What Is Email Security?

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Forrester defines email security as “technologies that protect organizations’ email communications to mitigate and lessen the impact of email-borne attacks. These consist of on-premises or cloud-based secure email gateways (SEGs) and cloud-native API-enabled email security (CAPES) solutions. Capabilities include phishing, BEC, and spoofing protection, malware and malicious URL detection and remediation, email authentication, antispam, antimalware, data loss prevention (DLP), encryption, and phishing testing and education”.

Why do enterprises need email security?

Enterprises need email security to protect their sensitive information, maintain business continuity, and defend against a wide range of cybersecurity threats. Email is one of the most common communication channels in business, but it is also a prime target for attackers. Here are several reasons why enterprises need email security:

Phishing Protection: Email is a common vector for phishing attacks, where attackers use fraudulent emails to trick users into divulging sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial details. Email security solutions can detect and block phishing emails, reducing the risk of data breaches and financial losses.

Malware and Ransomware Defense: Malicious attachments or links in emails can deliver malware and ransomware to an organization's network. Email security tools can scan attachments and links for potential threats, preventing malware infections and ransomware attacks.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) Prevention: BEC attacks involve impersonating trusted individuals within an organization to trick employees into transferring funds or disclosing sensitive data. Email security can help detect and prevent BEC attacks.

Brand Protection: Email security helps protect an enterprise's brand reputation by preventing phishing attacks that can impersonate the organization and tarnish its image.

Business Continuity: Email security ensures the reliable and uninterrupted flow of email communication. By filtering out spam and malicious emails, it reduces the risk of email server overload and downtime.

Increased Employee Productivity: Effective email security reduces the amount of spam and phishing emails that reach employees' inboxes, leading to improved productivity as employees spend less time dealing with unwanted or dangerous messages.

Types of Email Attacks

Cyber criminals use many different tactics to hack email, and some methods can cause considerable damage to an organization’s data and/or reputation. Malware, which is malicious software used to harm or manipulate a device or its data, can be placed on a computer using each of the following attacks.


Phishing is a type of cyberattack in which attackers use fraudulent emails, messages, or websites to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal details. The attacker pretends to be a trusted individual or institution and then uses their relationship with the target to steal sensitive data.

Phishing comes in several forms, such as spear phishing, regular phishing, and whaling. Spear phishing targets a particular person, while a whaler targets someone high up in the organization by pretending to be someone they trust.

Deferred phishing is where attackers delay the execution of their attack after initial contact with the victim. In the context of email security, they may delay weaponizing an email until the email reaches the users’ inbox to avoid detection.


Email impersonation is a type of cyberattack where an attacker pretends to be someone else in an email communication. In this attack, the attacker impersonates a trusted individual, organization, or authority figure to gain the recipient’s trust, then deceive the recipient and manipulate their actions.

Impersonation involves techniques such social engineering trick the recipient into revealing sensitive information, forging sender information to impersonate a trusted authority figure, or using deceptive content such as instructions to carry out specific actions, such as making a financial transaction.

Email impersonation can also involve impersonating a well-known brand or organization to exploit the trust associated with that entity. For example, attackers may impersonate a popular application provider instructing them to download the latest release to avoid losing access to lure recipients into clicking on malicious links or downloading malware.


The most common form of spam is email spam, where individuals or organizations send large volumes of emails to random or targeted email addresses.

Detecting email spam is important because these messages may contain malware, phishing attempts, fraudulent schemes, or links to malicious websites that try to trick recipients into providing sensitive information or downloading malicious attachments.


Email spoofing is an effective business email compromise (BEC) technique used by attackers to forge the sender's email address in an email message. In email spoofing, the sender's information is manipulated to make it appear as if the email is coming from a trusted or legitimate source when it is originating from a different, often malicious, sender.

How is phishing used for ransomware attacks?

Phishing is commonly used as a delivery method for ransomware attacks. Phishing-based ransomware attacks can be highly effective because they exploit human vulnerability and curiosity. Unsuspecting users who interact with the phishing content inadvertently download and execute the ransomware, leading to data loss and potential financial losses for individuals and organizations.

In a ransomware phishing attack, the attacker sends fraudulent emails to potential victims, enticing them to open malicious attachments or click on malicious links. When the recipient engages with the phishing content, the ransomware payload is deployed onto their system, encrypting their files, and rendering them inaccessible until a ransom is paid to the attacker.

Phishing Email: The attacker sends a phishing email that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a well-known company, a trusted colleague, or a reputable organization. The email may include urgent or compelling content to entice the recipient to take immediate action.

Malicious Attachment: The phishing email often contains an attachment, such as a document or a ZIP file, which appears harmless but contains the ransomware payload.

Malicious Link: Alternatively, the phishing email may include a link that directs the recipient to a website hosting the ransomware. When the recipient clicks on the link, the ransomware is downloaded and executed on their system.

Social Engineering: The phishing email may employ social engineering techniques to manipulate the recipient's emotions or create a sense of urgency, increasing the likelihood that they will interact with the malicious content.

Ransomware Execution: When the recipient opens the malicious attachment or clicks on the malicious link, the ransomware is executed on their system. It starts encrypting files on the victim's computer and connected network drives, making them inaccessible to the user.

Ransom Demand: After the ransomware has encrypted the victim's files, a ransom note is displayed on the victim's screen, informing them that their files are locked and demanding a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key. The attackers often demand payment in cryptocurrency to make it harder to trace.

To protect against ransomware phishing attacks, individuals and organizations should be cautious when dealing with unsolicited emails, especially those with attachments or links. They should avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown or suspicious sources. Implementing strong email security measures, educating users about phishing threats, and maintaining up-to-date cybersecurity defenses are essential to mitigate the risks of ransomware attacks.

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