What is security for email and why is it important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 August 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Protecting data and information from security risks is an essential priority for businesses. With digital databases and cloud services standardised in many industries, a good understanding of preventing phishing or malicious attacks is integral to business continuity planning and day-to-day operations. Understanding which securities are available for email can help you to use email services in a safe manner that reduces the risk for the company. In this article, we look at what security for email is, why it's important and the different types of protection businesses use.

What is security for email?

Security for email is a selection of different protection measures businesses use to prevent risk to their company through viruses, phishing attempts or hacking. For example, spam emails may contain ransomware that locks down computer systems and require the company to pay money to gain access to valuable files and documents. Proper email security helps prevent these emails from reaching staff members while providing preventative measures for emails that can escape typical spam filter nets.

Email security is typically add-on software or applications available within an email client or as a separate tool to enhance business protection and reduce risk. For example, most modern email systems include spam filters to prevent risky or unsolicited emails from appearing in employees' inboxes, while anti-virus software is a separate computer programme that protects emails, browsers and VPNs. As most businesses use emails for daily internal and external communication, having a robust security system is vital as a proactive, preventative measure.

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Why is email security important?

Email security is as important as other areas of cybersecurity to reduce business risks and ensure continuity of access to data and software. For example, email security helps prevent server downtime due to viruses or other issues, reducing time and money wastage for the business. Some of the reasons why email security is important include:

Preventing loss of data or data theft

Malicious malware or ransomware can easily access various business systems through email if the proper security isn't in place. These attacks can lead to the inability to access important data for the business, such as financial information or customer details, which can cause severe problems for operations. Stolen data may become public or end up with a competitor, causing problems for the business.

Related: What is data security and why is it important? (With types)

Protecting customer information

Ensuring customer information is safe and under protection is a crucial responsibility for businesses. For example, if an employee communicates information about a customer's order over emails and these emails have no protection, all the personal information within them may be vulnerable. Unprotected emails can have risks relating to anything you send or receive, even if malicious attacks cannot access the rest of a computer system or network.

Meeting regulatory requirements

It's necessary for businesses to meet necessary data protection standards when dealing with sensitive or private customer information. GDPR provides guidelines for meeting these standards, including protecting data from all sources. Email protection is an integral part of regulations, with businesses using appropriate training and systems to ensure customer data protection in email content and attachments, databases and stored files on servers.

Preventing access to valuable data

Valuable information, such as trade secrets, are examples of high-value data to competitors or the general public. Emails are one source that hackers can use to attempt to access private information from companies, using links or downloads as an access point to spread a virus or malware and access specific information. Email protection helps to prevent malicious attackers from initially gaining access, keeping valuable business information safe.

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Ensuring access to necessary resources

Most companies utilise computers and networks for most day-to-day administration and operations. A lack of email security can lead to problems with systems, including programmes becoming slow and crashing, leaving staff unable to access necessary resources. Ensuring complete email protection can help reduce the risk of resources becoming inaccessible by preventing uninvited people or programmes from accessing the broader network within a business.

Keeping employees safe from scams

Employees are at risk of scams through work emails plus their personal email, with phishing and finance-related scams often targeting specific individuals to gain access to their information or money. Putting email protection in place and educating on email safety can help to protect employees and prevent them from putting their data at risk. For example, employees may receive phishing emails that seem to be from the CEO of the company, asking them to donate to a fraudulent cause with their own money.

Related: What is email whitelisting? (Definition plus benefits)

Avoiding costly recovery and fixes

Hackers and malicious software can cause extensive damage to servers and computer systems, leading to costly recoveries, repairs and even technology replacement. Protective systems help to prevent these expensive repairs by investing up-front in technology and services that enable companies to avoid problems later on. By being proactive instead of reactive, businesses can save significant amounts of money, particularly if documents or data require recreation after an attack resulting in a system rollback.

Building brand trust with customers

Building trust and a positive reputation are essential for businesses. Companies that handle private customer data, especially sensitive information such as medical details, can have serious legal and ethical consequences from a data breach. Email protection helps to maintain a good brand reputation as a trustworthy and reliable business. Showcasing ethical practices is helpful for companies with competition in their field to differentiate themselves.

Saving on business downtime

A hacking attempt or ransomware attack can lead to business downtime for an entire company from spreading a virus or through preventative measures to prevent replication. Preventing hackers from accessing systems helps to avoid downtime, saving businesses time and money by allowing employees to continue working with lower risk. Depending on the complexity of malware or ransomware, downtime from an attack could take days or weeks to recover from.

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Types of email security

Email security covers a range of different tools and techniques. Companies typically implement a combination of different security measures to provide optimal protection and prevent downtime or unauthorised access to private company data. The types of email security you may encounter include:

Spam filters

Spam filters come as default with most email clients, providing basic protection against unsolicited emails of all types. For example, emails with suspicious attachments, emails with flagged names and marketing emails may automatically go to spam. Spam filters range from simple solutions that put all spam into a single spam box to a complex set of instructions that direct flagged emails to individual boxes for deletion, approval or checks.

Related: Professional email ID examples for business addresses

Anti-virus protection

Anti-virus protection covers browsers, emails and any other internet-connected programme, protecting businesses against potential malicious activity. Anti-virus programmes scan incoming and outgoing emails within your client to identify any problems. For example, links within emails may immediately force downloads or phishing emails may ask you to provide bank information to an unknown person through links to a fake banking website.

Image and content control

Email attachments are a common way that hackers gain access to computer systems by using files that look like documents, images or other files that are relevant to businesses. Image and content control solutions examine all attachments and flag content that may contain a virus, preventing you from inadvertently clicking on something harmful. For example, an email that appears to come from another professional with an attached pdf document could be a sophisticated attempt to access company systems.

Data encryption

Data encryption helps to prevent anyone from gaining access when emails are in transit from one client to another. Encryption transforms the data in the sent email into a cryptographic code, preventing outside entry and removing any reference to recipients' details. Data encryption tools are valuable in preventing external access to private information in cases where of email interception, safeguarding the content within and ensuring the email the recipient receives is genuine.

Related: What is encryption and what are some encryption types?

Staff awareness

Improving staff awareness and knowledge of potential scams and risks is also vital to email security. Educating staff on what spam and phishing emails can look like, what to do if they receive one and how to report a potential problem with a virus is important to minimising the damage that malicious attacks cause. Regular guidance and access to information about email protection can help to defend the business and provide staff members with training that applies to their work and personal emails to protect them.

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