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June 6, 2024
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6
 min read

How Email Monitoring Enhances Data Loss Prevention?

Enhance data loss prevention with email real-time content analysis, policy enforcement, encryption, and automated alerts for maximum data security.

How Email Monitoring Enhances Data Loss Prevention?
Calendar Icon White
June 6, 2024
Clock Icon
6
 min read

How Email Monitoring Enhances Data Loss Prevention?

Enhance data loss prevention with email real-time content analysis, policy enforcement, encryption, and automated alerts for maximum data security.

TL;DR

  • Emails can contain sensitive information that may be accessible to unauthorized persons or malicious insiders.
  • These threats can be Internal (accidental data loss, insider threats) and external (phishing, MITM attacks, email compromise, spam, spoofing, zero-day vulnerabilities, email bombing, DDoS attacks).
  • Use advanced filtering, establish data transfer policies, implement MFA and SSO, provide regular employee training, utilize encryption, monitor user activity, and deploy DLP tools.
  • Consider feature set, system integration, scalability, cost, and trial availability.
  • Advanced machine learning models, compliance with global standards, continuous updates, and support for Gmail and Microsoft Office 365 DLP

Is your email inbox a potential Trojan Horse? 

Email vulnerabilities are a serious concern. Email has become a prime target for malicious actors, whether exposing sensitive data in incidents like the Panama Papers leak or attacks on major organizations such as the New York Post. External threats pose risks, but accidental exposure and disgruntled employees can also create security vulnerabilities within your inbox. 

To safeguard our emails from these threats, you need an email monitoring solution.

What is Email Monitoring?

Email monitoring tools checks for sensitive information like passwords, financial details, intellectual property, customer data, and confidential business information. It is an essential component of a broader data loss prevention strategy, ensuring data protection across various channels. Given the critical role of email in business operations, integrating email monitoring solutions into your data protection strategy is essential.

Why Do We Need Email Monitoring?

Businesses today rely heavily on digital information. This includes sensitive information such as personally identifiable details (PII), customer records, financial data, and intellectual property. Email data breaches occur when confidential information is mistakenly sent to unauthorized recipients, often due to human error, phishing attempts, or malicious software. Such breaches can lead to significant consequences for companies, including financial losses, damage to their reputation, and legal issues. 

Research by the Ponemon Institute indicates that the average data breach cost is around $3.86 million, covering expenses related to investigation, notification processes, and remedial measures. Therefore, businesses must establish protective measures against email data breaches.

How Data Is Lost or Leaked Via Email

Internal email security threats

  • Accidental data loss

Imagine a scenario where important data disappears without a trace accidentally - that's what we call accidental data loss. It often involves employees unintentionally sharing sensitive information with the wrong individuals or mistakenly hitting reply all instead of reply, causing data to end up in the hands of a larger audience than intended. 

According to the UK's data regulator, misdirected emails are the primary cause of security breaches. Inadvertent leaks occur when an employee attaches the incorrect file, sends confidential information to the wrong recipient list, forgets to encrypt a crucial document, or unknowingly forwards an email containing sensitive details buried within a lengthy conversation thread.

  • Insider threats

Employees on the brink of leaving their current jobs might decide to send important company documents like business plans and customer records to their personal email accounts for future prospects. Some employees actively try to harm their employers by leaking classified information to the media or selling confidential data on shady online platforms for financial gain. Some employees innocently forward sensitive files to their personal email addresses so they can work from home, unknowingly putting valuable information at risk.

Inbound email security threats

  • Phishing

Social engineering attacks known as phishing aim to deceive employees into providing sensitive information. The FBI reports that phishing is the primary form of internet crime, with incidents doubling in 2020. Malware-laden phishing emails may carry harmful payloads like trojans, which can infiltrate a user's device to steal or damage data. Spear phishing is a more targeted approach that focuses on specific individuals and is often more advanced than general phishing attempts.

  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM)

Man-in-the-middle attacks, or MitM attacks, involve a cybercriminal secretly intercepting and altering communications between two parties. A notable instance occurred in 2013 when the British intelligence agency GCHQ breached Belgacom, a major telecommunications company in Belgium, to steal data from its employees and email servers.

  • Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a cybercrime involving the unauthorized entry and exploitation of a business email account. This fraudulent activity aims to deceive the company and its clients, affiliates, and counterparts. In an instance from 2016, Mattel, a toy company, nearly faced a $3 million loss due to a BEC scheme in which a finance officer mistakenly transferred funds to a false Chinese account.

  • Spam emails

Spam and unwanted emails are more than a nuisance-they can wreak havoc by overwhelming email servers, spreading harmful content, and facilitating targeted attacks. In 2007, the Storm Worm botnet unleashed billions of spam emails carrying malware, resulting in a global infection of over a million computers.

  • Domain spoofing

Domain spoofing is a malicious tactic where cybercriminals send deceptive emails, mimicking legitimate domains to trick recipients. Hackers exploited Amazon's extensive user base and crafted phishing emails that were posing as customer service messages. These emails typically claim issues with recent orders or payment details, luring recipients to malicious websites.

