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August 30, 2023
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 min read

What is Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP)? Challenges and Best practices

Exposing email security threats & robust solutions. Elevate your communication protection with best practices

What is Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP)? Challenges and Best practices
Calendar Icon White
August 30, 2023
Clock Icon
 min read

What is Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP)? Challenges and Best practices

Exposing email security threats & robust solutions. Elevate your communication protection with best practices


A staggering 91% of cyber-attacks are initiated through emails, underscoring the critical importance of email security in today's digital age. Given the importance of email in business communication, it's a prime target for cyber-criminals, exposing firms to threats like phishing, account breaches, and steal data.

Standard email protocols often lack robust security measures, making them vulnerable to interceptions and lacking end-to-end encryption. This, combined with human errors like sending sensitive data to the wrong recipients, exacerbates the risks.

Adopting email DLP solutions is paramount to combat these vulnerabilities. Email Data loss prevention solutions act as vigilant sentinels, monitoring, detecting, and blocking unauthorized data transmissions, ensuring sensitive information remains secure within an organization. Best practices in this realm include:

  • Content inspection using machine learning.
  • Role-based access controls combined with encryption.
  • Regular training for security teams.

In this blog post, discover the critical threats to email security and actionable steps to transform your email system into a bastion of digital safety.

What is Email DLP?

Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions are designed to protect confidential and sensitive data from unauthorized transmission or data exfiltration during transit and rest. They detect, monitor, and block any sensitive data from being sent outside the organization's network - accidental or malicious. Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tool identifies confidential emails, ensuring no private information is lost or stolen. 

How Data is Lost in Email Networks?

When it comes to sending sensitive data, emails may be convenient and commonly used, but they are not secure. Challenges in Email data loss prevention are,

  1. Vulnerability to interception
  2. Lack of end-to-end encryption
  3. Phishing and malware risks
  4. Account breaches
  5. Human error
  6. Data retention issues
  7. Regulatory concerns
  8. No control after sending

Vulnerability to Interception: Unencrypted emails are prone to interception, akin to sending sensitive information through unsealed envelopes. They can be accessed by unauthorized parties during transmission.

Lack of End-to-End Encryption: Standard email protocols don't offer end-to-end encryption, making emails susceptible to breaches, both in transit and on servers.

Phishing and Malware Risks: Emails are common targets for phishing scams and malware, putting sensitive information at risk by deceiving recipients into compromising security.

Account Breaches: Compromised personal email address can give attackers access to a wealth of sensitive information, acting like a key to a trove of confidential data.

Human Error: Mistakes such as sending emails to the wrong recipient or attaching wrong file to a recipient can lead to significant breaches of confidentiality and security.

Data Retention Issues: Deleted emails might not be permanently erased, as servers often keep backups, making them vulnerable to breaches.

Regulatory Concerns: The use of unsecured emails for transmitting sensitive information can lead to regulatory penalties, especially in sectors like finance and healthcare.

No Control After Sending: Once an email is sent, the sender loses control over its distribution and access, making its contents vulnerable to unauthorized sharing or forwarding.

Strac Email DLP - Blocking when a sensitive email is sent. Other modes: Alert, Warn, Redact

Why does email data security matter?

DLP email security encompasses a range of techniques and best practices designed to shield email communication and accounts from unauthorized access, compromise, or loss. This protection extends to threats like phishing attacks, malware dissemination, and unwarranted data breaches. In 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) fell victim to a substantial email breach, leading to the public disclosure of sensitive emails and demonstrating the criticality of maintaining a secure email environment.

Here is why do you need Email DLP matters:

  • Protection from cyber-criminals
  • Consequences of email vulnerabilities
  • The need to guard sensitive information
  • The evolution of cyber threats

Protection from cyber-criminals

Unfortunately, with the widespread use of emails comes an increased risk of cyber-criminal activity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, phishing attacks escalated as attackers sought to take advantage of the transition to remote work. People using their company emails were especially vulnerable to malicious entities looking to exploit these communications channels.


Consequences of email vulnerabilities

DLP email encryption is like a strong castle, but vulnerability can lead to devastating consequences. The WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017 is an example of this. From seemingly innocent email attachments, it quickly spread to computers worldwide and encrypted their data, leaving them vulnerable to ransom demands. This incident highlights how just one tiny breach in email security can have global ripple effects and cause major disruptions in organizations' infrastructures.

The need to guard sensitive information

Emails are more than just communication vessels: they store valuable data and sensitive information, from trade secrets to personal details. This emphasizes the vital importance of DLP email encryption - a lesson learned too well when Sony Pictures suffered a major email hack in 2014. Their breach led to the public release of confidential information, unreleased films, and other private data, which could have been prevented with the right security measures.

