Email Security: An Overview of the Most Common Threats

Email Security: An Overview of the Most Common Threats

Written by Mohit Rajora, In Cyber Security, Published On
February 3, 2023

The anonymity and interconnectedness of the internet are both a blessing and a curse, as it has provided us with remarkable resources and productivity while putting us in the operating field of cybercriminals. Mailboxes are a juicy target to these malicious actors, particularly if the target uses email for sharing/discussing important company info. Protecting your email security requires vigilance and knowledge, so this article will help you learn about key email threats in the modern age.

Most Common Email Security Threats

Data leaks

 1. Data leaks

If your email service does not use end-to-end encryption, then the contents of all your messages are at risk in the event of a malicious actor hacking into your email service’s servers. When switching to a more secure end-to-end encrypted email provider is not possible or feasible, you can still protect particularly sensitive information by sending it in a password-protected email.

2. Phishing

A phishing technique tries to obtain confidential information (e.g. login information, bank card details) by deceiving a user. Oftentimes, the attacker will pose as a legitimate person or organization and get the information they need through a web form. So a victim is likely to receive a malicious link that leads to a lookalike of a familiar website. Naturally, this lookalike is managed by the hacker and they quickly get access to the information submitted in the form.

The most dangerous phishing attacks are those that use multiple social engineering techniques in combination with prior knowledge of a user. A tailored request is formed and transmitted, creating a sense of trust and familiarity on the victim’s side.

3. Ransomware

Most Common Email Security Threats


Ransomware is a type of malware that affects hosts, servers, and digital systems, blocking access to resources until the user pays a ransom. If the attack is spread by email, the most common vector is an email attachment, often featuring a (seemingly) innocent document or program that actually holds malicious code. Apart from that, a malicious link sent via email can also redirect a user to a website that spreads the ransomware code to the devices and systems of the victim.

If a ransomware attack is successful, users will normally see a message saying that their data is now encrypted, and getting it back (+ unlocking their resources) will require payment. Though some businesses affected by ransomware attacks have opted to pay the ransom and get their services back, there are never any guarantees that the hackers will stay true to their word.

4. Chain mail

Chain mail (not the armor) became prevalent at the advent of the public internet, and mostly consisted of seemingly innocuous stories and hoaxes that users were enticed to spread around to obtain some mystical benefit or prevent disaster. Today, chain emails are more sinister, often containing misinformation, phishing links, or unsolicited promotion. Any user that replies or forwards such messages is almost guaranteed to see their email address harvested and inserted in a massive list used by spammers and scammers.

5. Malware

Although the body of an email is unlikely to contain malicious code, certainly not executable code, the message could pose a malware threat via links or attachments. In any case, if a user downloads a malicious file, they could be looking at infection with a worm, trojan, spyware, and numerous other malicious constructs. Email users are advised to not only rely on virus scanners in their email service (if present), and always check downloaded files with their own anti-malware software before opening them.

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