  • Zero-day vulnerabilities

Zero-day vulnerabilities are undisclosed security flaws in software or hardware that hackers can exploit before vendors become aware. In 2018, cyber criminals exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Office to distribute malware via email attachments without requiring the recipient to open them.

  • Email bombing

Sending an army of emails to a single recipient or system, known as email bombing, is a tactic used to overwhelm the email server or system until it crashes. An example of this occurred in 1996 when Panix, an Internet service provider, was targeted, and their email services were unusable for several days.

  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks involve flooding a website or online service with excessive requests through a botnet controlled by the attacker. The aim is to make the target inaccessible to legitimate users. In 2008, the Conficker botnet infected numerous machines with malware by exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows. 

This allowed the botmaster to steal user credentials, download malicious software, and launch attacks. Similarly, in 2016, the Dyn Domain Name System (DNS) faced one of its largest DDoS attacks as Internet of Things (IoT) devices infected by the Mirai botnet were used to disrupt major websites.

Best Practices to Safeguard Email Data

Preventing data loss through email should be a top priority for several reasons. Email is the primary concern for security leaders as it can contain sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card details, and valuable intellectual property or financial data in attachments.

Here are key practices to ensure your email data is protected:

1. Filtering emails carrying sensitive data

Email monitoring solutions should not solely rely on traditional rules but rather have the capability to analyze emails and the context of shared data thoroughly. It should employ pre-set templates and data classification methods like fingerprinting, keyword search, and RegEx to pinpoint emails with PII or other industry-specific restricted information. 

For confidential data, it should scan and filter various email fields, including sender, subject, BCC, CC, and attachments. Strac automatically identifies and redacts sensitive details in unstructured documents like PDFs, JPEGs, PNGs, images, word docs, and Excel spreadsheets. Additionally, it can detect and redact unstructured text in email content.

Additionally, organizations should implement email filters that scrutinize and flag emails containing specific sensitive keywords or data patterns (e.g., credit card numbers or social security numbers). These filters can also prevent accidental disclosure of confidential information by blocking or isolating emails.

2. Defining policies to regulate data transfer

Create specific rules for transmitting data to control the kinds of information allowed to be shared via email and the approved persons for sending or receiving sensitive data. Cover different scenarios, such as sharing personal information, financial documents, and intellectual property. Clearly outline the types of files that can be attached and limit the size of attachments. Specify the consequences for violating the rules. Enforce these guidelines through technical methods and regular audits to ensure compliance and minimize the risk of data breaches.

3. Whitelisting trusted domains 

Create a list of approved email domains for sending and receiving messages. With whitelisting, you only allow emails from trusted domains, significantly reducing the risk of phishing and unauthorized access. This action prevents spoofing attacks, where attackers disguise their emails to look like they are from reputable sources. It also ensures that messages from untrustworthy sources are either blocked or marked as suspicious, protecting the network from potentially harmful content.

4. Staying compliant with security standards

Follow the necessary security regulations such as HIPAA for healthcare data or GDPR for EU data privacy. Complying with these requirements will help ensure your email practices align with established security standards and prevent potential legal and financial consequences.

5. Use Single Sign On (SSO), MFA, or a custom verification method to authenticate 

Enhance your email account security by incorporating robust authentication measures beyond traditional passwords. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) mandates an extra verification step, such as a code from a mobile app or a fingerprint scan, to thwart unauthorized access. Boost protection further by exploring Single Sign-On (SSO) for streamlined login across various platforms, mitigating password overload and phishing risks. Tailor custom verification methods to fit your organizational requirements for heightened security through additional MFA authentication layers.

6. Train employees

Conduct frequent data security training for all staff members to reduce the chances of a data breach. The training must incorporate practical instances of data breaches and their impacts.  Assess employee alertness by executing mock phishing attacks and offer guidance and feedback based on the outcomes. Phishing emails are a primary factor in data breaches, and a highly skilled workforce is your ultimate shield.

7. Use encryption and role-based access control

Not all employees should have unrestricted access to employee data. Implement role-based access to ensure staff can only access and share information relevant to their roles. Encrypt emails, as encryption jumbles the message content, making it unreadable without the decryption key. Explore options such as S/MIME or PGP for email encryption. Encryption can safeguard data at rest and in motion, preventing interception or unauthorized server access.

8. Monitor user activity

Monitor user activity to detect anomalies that might indicate a security breach. This includes tracking login attempts, data downloads, and unusual email activity, such as large data transfers or emails sent to unusual recipients. 

9. Regularly review policies

Stay vigilant, as security risks are constantly changing. Regularly assess and update your email security protocols to ensure they can effectively address emerging threats.

10. Implement DLP tools

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) safeguards against data breaches by actively monitoring and blocking sensitive information at every stage - whether it's in use, motion or at rest. These tools can enforce strict policies to prevent accidental and intentional leaks by scanning emails and attachments for sensitive data. Ultimately, they serve as vigilant gatekeepers to ensure that confidential information remains within the confines of the corporate network unless authorized otherwise.

