and billing industry is a favorite among cybercriminals due to the sensitivity of client data these companies have access to. Advanced social engineering tactics are used to craft deceptive phishing and impersonation scams that are directed at payroll and billing firms. These dangerous scams allow the attackers to use credentials to send legitimate-looking direct deposit change requests. These malicious campaigns are becoming increasingly difficult to detect, and employees can put an entire business at risk with one click.

Email Security Best Practices to Protect Sensitive Data & Maintain Client Trust

1. Stop Spoofing Attacks & Sender Fraud with SPF, DKIM & DMARC

SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are three standards put in place for systems to better communicate by verifying the sender’s identity and confirming the legitimacy of email communications. These protocols are a critical part of a multi-layered approach to protecting sensitive information and preventing email fraud.

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) specifies a method for preventing sender address forgery - ensuring that the emails you send are coming from you. SPF enables organizations to identify their domain’s legitimate mail sources and prevent unauthorized sources from sending fraudulent emails from their domain. With SPF in place, recipients can check a list of IP addresses to verify that emails they receive are from an authorized domain. The purpose of SPF is to control and prevent sender fraud, as opposed to proactively eliminating spam email.

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) provides a method for validating a domain name identity associated with a message through cryptographic authentication using public-key cryptography. DKIM uses keys to ensure that a message hasn’t been altered in transit and builds a log of “trusted” and “untrusted” emails associated with given domains, IP addresses, and sender identities.

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) helps to create more secure email communications by adding an “identity check” to all inbound messages. DMARC is also a strong anti-phishing and anti-spoofing tool, as it maintains "domain reputation", which allows providers and recipients to determine if an email came from that sender and not a spoofed address.

2. Keep Email Private with TLS Encryption

Email is essentially a plaintext method of communication sent from email clients to receiving email servers or from one server to another. In this exchange, the content of messages in transit is left vulnerable to compromise without additional protection via encryption technology such as the Transport Layer Security (TLS) standard. TLS is a cryptographic protocol for messages “in transit” to be encrypted from one secure email server that has TLS enabled to another, helping to protect user privacy and prevent eavesdropping or content alteration. TLS supports the use of digital certificates to authenticate receiving servers, helping to prevent email fraud and data compromise by verifying that both receivers and senders are who they claim to be.

3. Protect Against Sophisticated Impersonation Scams with Defense-in-Depth Technology

Protecting against today's advanced attacks requires multi-layered defenses that exceed the capabilities of traditional methods of securing email. Microsoft 365 email security falls short in safeguarding users and key business assets against credential phishing, account takeovers, and the other dangerous threats that cloud email users face daily.

Relying on built-in Microsoft 365 email protection and endpoint security alone is not enough to protect against today’s advanced attacks, and so businesses should consider implementing additional proactive, layered protection to make Microsoft 365 email safe for business.

No single security feature alone is enough to defend against modern threats such as zero-day ransomware attacks, and in-depth defense is necessary for an effective email security strategy. Securing business email in this modern digital threat environment requires multiple layers of advanced technologies such as real-time malicious URL protection, dynamic file inspection, and behavioral analysis that are designed to work harmoniously to detect and block malicious mail, ensuring that it never reaches the inbox.

System management and support are critical as many businesses, especially SMBs, often lack cybersecurity resources and expertise. Without these expert, ongoing support services, companies are left unprepared to prevent a cyberattack.

The ideal email security solution should include the following components:

  • Multi-Layered Architecture
  • Closes Critical Gaps in Built-In Microsoft 365 Email Protection
  • Expert Managed Services & Accessible Support
  • Malicious URL Protection
  • Email Authentication Protocols
  • Complete Spam & Virus Protection

4. Bolster IT Resources to Improve Security with Fully-Managed Email Security Services

As businesses continue to become aware of the online threats they face, one key area where even the most innovative email security solutions fall short is managed services. Securing business email is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and maintenance by a team of experts that are committed to understanding the evolving risks and applying the necessary individualized guidance to each business.

Even with supplementary email security defenses in place, failure to implement a business email security solution accompanied by ongoing, expert management, system monitoring, and support services often leaves businesses open to attack.

In order to protect business email, it is crucial that organizations have fully-managed email security defenses in place that work to protect against the specific threats each individual business faces and to provide the level of expertise and support needed to safeguard sensitive data and other key business assets.

5. Educate Employees

Human error is one of the leading causes of a successful attack, while employees remain the first line of defense. Providing staff with training has never been more necessary, as threats continue to grow in sophistication. Being aware of some basic tips and best practices for recognizing and avoiding phishing emails is a critical part of protecting sensitive information and preventing attacks. To avoid being a victim of one of these costly cyberattacks:

  • Be cautious with links and attachments.
  • Beware of urgent requests and requests for personal information.
  • Approach unknown emails, websites, or downloads with caution.
  • Protect corporate email accounts with two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Critically important: Implement a proactive, multi-layered cloud email security solution.

So much of cybersecurity depends on the employees, practicing safe internet and email usage. Learn more tips on how to protect yourself in this digital landscape.

Final Thoughts

Email risk has never been greater in the financial services industry, and will only continue to increase as cybercriminals advance their tactics to steal sensitive data and evade traditional email security defenses.

Over ninety percent of all cyberattacks begin with a phishing email, and a successful attack can cause severe, lasting damage to the trust of your clients and the credibility of your products and services. Implementing the email security best practices discussed in this article will help to mitigate risk, protect your brand image and maintain customer loyalty.

About the author: Justice is an ambitious, goal-oriented Communications Manager and content creator for GuardianDigital.com who strives to write quality pieces that educate both the audience and himself. Justice earned a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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