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Avoid Ransomware Attacks: 13 Email Security Tips

How to Avoid Costly Ransomware Attacks: 13 Essential Email Security Tips for Businesses Ransomware emails are a serious cybersecurity threat for companies of all sizes. […]

How to Avoid Costly Ransomware Attacks: 13 Essential Email Security Tips for Businesses

Ransomware emails are a serious cybersecurity threat for companies of all sizes. A single infected email can give hackers access to an entire corporate network, allowing them to encrypt files and demand ransom payments. Recent high-profile attacks demonstrate the need for vigilance. Though no organization is immune to ransomware, there are steps every business can take to reduce risk. This article outlines 13 practical email security tips, drawing on the experience of LK Technologies, a leading IT services provider.

Avoid Ransomware Attacks: 13 Email Security Tips

Avoid Ransomware Attacks: 13 Email Security Tips

The Rising Threat of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have been rapidly escalating, inflicting severe damage on businesses worldwide. The FBI reported a 300% annual increase in ransomware incidents. Trend Micro blocked over 40 billion email threats in just the first half of 2020. High-profile examples like the attack on Colonial Pipeline illustrate the massive disruptions and costs ransomware can inflict. No sector is safe.

With more employees working remotely and cybercriminals relentlessly innovating, organizations must implement robust defenses. Though complex malware strains like REvil require advanced protections, most ransomware still enters through basic email phishing and social engineering. Equipping staff with knowledge on email risks is essential.

Implementing the following email security tips can significantly strengthen any company's ransomware defenses. But technology alone is not enough – regular cybersecurity training is crucial to building an organizational culture of vigilance.

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Use Caution with Email Senders

Scrutinizing incoming email senders carefully is the first line of defense.

  • Carefully check the actual email address in messages, not just the displayed sender name. Cybercriminals often spoof legitimate business domains by altering letters or using lookalike imposter addresses.
  • If an email appears suspicious, look up the sender's official contact information independently on their website or account statements. Never use contact info from the questionable email itself.
  • Verify the email's authenticity directly with the purported sender before taking action. Call known numbers or go directly to real website addresses to confirm legitimacy.

Establishing sender validity upfront can stop attacks before they start. But bear in mind sophisticated hackers can compromise legitimate accounts, so also watch for unusual requests from known contacts.

Watch for Suspicious Email Subject Lines

Hackers often use tantalizing or urgent subject lines hoping to bypass scrutiny and trigger hasty responses. Common examples include:

  • "Urgent invoice attached"
  • "Password reset required immediately"
  • "Re: Missed delivery failure notice"

Any subject line conveying urgency, controversy, fear or an enticing offer warrants extra caution, even if sent from a familiar address. Train staff to treat such emails as suspicious until verified. Check with the purported sender through separate channels before responding or clicking enclosed links.

Examine Email Content and Formatting

  • Poor formatting, misspellings, grammatical errors and other textual oddities are red flags. These signal either phishing attempts or compromised accounts.
  • Also check that corporate logos, contact information, disclaimers and other standard details match previous legitimate emails from the same sender.
  • Anything that seems "off" or out of place, like over-familiar greetings from formal clients, warrants verification. Don't assume a familiar sender domain guarantees safety.

Hover Over Embedded Links Before Clicking

  • Never click links in suspicious emails. First hover your mouse over the link text to preview the actual destination URL.
  • Check if the displayed URL matches what was typed in the link text. If not, the link is fraudulent.
  • If unsure, contact the sender through other means to confirm they sent the link and verify it goes to a legitimate destination.
  • Typing URLs directly into your browser is much safer than clicking embedded links. Bookmark legitimate sites rather than relying on emailed links.

Use Extreme Caution with Email Attachments

  • Only open expected attachments from trusted, verified sources. Unexpected attachments often contain malware or exploits.
  • Even attachments from known contacts can be dangerous if their accounts were compromised. Criminals will attempt to leverage trust in recipients.
  • Check with your IT team before accessing any uncertain attachments to scan them for malware. Or request the sender retransmit the attachment via a more secure method.

