How Advanced Malware Analysis Tools Help With Email Security

How Advanced Malware Analysis Tools Help With Email Security

email needs advanced malware analysis tools to detect threats thumbYour organization’s biggest security threat is a tool your employees use every day. Even now, with advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) and personal devices, email remains the most common vector of cyberattack. Approximately 76% of organizations in 2017 experienced phishing attacks – and this is only one type of email vulnerability. Securing critical data is a top priority for modern businesses, and email security is essential to keeping your company’s data safe.

Email Security Landscape

In 2016, 1 in 131 emails contained malware – the highest rate in 5 years. Fake invoicing messages are the #1 type of phishing lure – billing departments that are not well organized may forward invoices for payment without further consideration, exposing their financial information and other identifiable information to the attacker.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are a wide variety of malicious attacks that can be carried out through email. Reports of W-2 phishing emails increased 870% in 2017, with some incredibly high-profile targets such as universities and government agencies. W-2 phishing emails expose an organization’s employees to potential identity theft by providing their personal data to cyber criminals.

Ransomware messages were up 6,000% in 2017, in part because cryptocurrencies have made it easier to collect payments on a global scale. Ransomware can lock and encrypt an organization’s systems, network, and data until the ransom has been paid. If the ransom is not paid, a company may lose data that is critical to its operations.

Why Email Remains a Popular Attack Vector

As you can see, email attacks of all types are increasing, regardless of whether a company is using an on-premise email platform or migrating to a cloud email service such as Office 365. In a world of ever-advancing technology (and associated vulnerabilities), why does email remain such a popular attack vector? Why aren’t cyber criminals moving on to the Internet of Things, for example? While they are attacking these environments as well, email remains the most popular attack vector for many reasons:

  • Email addresses are easily attainable. With the use of social media platforms such as LinkedIn, cybercriminals can find or easily figure out email addresses and contact information for specific targets. This makes it popular for cybercriminals to create some incredibly convincing emails as they can engage with a specific target and pretend to be a specific person. With the ability to see company hierarchies online, cybercriminals can easily fake credentials within the organization.
  • Businesses often use outdated email tech. Businesses don’t always have systems in place to filter and block malicious emails, and often the ones that do, use older technologies, such as Secure Email Gateways (SEGs), that don’t catch everything, especially the newer, more advanced threats. These solutions filter out emails based on static references; they look for specific identifiers to determine whether the email is malicious and then compare those identifiers to databases of known threats. This gives the organization a false sense of security, as these solutions are easily fooled. All it takes is a few simple changes to the malware code and it suddenly loses the identifiers, while remaining a threat.
  • Phishing emails are difficult to detect. Phishing emails don’t necessarily raise any red flags, since the email itself may not contain anything malicious. To a computer, a phishing attempt is just another communication. You can send anyone in your business an email asking, “What’s your login information?” Even though they shouldn’t reply, there’s nothing particularly noticeable about the communication itself. And criminals have become quite good at crafting these emails to appear legitimate.
  • Email is ubiquitous. Every company uses email, and every employee checks their email multiple times a day. And emails are inexpensive for criminals to send, so the total volume is staggering. With all of this activity, it’s statistically more likely that some number of individuals will open a malicious email or attachment.
  • Email is often used to share files. Despite repeatedly being told not to open suspicious or unexpected attachments, employees still open files from external sources. This is more understandable when you consider the frequency with which files are shared via email, and the email content may not appear to be obviously malicious.

How Advanced Malware Analysis Tools Keeps Data Safe From Email Based Attacks

At the forefront of the fight for email security is advanced malware analysis. Advanced malware analysis is used to scan emails and detect potential threats. Rather than leaving the company’s security up to its employees, advanced threat analysis technology detects email-based attacks before they can cause any damage. Advanced analytics tools can help in the following ways:

  • They can identify never before seen threats. As mentioned above, older analysis tools rely on signatures to look for already identified malicious programs. Advanced malware analysis tools analyze the behavior of suspect files in a simulated version of your network environment. This environment is indistinguishable from the real thing, down to the hardware level. There it can be analyzed, identified as malicious, and blocked before it can do any harm. Even if the malicious attack has never been seen before, an advanced threat solution will be able to detect it based on the malicious behaviors the attachment or linked-to website is programmed to perform.
  • Advanced malware analysis tools defend against non-email based attacks. Advanced malware solutions protect more than just email. Many email-based threats also expose employees to other attacks, such as malicious programs or malicious websites. An advanced malware detection product will identify these malicious programs and websites, whereas a solution focused solely on the content of the email will not.
  • Advanced malware tools don’t rely upon perfect employee usage. Employees don’t need to do anything to be protected by an advanced threat detection product. Instead, the technology will automatically detect and filter out emails that appear to be security risks. This reduces the chances of employee error; though an employee may be able to override a blocked program or automatically deleted email, they cannot do so without manually overriding the security system.

Advanced malware detection solutions use machine learning algorithms to improve their detection capabilities over time, getting more intelligent and more accurate even as cybercriminals become more sophisticated. Traditional email security solutions aren’t able to keep pace with new developments in malware design.

Email is going to remain one of the most popular threat vectors for many years to come. It’s easy to see why: email is used by everyone and is relatively inexpensive for criminals to launch widespread attacks. Fortunately, advanced malware analysis products are able to reduce an organization’s exposure to risk – not only related to the email content itself, but also to malware delivered by email, such as malicious attachments, or linked to from an email, such as a compromised website.

Learn more about Lastline’s advanced email threat protection products designed to protect both customer-managed on-premises email and cloud email, such as Office 365 email and Google mail.

Bert Rankin

Bert Rankin

Bert Rankin has been leading technology innovation for over 25 years including over 5 years in security solutions that prevent cybercrime. He is a frequent blogger and is often quoted in security-related articles. Bert earned his BA from Harvard University and an MBA at Stanford University.
Bert Rankin