Which Emails threats are out there?

Rui Serra By Rui Serra • June 14, 2023

There are various types of email threats that individuals and organizations may encounter. We've listed the most well established here.

If you look at Email from an abstract perspective, the threats (only) regard:

  • its content and communications (emails can be fraudulent and/or infected/linking to infected destination),
  • its infrastructure robustness (intercepting, stealing, destroying it) or using it as a weapon (DDoS)

Threats on Email communications

  1. Phishing: Phishing emails are designed to deceive recipients into providing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers. They often mimic legitimate emails from trusted entities like banks, social media platforms, or online retailers.

  2. Spear Phishing: Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing where attackers customize their emails to appear as if they are from a specific individual or organization known to the recipient. They may gather information from social media profiles or other sources to make the emails appear more convincing.

  3. Malware: Malicious software can be delivered through email attachments or links. Opening an infected attachment or clicking on a malicious link can result in the installation of malware on the recipient's device, which can lead to data theft, unauthorized access, or other harmful activities.

  4. Ransomware: Ransomware attacks involve the delivery of malicious software that encrypts the victim's files, rendering them inaccessible. Attackers demand a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key, often threatening to delete the data if the payment is not made.

  5. Spoofing: Email spoofing involves forging the email header information to make the email appear as if it is coming from a different sender than it actually is. This can be used to deceive recipients or bypass spam filters.

  6. Business Email Compromise (BEC): BEC attacks target businesses and involve impersonating company executives or partners to trick employees into making unauthorized wire transfers or sharing sensitive information.

  7. Email Phishing Scams: Various scams are conducted via email, such as advance fee fraud, lottery scams, or inheritance scams. These emails typically promise large sums of money or valuable rewards in exchange for personal information or upfront payments.

and on Email Infrastructure...

Threats to email infrastructure typically refer to attacks or vulnerabilities that target the underlying systems, protocols, or services involved in the functioning of email. Here are some common threats to email infrastructure:

  1. Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks (AKA Email Bombing): These attacks aim to disrupt or disable email services by overwhelming the email infrastructure with an excessive amount of traffic, rendering it unable to handle legitimate requests.

  2. Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks: Similar to DoS attacks, DDoS attacks involve a coordinated effort from multiple sources to flood the email infrastructure with traffic, making it difficult for legitimate users to access or use the email service.

  3. Email Server Exploits: Vulnerabilities in email server software can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access, disrupt services, or steal sensitive data. These exploits can target popular email server software like Microsoft Exchange, Sendmail, or Postfix.

  4. Email Relay Abuse: Attackers may abuse misconfigured or poorly secured email servers to use them as relays for sending spam emails. This can lead to compromised server reputation, increased server load, and potential blacklisting by spam filters.

  5. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: In a man-in-the-middle attack, an attacker intercepts and potentially alters email communications between the sender and recipient. This can compromise the confidentiality and integrity of the email content.

  6. Protocol Vulnerabilities: Email protocols like Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), or Post Office Protocol (POP) may have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access, manipulate emails, or intercept communications.

  7. Account takeover: Refers to the unauthorized access and control of an individual's or organization's email account by an attacker-
  8. Email Interception and Eavesdropping: Attackers may intercept email traffic between servers or clients, allowing them to eavesdrop on sensitive information transmitted through emails, including login credentials, personal data, or intellectual property.

  9. Email Spoofing and Forgery: Attackers can forge email headers or manipulate DNS records to make emails appear as if they are coming from a different sender or domain. This can be used for phishing, spam campaigns, or to bypass security measures.

  10. Email Encryption Weaknesses: If email messages are not properly encrypted, attackers may be able to intercept and decrypt the content, exposing sensitive information. Weak encryption algorithms or improperly implemented encryption can pose a significant risk.

  11. Infrastructure Outages or Failures: Email infrastructure can be affected by natural disasters, power outages, hardware failures, or software glitches, resulting in service disruptions, data loss, or delays in email delivery.

To protect email infrastructure, organizations should employ security best practices, including regular software updates, network monitoring, strong access controls, encryption, intrusion detection systems, and robust incident response plans. Additionally, implementing email authentication mechanisms like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) can help prevent email spoofing and phishing attacks.




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