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Email Hacking Techniques To Watch In 2021

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By: Nihad Hassan

March 30, 2021

Email is considered the primary vehicle used to carry out different types of cyberattacks. According to many reports, phishing and spear-phishing email are the preferred attack vectors used by cybercriminals to exploit organizations' IT systems.

Security Boulevard published a report listing statistics about phishing attacks in 2020. Phishing attacks are mainly conducted via email messages.

  • Spear-phishing attacks cause 95% of cyberattacks targeting enterprise networks.
  • The average loss of $1.6 million has resulted from a single spear-phishing attack.
  • The number of phishing emails containing ransomware rose to 97.25% since 2016.
  • 22% of all data breaches in 2020 involved phishing attacks.

The ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the primary global workforce to work from home, increasing dependence on email services for collaboration and information sharing. Cybercriminals did not miss the wave and intensify their attacks against email systems worldwide.

Many organizations, especially SMBs, do not consider email security a concern. Even large organizations consider having a security policy to protect them from cyberattacks targeting their email system.

An organization's employees' inboxes are considered the gateway to its internal systems and sensitive information. For instance, an email account may contain sensitive information such as business secrets, intellectual property, customer's and third-party contractor's information, and login credentials to their systems. Failing to protect employees' email accounts may lead to serious security incidents leading to data breaches.

This article will shed light on the cybercriminals' most prominent methods to hack or steal email passwords.

Top 4 Cyberattacks against email systems

Organizations of all sizes and across different types of industries are subject to email hacking attacks. Big organizations have adequate resources to purchase dedicated solutions for email security. However, cyberattacks targeting email accounts are still increasing because most email hacking techniques utilize social engineering attacks to steal victims' email credentials. Such methods can work effectively despite all deployed technological solutions because it depends on psychological manipulation to convince a person to reveal sensitive information.

Below are four common risks to email security that every organization should take care of.

Phishing

A phishing email is a cyberattack where attackers send fraudulent email messages masquerading as a legitimate entity (e.g., your bank, business partner, or social media website that you have an account with) and asks the target to provide confidential information. Sometimes, the attackers may ask the target to click a link within the email that takes the person to a website hosting an exploit kit used to install malware on the victim's device by exploiting its security vulnerabilities.

Sometimes, the adversary aims to steal the victim's credit card info to get some easy cash. However, a small number of phishing attacks are directed to steal account credentials. These attackers can then utilize this knowledge to enter the target organization network to launch further complicated attacks such as an APT and ransomware attack.

Weak passwords

Many systems are still utilizing one-factor authentication. Hence, users' email accounts are protected with a password only. The security of such systems is solely dependent on the secrecy of the password itself.

Weak passwords are still a significant concern for email security. Many users use weak passwords to protect their email accounts. A good password must meet two main criteria: be complex and be lengthy. Google has a guide for creating secure passwords. Remembering complex and lengthy passwords is considered a daunting task, especially if the user has to create multiple passwords to protect each online account. Utilizing multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the answer to using weak password problems. MFA is where the user must authenticate using at least two factors, such as using a password and a passcode sent via SMS.

Malware

Malicious programs are delivered to the target system via different methods, such as inserting a USB memory into a target device that contains malware or a keylogger. A keylogger records everything a user types on his/her computer, including email credentials.

Malware can be introduced to the target device via malicious attachments. This is social engineering attack where the adversary sends a malicious email containing an attachment and asks the recipient to download and open it. Supposing the receiver gets fooled successfully and opens the attachment, the malicious program will silently install on the user device and begin recording everything the user types on his/her computer, including email accounts passwords.

Using an unpatched operating system and outdated applications

Failing to update your operating system remains a significant attack vector exploited by cybercriminals. It is always beneficial to keep the operating system and installed applications up to date and avoid using pirated software on your computer. Keeping your system and installed applications updated and installing security solutions will be your second defense line if you make mistakes and execute malicious attachments or visit malicious websites.

Summary

Human errors are the initiator of most email hacking techniques. Organizations should focus their efforts on educating their employees about cybersecurity topics. The ability to recognize phishing emails is crucial for anyone using email to send/receive information. This article showed you the best four methods used widely to attack email accounts.

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