Turning the tide – fending off today’s cyber threats

Cybercriminals have always focused on exploiting weaknesses within businesses to carry out attacks. In the past, they would look for vulnerabilities within software packages or rely on system weaknesses to infiltrate networks, and while this continues to take place, a new opportunity has been identified: targeting people.

Robert Holmes, Vice President of Products, Proofpoint

Today, cybercriminals are exploiting the human vulnerability to deploy damaging and costly attacks across email, mobile and social channels, leveraging personalisation and social engineering tactics, with disastrous consequences for businesses.

Using identity deception to target unsuspecting employees, they might target accounts payable for wire transfer fraud, engineering to steal intellectual property, and human resources to get confidential tax and identity information. Such attacks (known as business email compromise) rose by a worrying 45 percent just in the last quarter of 2016. At the same time, ransomware exploded on the scene and targeted attacks grew to include new vectors used in tandem with emails, such as over SMS or social networks.

“It’s not a level playing field: companies have to be right all the time; cybercriminals only need to be right once to succeed.”

So how can businesses protect themselves, their customers and employees against today’s evolving threat landscape?

First, by getting real-time visibility into their attack surface to determine risk exposure. This means investing in solutions that offer a vantage point into your entire threat landscape so you can understand how you are being targeted, through which channels, and what systems and critical data can be compromised. Armed with actionable intelligence, you can then formulate a strategy and manage your security posture.

Second, by prioritising investments. If we consider that more than 90 percent of targeted attacks start with email, it is critical organisations’ information security teams deploy protection that works within the flow of email to reduce this attack vector. With the right software, IT teams can detect criminal threats and stop them before they have a chance to reach their targets.

Third, by implementing a multi-layered defence strategy. When it comes to cyber threats, it is critical that organisations consider people, process and technology. While recent headlines have helped raise the public’s awareness of cybercrime, organisations should still consider offering regular employee training on cyber risks. They should work with departments deemed at risk, such as finance and review internal processes when it comes to invoice approvals and wire transfers. Finally, they should consider all technology solutions that can reduce the risk factor such as email authentication to stop inbound fraudulent messages reaching their employees and data loss prevention (DLP) capabilities to stop sensitive information from leaving the enterprise.

“There are some great success stories. HMRC recently prevented 300 million fraudulent emails from being delivered to consumer inboxes.”

By exploiting the human factor, cybercriminals are using the path of least resistance to meet their ends. Email remains the primary threat vector against enterprises because it is so easy to impersonate someone using this inherently unsecured channel.

One way to mitigate risk is to implement technology solutions that stop email-borne attacks before they reach their intended victims: the earlier the threats are detected, the easier it is to block, contain, and remediate them. Failure to prevent threats upstream will leave the door open for cybercriminals to make you their next target.

Email threats are evolving. Are your defences?

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