Email Security: Is Human Error The Greatest Threat?

Email is by far the greatest source of cyber security incidents for businesses today – and it’s all thanks to good old-fashioned human error.

How many emails have you sent today? And how many have you received? We’re willing to bet the answer to at least one of those questions is “Quite a lot.” But how many times have you thought about email security in the same period. Twice? Once? Not at all?

The simple fact is most businesses aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from email-related cyber attacks. Indeed, the UK government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 found that email accounted for 72% of all identified breaches and 43% of the most disruptive ones among UK businesses.

Technological solutions like spam filters, firewalls and virus scanners can help to minimise risk and damage, of course, but ultimately it’s the users who are the biggest problem. It’s their mistakes that allow hackers to gain unauthorised access to computer networks. It’s their errors that result in businesses losing an average of £1,570 due to cyber breaches. And yet it’s on them you’ll rely if you really want your business to be secure.

Down With Humans

Let’s be honest: humans are generally a bit rubbish. We carry multiple useless body parts with us, we take between nine and 18 months to learn to walk, we’re terrible at choosing passwords, and we constantly make mistakes. So many mistakes.

A lot of those mistakes happen in our personal lives, of course (usually as the result of alcohol), but in a professional setting, they’re behind the vast majority of cyber security incidents. According to the IBM Security Services 2014 Cyber Security Intelligence Index, “over 95 percent of all incidents investigated recognize “human error” as a contributing factor”.

People having a meeting - email security
Your people are your weakest link but also your strongest defence

In a separate, more recent survey, brokerage firm Willis Towers Watson put the figure at 90%, further supporting the idea that human error is the number one security threat to most businesses.

Of course, within that 90-95%, there will be plenty of non-email-related threats, like social media fraud, denial of service attacks and scam phone calls – all attack vectors that may exploit human error. But email is a special case, because of its unique relationship with business. Practically all businesses use email, and frequently, each employee will have their own email address – all of which are potential targets. There are many other ways of communicating with colleagues, such as phone and instant messaging, but email is simple and convenient – and it’s a major source of cyber security threats.

Email Security Threats

Before you can start working on your email security, you need to understand what the dangers are. How is email used to attack businesses? There are few different methods, and they nearly all rely on human error.

Attachments

Everyday, business people send files to each other via email. Invoices, spreadsheets, proposals and so on. For hackers, it’s easy to disguise malware as a legitimate file, which unsuspecting victims may download without a second thought. That malware could do a number of things. It might steal data, including financial information, which is then either used to commit fraud or sold on the black market, and then used to commit fraud. Or it could, perhaps, install ransomware, which can make data or whole computers inaccessible, until the hackers are paid a ransom – usually in untraceable cryptocurrency.

Links

It’s all too easy to see a link and to click on it. But links may not go where they claim to. Instead of being taken to a legitimate website, you may be directed to a rogue website that automatically downloads malware to your computer.

Email security
How secure is your business’s email

Phishing

Phishing involves tricking victims into divulging sensitive information – things like passwords, banking details and personal data. This information can then be used to commit fraud or sold to others who will commit that fraud instead. One example is a fake email from a bank, which asks you to click a link to log into your online account. This link, however, goes to a fake version of the website in question, and it then proceeds to steal your login details. The consequences of these attacks can be devastating.

Spearphishing

Normal phishing involves sending the same email to thousands or millions of potential victims. A fake banking email, for example, will go to many people who aren’t even customers of that bank. With spearphishing, the scam is much more targeted. Criminals will spend time investigating their targets beforehand, learning the names of important staff members and identifying weaknesses in security. This all makes spearphishing much harder to spot and much more dangerous.

Email Security Starts With You

Combatting human error is clearly a priority that should be addressed by any security-conscious organisation. That involves ongoing training and education, across your entire business. After all, it only takes one weak link to break the whole chain.

When it comes to email security training, there are many options, but one example that we’ve found works well is Webroot Security Awareness Training. Created by security firm Webroot, it offers a comprehensive collection of training resources to educate users about cyber security – including fully featured phishing simulation.

Using this phishing simulator, TMB can create fake phishing emails, which we send to your staff, to gauge their current security awareness and to ultimately point them in the right direction. For example, we could send an email that claims to be offering a free Amazon voucher. When they click the link to claim their voucher, they’re instead directed to a training video, which informs them that they’ve fallen for a phishing attempt and presents them with relevant training material.

Combined with technologies that can block spam email and detect real phishing attempts, resources like Webroot’s Security Awareness Training can make real difference to the ongoing safety of your business.


If you’re interested in trying out Webroot’s Security Awareness Training for your own business, call TMB on 0333 900 9050 or email us at info@tmb.co.uk.

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