The evolution of cyber threats 

As the digital age continues to evolve, cybercriminals adapt and utilize cutting-edge technologies such as AI and machine learning to devise intricate attacks. These threats extend beyond email systems, compromising cloud services and other digital infrastructures.

Learn more about preventing AI data leaks here ➡️How to prevent AI data leaks? 

The Blackbaud incident of 2020 serves as an example of a significant breach where hackers exploited a vulnerability in the company's cloud infrastructure, stealing sensitive information from their clients. It is now more important than ever to strengthen DLP email security and bolster the resilience of our overall digital ecosystem against emerging threats.

Common threats to email security

Emails often face threats from deceptive phishing links and harmful malware attachments.  Here are the most common email threats.

  1. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM)
  2. Business Email Compromise (BEC)
  3. Spam and Unsolicited Emails
  4. Domain Spoofing
  5. Zero-day Vulnerabilities
  6. Email Bombing
  7. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM)

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks are cyber attacks where an attacker secretly intercepts and manipulates the communication between two parties. This attack was famous in 2013 when British spy agency GCHQ infiltrated Belgacom, one of Belgium's largest telecommunications companies, to steal data from the company's employees and email server.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a form of cybercrime that includes the unauthorized access and use of a business email account. This type of fraud can be used to defraud the company or its customers, partners, and other businesses. For example, in 2016, toy manufacturer Mattel almost lost $3 million to a BEC scam where a finance executive was tricked into sending funds to a fake account in China.

Spam and Unsolicited Emails

Spam emails can cause more than just annoyance. They can overload email servers, spread malicious content, and even be used to carry out targeted attacks. One notable example of this was in 2007 when the Storm Worm botnet sent billions of spam emails to spread its malware, which resulted in over a million computers being infected worldwide.

Domain Spoofing

Domain spoofing is a type of cyber attack in which malicious actors send emails that appear to be from a legitimate domain to deceive recipients. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of Amazon's vast user base by sending phishing emails disguised as customer service messages. These emails often try to convince the recipient of an issue with a recent order or payment details and direct them to malicious sites.

Zero-day Vulnerabilities

Zero-day vulnerabilities are security flaws in software or hardware that are unknown to the vendor and can be exploited by hackers. For example, in 2018, a zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Office allowed cyber criminals to spread malware through email attachments without requiring the recipient to open the attachment.

Email Bombing

Email bombing is an attack strategy where large volumes of emails are sent to a single person or system, causing the email server or system to become overloaded and crash. This was demonstrated in 1996 when Panix, an Internet service provider, was targeted in an attack that left their email services down for several days.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

A DDoS attack is a malicious cyber attack where an attacker uses a botnet to send a flood of requests to overwhelm and disable a website or online service. The primary goal is to make the target unavailable, preventing legitimate users from accessing it. 

In 2008, the Conficker botnet infected millions of machines with malware. It exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, allowing the botmaster to steal user credentials, download malicious software, or launch attacks.

Similarly, in 2016, the Dyn Domain Name System (DNS) experienced one of the biggest DDoS attacks when Mirai botnet-infected Internet of Things (IoT) devices were used to disrupt major websites.

FYI - Botnets are malicious networks of computers and devices that have been compromised without their owners' knowledge. These bots, or ‘zombies’, can be remotely controlled by an attacker, the botmaster, or herder. 

Top 3 Email DLP Best Practices

Email Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is a must for any organization that wants to protect sensitive or confidential information from being shared without permission. To successfully implement email data loss prevention , here are the top three email DLP best practices:

1. Content Inspection and Contextual Analysis

Rather than relying solely on traditional rules, Email DLPs must be able to analyze emails and the context of any data shared thoroughly. This involves scanning for attachments email bodies, automatically recognizing sensitive data, and even understanding the meaning of the content

To do this effectively, use sophisticated Email DLP solutions powered by machine learning and natural language processing.  Strac automatically detects and redacts unstructured documents that contain any sensitive detail. Those documents could be pdf, jpeg, png, image, word doc, excel spreadsheets, etc. Also, it will detect/redact unstructured text in email data.

2. Role-based Access Controls and encryption

When it comes to employee data, not all staff should have access to everything. Role-based access allows us to ensure that employees can view and share only the data relevant to their jobs. We must employ dlp email encryption strategies at rest and when transmitted to protect sensitive data further. This will keep our data secure even if a breach is detected.

It is also important to use accurate email DLP tools, especially when communicating with external parties, as this will ensure that all data remains secure.

