How to protect a small business from email security threats

Email is vital to any business. It's one of the most important ways we communicate with customers, suppliers and internal employees.

How to protect a small business from email security threats

Email is vital to any business. It’s one of the most important ways we communicate with customers, suppliers and internal employees. It’s instant, practical, free, and we don’t have to write and post letters or hang on the phone for hours to get things done. Ensuring that our communications are secure from outside threats is a must because, at the same time, we’re ensuring that business can continue, uninterrupted.

What are email security threats?

Unfortunately, criminals love to attack business emails as they may gain passwords that allow further access to the network, acquire sensitive data, or cause damage and disruption.

Attacks may come in the form of malware, such as trojans, viruses and spyware, attached to emails, which, once deployed, can allow an attacker to take over your servers, monitor activity and gain access to sensitive data.

We’re all familiar with spam – unwanted and unasked for emails, but it’s far more than just annoying. Dealing with spam can take up a lot of resources in your IT department, and spam emails can also contain malware.

Phishing attacks are becoming increasingly common, where attackers send what may look like innocent emails from someone you know, asking you to click on a link, send money, or give out sensitive details.

How can Email security threats affect a small business?

Email security threats are often designed to gain money, either directly by getting people to click on a malicious link and pay, or via ransomware. Businesses are often targeted for their sensitive data, such as financial information, intellectual property, and credit card numbers, which criminals can either make use of themselves or sell on.

An attack that exposes your private data can have serious consequences, in terms of a large fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office. Even worse, it can seriously affect your reputation, losing trust, and perhaps putting off customers and potential investors.

Some attacks are designed to do as much damage as possible to a business, damaging systems and even hardware, or denying access to files, and the recovery from such an attack can be costly and difficult.

Email security is not something to be taken lightly.

What should a small business owner be looking out for?

Every business should have protections in place to counteract attacks on their email, but one of the best protections is awareness.

Regular cyber security training for all staff can be a vital tool in protecting your business. Teach them how to recognise phishing attacks and spam. Keep them up to date with the latest tricks, such as the current vaccination offers for the coronavirus that claim to come from the World Health Organisation. Make sure they know not to click on suspicious links and what to do if they have clicked, or if they get a virus on their device.

Check into your current email security protections and make sure you have what you need in place, including frequent backups, good antivirus software, and even your business broadband and what security options it gives you.

The best thing to do is to always look to be up to date in terms of your knowledge of likely attacks and in providing the best possible protection against them.

How can a small business owner avoid email security threats?

As we’ve mentioned above, one of the prime protections against email security threats is to educate your staff on how to deal with attacks and to let them know that they’re not going to get in trouble if they come to you to say they’ve accidentally clicked on a spam email or got a virus. It’s far better to know and be able to deal with it.

Company policy should also include education on using strong passwords, teaching employees not to use easily guessable words, to use a different password for each access, and to change them regularly. That way, if hackers do manage to gain access to one password, they can’t use it to log in to anything else.

The best way to avoid security threats of any kind is to have robust IT systems in place, including two-factor authentication, email encryption and backups of your emails.

Other possible options to look into are:

  • Using a secure email gateway to filter out spam, phishing emails and other threats before they even reach your employees’ inboxes.
  • Add post-delivery protection to detect attacks and automatically remove them. These programs can also add a warning banner on suspicious emails, giving the user the option to report them.
  • Use a professional business password management system that allows your IT people to check for weak passwords, enforce the use of strong and unique passwords, and ensure users change their passwords regularly.

Nathan Hill-Haimes
Nathan Hill-Haimes

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