Permanently Delete Suspicious Emails

Rather than just deleting questionable emails, use Shift + Delete to bypass your trash folder completely. This prevents recovered emails from launching malware if accessed later.

Empty trash folders frequently as well. Follow your company's email retention policies to purge older messages containing malicious links or attachments.

Never Provide Sensitive Data by Email

Make it policy to treat any email requests for financial, personal or login information as fraudulent, no matter how legitimate they appear. Standard business communications will never solicit such sensitive details by email.

Do not provide confidential data by clicking links within emails either. Legitimate companies will use more secure channels to transmit sensitive information.

Delete When in Doubt

When confronted with an email arousing any level of suspicion, delete it. Questionable links, odd requests from known contacts, and unfamiliar senders warrant deletion. Don't assume benign explanations.

Though this results in occasionally deleting valid messages, it's a small price to pay for security. Legitimate senders will follow up by other methods. Set a low threshold for sending emails to trash rather than risking malware.

Check for "HTTPS" Browser Padlock

When visiting new websites by clicking email links, ensure your browser displays the padlock icon next to the URL and the "HTTPS" prefix. These visual indicators confirm site security and encryption to protect your data in transit.

Plain "HTTP" connections are insecure. Also confirm the certificate matches the site domain, clicking for more details if uncertain.

Verify Website URLs Carefully

Malicious sites often use altered URLs imitating legitimate businesses. When accessing websites via email links, closely check that domain spellings exactly match the real organization's site.

Look for subtle typos, substituted letters, different domain extensions (.com vs .net), and other minor alterations that often signify fraud. Hover over links before clicking to compare destinations to typed text.

Keep Antivirus Software Updated

Use your IT department or managed service provider to maintain real-time antivirus and anti-malware software across your network. Regular software updates are essential to detect the latest threats.

Employees should not disable or make exceptions to security software without IT approval. Doing so severely weakens defenses by exposing systems to undetected threats.

Avoid Personal Email at Work

Employees accessing personal accounts on company networks weaken security. Business email defenses like spam filters and malware scanners may not block viruses or phishing attempts from personal inboxes.

Prohibit use of personal email for company business. Keep work and personal communication completely separate to limit risks.

Request External Email Warning Banners

Ask your IT team to implement company-wide banners visibly flagging all external emails with warnings like "External Sender" or "Use Caution Opening Links".

This simple measure immediately identifies risky messages requiring additional scrutiny. It reinforces employee training to double check external emails.

Conduct Ongoing Employee Cybersecurity Training

The most advanced email security tools can't defend against naive users. Regular cybersecurity awareness training is critical to building an organizational culture of proactive vigilance.

Update staff frequently on the latest phishing techniques, ransomware threats, and appropriate responses through emails, meetings, posters and events. Friendly reminders keep risks top of mind.

Additional Email Security Best Practices

  • Classify data sensitivity and restrict access to limit damage if emails are breached
  • Encrypt emails and attachments containing confidential data
  • Discourage email use for sensitive topics - use more secure methods like file shares
  • Limit third party access to company emails and accounts
  • Develop an incident response plan for potential ransomware attacks

Conclusion: Layered Security is Key

Action Benefit
Combine employee training, email security, and updated antivirus tools Significantly reduce ransomware risks
Implement robust technological protections Effective defense against evolving threats
Partner with a trusted IT security advisor Ensure full coverage through layered security

By taking a proactive, layered approach to security, businesses can substantially reduce the risk of ransomware attacks. Technological measures like spam filters and endpoint protection are essential foundations.

But effective defense also requires ongoing human vigilance, supported by regular cybersecurity awareness training. Employees must learn to spot risks and respond appropriately as outlined above.

With comprehensive email security training and protocols, companies can develop a resilient culture that drastically diminishes the chances of a successful ransomware attack. Don't become the next victim!

 

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