3. Regular training and awareness programs

Organizing regular data security awareness training sessions for all employees is essential to minimize the risk of data breach. Training should include real-life examples of data breach and their consequences. To further test employee vigilance, run simulated phishing campaigns and provide feedback and instructions based on the results.

The Email DLP solution You Need

Email remains the primary mode of communication for businesses worldwide, but it also poses significant security risks. 

Strac's Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solution helps to reduce these risks by protecting every email whether in transit or at rest—from potential threats.

Here’s what Strac can do for you

  • Strac offers comprehensive redaction of sensitive data across all major SaaS platforms, such as Gmail, Slack, ChatGPT, Box, Zendesk, Salesforce, Google Drive, and cloud platforms like AWS and Azure. 

Gmail DLP solution

Strac Gmail App is a DLP software that detects and redacts sensitive emails. Read about Strac’s solution for Gmail DLP.

  • Sensitive Data Detection and Redaction: Strac's Gmail App autonomously identifies and redacts sensitive information in both incoming and outgoing emails, including email bodies and attachments. This includes a wide range of data types such as PII, PHI, and other sensitive data.
  • Incoming and Outgoing Email Scanning: The system scans all incoming emails to prevent unauthorized access and redacts sensitive content. It also scans outgoing emails to ensure compliance and security before transmission.
  • Dynamic Email Control: Prevents unauthorized email forwarding while allowing authorized users to securely view redacted emails through Strac's UI Vault.
  • Compliance with Regulations: Helps organizations comply with various state privacy and security laws by ensuring sensitive data is handled appropriately.
  • Immediate Alert System: Notifies admin or security teams immediately when sensitive data is at risk of exposure, allowing for rapid response and remediation.
  • Advanced Quarantine and Blocking: Provides the capability to block or quarantine outgoing emails that contain sensitive data, enhancing security protocols.
  • Customizable Data Protection: Offers customization options to tailor data protection features to shield confidential or sensitive information specific to your organization.
  • Audit Reports and Access Monitoring: Generates detailed audit reports tracking who accessed specific messages, enhancing transparency and accountability.
  • Intuitive Reporting and Actionable Insights: Features an intuitive reporting system that identifies potential threats and provides actionable insights along with detailed remediation steps, ensuring continuous protection of sensitive data.
  • Microsoft Office 365 DLP solution

    Strac Office 365 App is a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tool that has the capability to identify and remediate (alert, block, redact) sensitive emails. Read about Strac’s solution for Microsoft Office 365 DLP.

    • The Strac Office 365 App is capable of identifying sensitive emails. By activating this app, you can obtain reports on sensitive emails that have been shared.
    • The Strac Office 365 App masks sensitive emails, though it still permits authorized users to access those emails via the Strac UI Vault.
    • When properly set up, the Strac Office 365 App can hinder the forwarding of emails to unauthorized external addresses. You can create a process to manage emails being sent to external addresses. For instance, an email or attachment can be sent only with the approval of the owner. If the owner disapproves, the email will not be dispatched to the external recipient.
    • Companies have the ability to specify a roster of sensitive data components (such as Social Security Numbers, Dates of Birth, Driver's Licenses, Passports, Credit Card Numbers, Debit Cards, API Keys, and so forth) for the Strac Office 365 App to conceal. Reports detailing which messages were accessed by whom can be made available to Compliance, Risk, and Security personnel.

    Take a look at Strac's collection of sensitive data components that are automatically identified and obscured (masked) by Strac. You can find more information at this link

    What sets Strac apart from the competition?

    • Its accuracy.
    • Strac is powered by advanced machine-learning models. It ensures that no data slips through the cracks. To top it off, new integrations are added weekly, so you remain protected regardless of the SaaS tools and platforms you decide to use. 
    • Strac also helps you stay compliant with global standards like PCI, HIPAA, SOC 2, GDPR, and NIST CSF with out-of-the-box classifiers. 
    • From detecting and redacting textual comments to unstructured documents such as images and Excel files, Strac offers precision with a seamless user experience. Moreover, we have pioneered AI DLP technology by offering its services for products like ChatGPT and Google Bard.  Learn more on sensitive data protection in ChatGPT
    • With API access, sensitive data can be detected and redacted even before sending it to LLM providers like OpenAI or AWS Bedrock - making Strac the most comprehensive SaaS coverage for secure data management.
    Strac  Integration

    Secure your data and pave the way for a digital future with Strac's DLP Solution. Our industry-leading technology prevents data breaches, fosters trust, promotes compliance, and encourages secure data flow. Put the power of Strac at your fingertips for total peace of mind in an ever-evolving digital landscape. 

    Read our other resources:

    Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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