Email Security

Phishing:Despite being one of the oldest internet scams, phishing continues to unleash mayhem in businesses. How can security partners protect customers against it?

The oldest scam on the internet – phishing – is going from strength to strength.

Indeed, the Anti-Phishing Working Group report published in February 2017 tells us that the number of unique phishing sites detected in the second quarter of last year was at an all-time high.

The dreaded bogus links in incoming emails can trigger everything from banking fraud, to ransomware (the Locky attack was set off this way), to theft of Office 365 logins, as this phishing video shows.

So what advice should security partners be offering to their end-users to help them mount an effective defence against this menace?

1. No more phish and spam sandwiches

Poor spam management is a recipe for heightened exposure to phishing risk, since spam email is often the ‘bread’ around the phishy ‘filling’.

It sounds disgusting – but end-users are still swallowing it. In 2016, for example, 71% of ransomware was delivered via spam, making spam the most common attack vector. In fact, it’s even spawned a new term – malspam!

Strong anti-spam detection is therefore a critical ingredient in stopping phishing attacks before they reach the user, and for this a number of critical features are necessary in the security solutions end-users choose, including:

  • Antispam filters, so that detection thresholds can be adjusted in response to users’ experience of how effectively spam is being caught.
  • Connection to a global email and web reputation database, so that domains and identities associated with known malicious servers can be identified, and their IP addresses blocked.
  • IP address behaviour analysis, so that potentially suspicious behaviours like dynamic or masked IP addresses can be detected.
  • Document exploit detection to look beyond the email and into the attached files that malspam often makes use of to trigger an exploit.

At its least harmful, spam is a distraction that leaves a bad taste in the business’s mouth. At worst, it carries a truly toxic payload.

2. Beware the newly-borns…

But at the risk of sounding like King Herod, one of the biggest threats in the phishing sphere comes from ‘newly-borns’ – malicious servers that simply haven’t been around long enough to make it onto any web or email reputation database, and so might not be detected.

So it’s critical that businesses’ anti-phishing security goes beyond this, and attempts to analyse the characteristics of the phishing email itself, such as:

  • Who sent it
  • Where it’s gone to
  • What it contains
  • When it was sent
  • How it reached a user’s inbox

As this excellent summary explains, by mapping these factors automatically to known social engineering scenarios (i.e. the many ways in which users can be tricked into doing something they shouldn’t!) tell-tale signs of phishing intent can be detected, and the relevant IP addresses blocked.

Needless to say, this process involves some pretty hefty probability calculations, and social engineering scenarios are changing all the time, so the system needs to be able to constantly learn from what it absorbs and update its assessments accordingly.

Machine-learning is the key here, and if implemented effectively it can ensure that businesses’ anti-phishing protection doesn’t behave as if it were born yesterday!

3. Educate, educate, educate!

Security vendors are in this business to make money by selling software – but even they have been vocal about the need for businesses to educate their workforce to spot the signs of phishing, and take evasive action.

Content like these Tips for mitigating phishing attacks, for example, is certainly helpful - but there is a realisation that hints, tips and instructions alone won’t change security culture within organisations.

Instead, businesses must fuel constant internal security conversations using simple, accessible content, and they are looking to resellers and MSPs to deliver this to them, working through cyber-security awareness content partners.

Phishing protection will never be 100% effective. But shouldn’t every business be wishing that whatever slips through the net (or should that be Net?) could be stopped by the ‘human firewall’?

Email SecuritySpam, phishing, malware – these are just some of the hazards email can carry. We’ll see more of them in 2017, so what kind of security solutions can counter them?

Following on from our recent post about business continuity solutions, another topic worth following in 2017 is email security.

So just how important is it?

Well, according to email research from the Radicati Group, the number of business emails sent and received per day in 2017 will number 120.4 billion. By 2019, it will be nearer 129 billion.

And this unrelenting growth is one of the factors driving a huge increase in email-borne cyber-threats. In fact, in the first quarter of 2016 alone, according to this piece in Infosecurity Magazine, there was an 800% increase in email-borne threats over the previous year!

What, then, should you be looking out for to protect your business (or your customers’ businesses, if you’re a security reseller or service provider) against this onslaught?

Choosing email security

We’ve identified some specific features that we believe are critical to effective email security in 2017’s threat-laden world.

1. Ease of use for SMEs

The latest Government Security Breaches Survey found that SMEs are now being pinpointed by digital attackers, according to this piece in The Guardian.

But SMEs also include many businesses that have little or no in-house IT or security expertise  - so complex on-premise email security just won’t work for them.

Instead, look out for cloud-delivered, as-a-service solutions that major on ease of use (that means, amongst other things, no-maintenance deployment, with 24 x 7 updates, patches and hot-fixes delivered automatically by the vendor).

This kind of solution has the added benefit that it can filter email inline and scan it prior to it reaching the recipient, so threats are intercepted before they touch the business’s network.

Nothing to remediate, no spam to archive, nothing to clean up – good news for resource-starved small businesses.

2. Email clients – cloud’s a must!

Smaller businesses in particular are also turning to hosted email clients like Office 365 and Google Apps, with research showing that nearly two-thirds of small business owners already have an average of three cloud solutions in place.

Combine this with the knowledge that Office 365 has known issues with its ability to detect insecure document content, though, and it’s not enough to just go with a cloud-based email security solution. You also need to choose one that is good at dealing with cloud-based email client vulnerabilities.

Get the last bit wrong and you’re still behind the SME security curve.

3. Threat coverage and awareness

Spam, malware, spyware, phishing and inappropriate content are all known risks that must of course be protected against.

But the underlying question is how the solution’s knowledge of the threat landscape evolves, since it is this process that ultimately protects users against emerging threats like zero-day exploits.

Big data and machine learning algorithms are the key features to look for in this respect, but many vendors are now jumping on this bandwagon, so look at the hard numbers to sort the aspirational from the credible.

Take Trend Micro’s Hosted Email Security (HES) as just one example: over 50 billion website URLs, email sources, and files scanned, correlated, and filtered, with over 7 terabytes of new threat data processed - daily.

That leaves little doubt (and the latest features in Trend Micro HES make convincing reading, too).

4. GDPR compliance

GDPR is never far away from our discussions thesedays, and any cloud-delivered service is now under the microscope with regard to how it protects the privacy of the data that it holds.

Look for a solution backed by data centres that have reached the most stringent privacy certifications - in Europe, these are generally considered to be ISO 9001, ISO 27001, OHSAS18001 (LHR1) and SAS 70 Type II.

5. Ease of partner management

For security partners, there is an added dimension to a choice of security solution: the ease with which they can manage it!

Solutions that are difficult to provision and manage burn through administration resource and gnaw at margins – making them potentially unprofitable.

Look instead for a single security dashboard across all customers, that also works with industry-standard platforms like Autotask, ConnectWise and Kaseya.

This will enable you, for example, to automate monthly usage and reporting management, proactively analyse emerging security threats, and provision new solutions and services more rapidly – without signing into and logging out of multiple systems and tools.

Email security in 2017 – as-a-service solutions to a growing challenge

As long as businesses keep sending and receiving emails, the bad guys will keep using them to try and attack the soft underbelly of businesses.

But to do that, the emails have to get there in the first place – and if they’re getting caught by security in the cloud first, they won’t.

Definitely one to watch for 2017.