Features of Traditional Email Monitoring Solutions

  • Emails can pose a threat even when they are not actively being sent. Stored or archived emails may contain sensitive customer data, financial documents, or employee personally identifiable information, which can be more dangerous than active emails.
  • These stagnant emails may seem harmless but actually present a significant risk to your data security. Traditional email  monitoring tools often do not detect data at rest as a threat because it is not leaving the organization.
  • If an unauthorized person or a malicious insider gains access to an email account, they can steal data without sending any messages. They can simply take screenshots of sensitive information or download the account's contents. 
  • One way to address this threat is through an email retention policy, which involves regularly deleting old emails rather than solely relying on email data protection. However, this approach has its drawbacks: every deleted email, while no longer posing a risk to sensitive information, also means that employees lose access to valuable information.
  • This could lead to potential delays and inconvenience for organization members. In larger companies, this could result in numerous hours wasted re-sending and re-sharing the same information, potentially ending up in the wrong hands.

Why You Should Choose Email DLP Over Email Monitoring Software?

Email DLP solutions provide a lot more benefits when compared to email monitoring solutions which merely detect if there is sensitive data communicated over email. Email DLP goes one step further by taking remediating (redaction, blocking, encryption, masking) actions to prevent exposure of sensitive data.

Features of Email DLP

Content discovery and remediation

  • Detecting content: Strong content detection features that can scan attachments and text for sensitive information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, or proprietary data. 
Strac DLP for email monitoring and detection of sensitive data
  • Customized policies: Tailored DLP policies and customized rules for user groups, data types, and information contexts.
  • Managing incidents and reporting: Efficient incident management tools to monitor policy violations and robust reporting capabilities for auditing and compliance purposes.
  • Encryption: Encryption features that automatically encrypt emails containing sensitive data. Remediation options include blocking transmission or quarantining emails for further review.

Integration

  • Compatibility with existing systems: DLP solutions like Strac smoothly integrate with your current email platforms, such as Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, or Google Workspace. 
  • Integration with other Security Tools: They also integrate with various security systems such as SIEMs (Security Information and Event Management), IAM (Identity and Access Management), and additional endpoint protection tools for a unified security framework.

Scalability

  • Adaptability to growth: A well-built DLP solution can manage growing demands as the organization expands. It can accommodate higher data volumes and more intricate organizational frameworks without sacrificing performance.
  • Flexible deployment options: Depending on your organization's requirements, you may need an on-site, cloud-based, or hybrid deployment option. DLP solutions allow you to switch between deployment models as your business requirements change over time.

Trial

  • Try out the software before company-wide implementation: Most vendors provide a trial period so you can see how their DLP solutions work in your setup. You can test important features like policy setup, user-friendliness, data leak detection, and compatibility with your current systems. 
  • Vendor support and training: Vendors also provide training and support during and after implementation; good support can make implementing and maintaining the solution smoother.

How Strac Monitors Emails for Sensitive Data Loss Prevention?

Strac's email data loss prevention (DLP) solution helps reduce these risks by protecting every email- in transit or at rest—from potential threats.

Here's what Strac can do for you:

Gmail DLP solution

Secure your emails with Strac today!
  • The system autonomously detects and masks sensitive data, helping businesses adhere to privacy and security regulations. 
  • Strac generates detailed audit reports on email access and promptly alerts teams to potential breaches of sensitive information. 
  • It can be tailored to protect your organization's confidential data, and its user-friendly reporting system offers valuable insights and guidance for safeguarding your data effectively.

Microsoft Office 365 DLP solution 

  • Strac Microsoft Office 365 DLP provides advanced features for identifying and protecting sensitive emails. With proper configuration, the DLP can prevent the unauthorized forwarding of emails to external recipients.
  • Organizations can establish a process where emails sent to external addresses require approval from the owner before being dispatched. This ensures that confidential information is only shared with permission.
  • Organizations can also define a list of sensitive data types, such as SSNs, DOBs, driver's licenses, passports, credit card numbers, and API keys, for the app to safeguard.
  • Compliance, risk management, and security teams can access reports showing who has accessed specific messages for monitoring purposes.

What sets Strac apart from the competition?

  • Strac uses advanced machine-learning models to ensure that no data is overlooked. It is constantly updated with new integrations every week, providing protection regardless of the SaaS tools and platforms you use. 
  • Strac also helps maintain compliance with global standards such as PCI, HIPAA, SOC 2, GDPR, and NIST CSF through pre-built classifiers. 
  • From identifying and censoring text comments to unstructured data like images and Excel files, Strac offers precise results with a user-friendly interface. 
  • Strac also leads the way in AI DLP technology for products like ChatGPT and Google Bard. With API access, sensitive data can be identified and censored before being sent to LLM providers such as OpenAI or AWS Bedrock - making Strac the most comprehensive SaaS solution for secure data management.

Secure your emails with Strac today!

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

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