Barely a day goes by without an announcement being made about an email account compromise, especially in the healthcare industry, but how does business email get hacked? What are the main ways that email account access is gained by unauthorized individuals?

Four Ways Business Email Gets Hacked

There four main ways that business email gets hacked, although fortunately there are simple steps that can be taken to improve email security and reduce the risk of an email account compromise at your business.

Phishing Attacks

The easiest way for a hacker to gain access to a business email account is to ask the account holder for their password. This method is incredibly simple, costs next to nothing, and is very effective. Phishing, like fishing, uses a lure to achieve its aim. An attacker only needs to craft an email with a plausible reason for divulging a password.

The attack could be as simple as spoofing an email from the IT department that requests the user change his or her password for security reasons. A link is supplied in the email that directs the user to a site where they have to enter their password and a replacement. Office 365 phishing scams are now common. A user is directed to a spoofed website where they are presented with a standard Office 365 login box, which they need to enter to open a shared file for example.

The lures are diverse, although there is usually a valid reason for providing login credentials, urgency, and often a threat – The failure to take action will result in harm or loss.

Brute Force Attacks

An alternative method of hacking a business email account is for the attacker to attempt to guess a user’s password. This is a much more long-winded approach that can require thousands of attempts before the password is guessed. This technique is automated and made easier by poor password choices and the failure to change default passwords. Passwords obtained in previous breaches can be used, which will catch out people who use the same passwords for multiple platforms. Information about a person can also be found on social media – A partner’s name, child’s name, pet name, or dates of birth – Information that is commonly used to create passwords.

Man-In-The-Middle Attacks

A man-in-the-middle attack involves an attacker intercepting information such as a password when it is sent between two parties. Information can be intercepted in unencrypted emails or when a user logs into a web-based platform via their browser. Man-in-the-middle attacks are common on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks and evil twin Wi-Fi hotspots – Hotspots that mimic a genuine hotspot provider, such as a coffee shop or hotel. Any information transmitted via that hotspot can be easily intercepted.

Writing Down Passwords

Many businesses have implemented password polices that require the use of strong and difficult to remember passwords. As a result, some employees write their passwords down on post-it notes, tape a password to their computer, or keep a note under their keyboard where any visitor to an office could discover it.

How to Stop Business Email Getting Hacked

These methods of gaining access to business email accounts are easy and inexpensive to block through low-cost cybersecurity solutions, policies and procedures, and staff training.

For businesses, the most important control to implement to protect against phishing is an advanced spam filter. A spam filter inspects all incoming emails for common spam signatures and malicious links and blocks messages before they are delivered to end users. Some spam filters also inspect outgoing email, which helps to prevent a breached email account from being used for further phishing attacks on contacts.

Even the best spam filters will not block every single phishing email so security awareness training for staff is essential. Regular training sessions should be provided – at least twice annually – and these should be augmented with more regular reminders about security and newsletters about the latest threats. Phishing simulations are useful for testing the effectiveness of training and to condition employees how to respond to email threats.

Brute force attacks are best prevented with good password policies that prevent weak passwords from being set. To prevent employees from writing passwords down, consider paying for a password manager or allowing the use of long passphrases, which are easy to remember but difficult to guess. Ensure two-factor authentication is enabled and rate limiting is applied to block login attempts after a set number of failed password guesses.

Man-in-the-middle attacks can be prevented in a number of ways. Remote workers should be provided with a VPN to access work networks and email. Some web filters, WebTitan for instance, can be used to protect remote workers online and prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and can also to prevent users from visiting malicious websites, such as those used for phishing.

If you want to improve email security, TitanHQ can help. Contact the team today for information on spam filters to block phishing attacks and to find out more about the benefits of web filtering.