Authored by Vishal Bhat, Vice-President, Tata Teleservices
In today's evolving digital landscape, email has become an integral part of business communication. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) rely heavily on email to communicate with clients, partners, and employees. However, with the increasing sophistication of cyber vectors, SMEs are becoming prime targets for hackers and cybercriminals.
Growing Cyberthreat Landscape for Indian SMEs
SMEs operate on a low scale with limited means, and they do not have the resources to bear the loss of even a single day of work. And more often than not, they chose to ignore the essential security precautions taken by larger enterprises. The result is that these SMEs become prone to cyber threats which has several repercussions. While the company incurs upfront financial losses, they also lose business and reputation. In addition to this, they have to face lawsuits and regulatory penalties as an implication of the breach. Most cybercrimes result in the loss of sensitive data, making it pertinent for the authorities to act against the company.
While the SMEs have readily embraced digital transformation over the last couple of years as it has opened up new avenues for business growth, it has also created opportunities for the cybercriminals to target their weak or non-existent cybersecurity infrastructure. India is counted amongst prominent global ransomware payouts in cyberattacks. The coronavirus pandemic emerged as the biggest challenge for businesses and IT organisations and amidst the pandemic, the volume and sophistication of cyber threats and data breaches grew at a rapid pace and the biggest victim of these cyber threats have been the vulnerable SMEs.
Malicious and deliberate attacks by an individual or organisation aimed at gaining unauthorised access to another network to damage, disrupt, or steal IT assets, computer networks, intellectual property, or any other form of sensitive data are considered cyber security threats. Malware, Phishing, Spear Phishing, Man in the Middle Attack, Denial of Service Attacks, SQL Injection, Zero-day Exploit, Ransomware and DNS attack are some common cyber security threats.
Email remains the primary vector for cyberattacks. According to an industry estimate, email-based attacks accounted for 94% of all security incidents reported by Indian organizations. This highlights the significance of email security in safeguarding against potential threats.
Strategies to Enhance Email Security for SMEs
Given the growing cyber threats and potential consequences, SMEs must prioritize email security to protect their business and stakeholders. Here are some strategies to enhance email security:
Employee Education and Awareness: SMEs mostly become the target of cyberattacks due to the negligence of their employees. More often than not, data breaches happen when employees leave their workstations unattended, use unsecured or public network systems. Hence, SMEs should conduct regular training sessions to raise awareness about phishing attacks, the importance of password hygiene, and the risks associated with opening suspicious email attachments or clicking on unknown links. They should be cautioned about the consequences of cyber negligence and preventive actions for various attack vectors and reporting the same to their IT teams in real time.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Anti Malware Solutions: Implementing MFA adds an extra layer of security to email accounts. This requires users to provide additional verification, such as a code sent to their mobile device, in addition to their password. MFA can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to email accounts. Deploying email filtering and anti-malware solutions can help detect and block malicious emails before they reach users' inboxes. These solutions can identify and filter out spam, phishing attempts, and malware-infected attachments, mitigating the risk of successful email-based attacks.
Secure Email Gateways and Data Back-up: Implementing email encryption ensures that sensitive information remains secure during transit. Additionally, deploying secure email gateways adds an extra layer of protection by scanning inbound and outbound emails for potential threats. Regularly backing up critical data and establishing a disaster recovery plan is essential. In the event of a security breach or ransomware attack, having up-to-date backups can help restore operations and minimize the impact on the business
Regular Software updates and Patching: Keeping email servers, operating systems, and email clients up to date is crucial for addressing known vulnerabilities Software updates carry important security patches that can play a crucial role in keeping their data safe. Using random words, a mix of lowercase and uppercase and alphanumeric passwords can prove to be helpful. Such passwords are tough to crack and can protect the system from hacking attempts. Organisations may use password generators or create a policy on password configuration. Suspicious or fraudulent emails should be deleted immediately, as they may contain attachments and hyperlinks. Unsolicited emails often contain files loaded with malware or prompt the user to open sites that run malicious scripts on the computer. SMEs should never settle for free, or lite versions and should always use trusted professional services for enhanced security.
As cyberattacks continue to evolve, email security has become paramount for SMEs. The growing threat landscape, coupled with the potential risks and consequences of email security breaches, underscores the importance of robust email security. By implementing the measures outlined above, SMEs can put a strong defence mechanism and implement an impenetrable identity for their vital digital infrastructure to ensure a smooth and safer functioning. It's crucial to view cybersecurity as an ongoing process that requires continuous adaptation and improvement.