When you work in the finance industry, it’s not just your own information that you need to keep secure. Day in and day out, you are working with sensitive client data on your company’s behalf. This makes keeping your emails secure more than just a best practice that you should be following. Rather, it’s essential for you to ensure that you’re keeping email security and data security top-of-mind all the time.
There Are Two Sides To Email Security Practices For Financial Services Providers To Bear In Mind
When most people think of email security, they tend to think of the practices that they can take for their personal email addresses. They know that they shouldn’t click on malicious links, for example, or that they shouldn’t open attachments from senders that they don’t recognise. And these are absolutely principles that people who work in financial services should follow as well. But they are not the only area that financial services businesses need to worry about. There’s another danger that many companies don’t even consider, and that’s their reputation.
In the finance industry, reputation is everything. In any business, trust is key to success. But when you’re handling finances and investments on behalf of clients, trust is absolutely critical. Which is why email security for financial institutions is paramount, not just on a personal level, but on a company-wide level as well.
It’s not just your personal reputation at stake when you click on a malicious link or attachment. Any malware that gets installed on your work machine, or even on your personal machine if you are accessing work files and documents from it, puts your entire company at risk. And it may not even be obvious at first. Plenty of attackers wait for the right moment, when they have complete access or enough information to cause a significant amount of damage, before taking action.
And it’s not just employees’ personal email habits that companies need to concern themselves with either. Email spoofing is rising in popularity, and having a huge impact on the hard-earned trust that financial service providers have spent years honing and developing. All it takes is one or two emails to the right person, with the right name attached to them, for your customers to lose faith in your business.
What Types of Email Security Risks Does The Financial Services Industry Face?
It can be hard to keep track of each and every financial services email security threat out there, but the good news is that you don’t really need to. There are five main risks to email security in the finance industry is particularly susceptible to, and making sure that these risks are addressed, and that your teams know how to handle them, will go a long way towards safeguarding your business reputation.
1. Phishing Mail
Phishing is such a broad topic, but it is a threat that needs to be addressed. It can come in plenty of forms – from generic phishing, which gets sent to any and every address an attacker can lay their hands on; to spear phishing, which targets specific individuals; to whale phishing, which targets those who hold C-level and management positions.
Those personal email security practices that you’re so used to hearing about – not clicking on strange links or opening strange attachments – all stem from phishing mails, because those are the main techniques used by phishing attackers. They use phishing mails as a means of tricking you into typing in your login credentials or unknowingly installing malware, which in turn gives them access to company data that they can use against you.
When most people think of phishing mail, they think of emails that are coming from strangers, but there are two specific types of phishing mails which can be considered as email risks all on their own.
2. Social Engineering
Have you ever received a mail that you were sure was meant for you – it addressed you by name, and even seemed to be coming from someone you knew. But when you looked a little bit closer, the email address wasn’t quite right. Or the signature was using an outdated picture or logo. Or something about the language didn’t quite fit. I know that I have. In fact, our company experienced an attempted social engineering attack at the beginning of 2022.
Social engineering attackers go to great lengths to make you think that they’re legitimate. That it’s a colleague who’s emailing you, or an old friend. They might not even ask you to take any action… at first. The attackers want to gain your trust before they strike, and they often do this by digging into your social media accounts, finding statuses that they can use to their advantage. Basically, they stalk you online. And it is just as creepy as it sounds. But this is why these attacks are so very dangerous. Because the attackers learn so much about you, it makes it far more difficult to spot the phishing mail, and the result can be devastating for your business if you fall for a social engineering mail and give the attacker critical information about yourself, your company, or your clientele.
Where social engineering mails usually target your employees with the aim of gaining access to your data, spoofing mails usually target external companies like your vendors or your clients, with the intention of intercepting payments, for example.
Attackers send mails claiming to be a trustworthy business – perhaps a bank, a popular shopping site, or a supplier that you deal with on a regular basis. Or, in some cases, they may even claim to be coming from your company. Which is why spoofing is such a huge risk to your reputation.
The emails look so real that an average person wouldn’t think twice about clicking the links or attachments in them. Attackers will even send these types of mails out at particular times of the month when people might be expecting their latest invoice.
4. Compromised Emails
A spoofed email address and a compromised email address can seem difficult to tell apart at first. Both are used by attackers, both involve emails that claim to be from you, for example, but aren’t. But a compromised email address is a lot more dangerous than a spoofed one.
There are signs and signals that a spoofed address is not quite right. If you look at the sender, you’ll often find that it’s not coming from the correct address, even if the sender’s name seems right. But a compromised address is another story entirely. A compromised address is one that attackers have gained illicit access to, and are using to trick and con others. It is a legitimate address – there is nothing to tell it apart from the real sender aside, perhaps, from the language that might be used. But even then, once an attacker has access to an email address, it is easy for them to simply reroute messages that you are sending, and adjust it ever so slightly (with their own banking details on a legitimate invoice, for example) and send it to the intended recipient without you (or the recipient) being none the wiser.
Business continuity is an essential part of operating in today’s digital world. Any form of disaster that can bring your business offline has an immediate impact on your profit margins and, once again, your reputation. Attackers are well aware of this, which is why some of the most devastating attacks over recent years have been ransomware related.
Much like the malware that some phishing emails contain, ransomware allows attackers to gain access to your company’s network and systems. The difference between malware and ransomware is that ransomware is specifically used to hold your business data ransom, preventing access to critical information unless a fee is paid for its release. This often occurs over an extended period of time, as attackers will try to gain access to as much data as possible before encrypting it, migrating it, or making it otherwise inaccessible.
Because businesses cannot operate without their data, they often have no choice but to pay the ransom demands in an attempt to mitigate the reputational damage to their brand.
What Can You Do About These Email Security Threats?
With so many email security risks facing financial service providers on a practically hourly basis, you may be wondering what steps you can take to mitigate the risk and avoid falling victim to an attack.
We’ve spoken before about steps that employees can take to secure their email addresses, but what are the best email security practices for financial services? Let’s look at four steps that you can take as a business to protect your data and your emails.
4 Email Security Practices For Financial Services Providers
1. Stop Attackers From Spoofing Your Domains
It’s a tough scenario, because anyone can change the ‘name’ that they are sending emails out as. Anyone can claim to be from a company by updating their signature to reflect the business’ style and logo. But there are steps that you can take to stop people from using your domain name to send emails.
Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records help businesses to prevent spoofing by specifying the IP addresses that your emails are coming from. This means that if an attacker sends a mail claiming to come from you, but outside of your network, it will be flagged as fraudulent.
DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) records ensure that the mail that you send is the mail that reaches the recipient, and that it hasn’t been tampered with enroute. This is particularly useful in instances of compromised mailboxes where attackers exchange attachments on legitimate mails for illicit ones of their own.
Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) is an anti-phishing and anti-spoofing tool that checks all inbound messages against domain reputations, ensuring that an email is coming from a legitimate source.
And while these three terms can be a bit of a headache to understand and keep in order, our friends over at Sendmarc have all the tools that you need to maintain top-notch email security. They even specialise in reporting that highlights your domain reputation, and helps you to improve it.
2. Encrypt Your Emails
When you’re transferring sensitive data, such as login or financial credentials, email isn’t necessarily the best way to send the information. There are alternatives, like providing the details in person or over a phone call. You could also use a site like Password.link, which provides the recipient with a link which can only be opened once, and never again, reducing the likelihood of the contents becoming intercepted.
But there’s no getting around the fact that email is incredibly convenient. Which is why people continue to send sensitive information over email, even knowing that there are risks involved. You can greatly reduce the risk, however, by ensuring that any emails that relate to clients, contain sensitive information, or relate to your business operations, are encrypted. This adds a layer of protection by using a key or code to scramble the data while it is in transit, and unscramble it when it reaches its intended recipient or device.
3. Use Multi Factor Authentication
About a year ago, I turned to a colleague of mine and said something quite controversial. And I stand by it.
I will give you my password if I have two-factor authentication enabled.
That is how much protection multi-factor authentication adds to an account. It means that an attacker would need more than just a username and password to infiltrate a mailbox. They would need access to, for example, your cellphone. Or, to take things a step further, your fingerprint if you choose to use biometric authentication. For extremely sensitive data, you could require both!
Multi-factor authentication is such a simple solution to a complex problem, and adds an inordinate level of security. That’s why it’s one of the first recommendations that I tell businesses to implement, whether they offer financial services or not.
4. Plan For Disaster
One of the biggest reasons why ransomware attacks are so devastating is that businesses aren’t adequately prepared for continuity. They may be storing their data in the cloud, but they don’t realise that cloud storage services aren’t the same as a cloud backup. Or that Microsoft 365 Backup isn’t included as a standard – it has to be added on separately. Or that cloud backup on its own is all well and good, but is relatively meaningless without a disaster recovery plan in place.
By storing backups of your data, and updating them on a regular basis, you can protect your business effectively against ransomware attacks, simply because the data that the attackers are trying to hold ransom is already being recovered in the background. In almost all cases, this nullifies the threat that ransomware attackers pose, reducing the amount of time your business has to spend offline if it falls under attack, and preventing the payment of costly ransom demands, penalties, and the hit that your reputation would take.
Are You Ready To Protect Your Business ?
Email security practices are a critical part of protecting your finance business. But it’s not the only risk that your company faces. When it comes to IT, there are seemingly endless methods of attack that you need to protect your business against. But you aren’t alone in the battle.
At Solid Systems, we’ve spent the past two decades providing businesses around the world with the email security solutions and cybersecurity solutions that they need to mitigate risk, grow their companies, and ultimately make more money. Our Managed IT Services are the perfect example of holistic solutions that protect your business and see you stepping into the future with confidence. If you want to learn more about what our Managed IT Services involve, and how they can boost your business, book a consult with me today.