email-security
04 June

Building trust: How to ensure email security and protect subscribers’ data

Alina Samulska-Kholina
Alina Samulska-Kholina Copywriter at Stripo
Table of contents
  1. What is email security?
  2. Why is it essential for businesses to protect their emails from being used by cybercriminals?
  3. What potential data breaches exist in email marketing?
  4. What areas should you consider to ensure email security?
  5. How email clients protect recipients from fraudulent emails
  6. What brands and companies can do to protect themselves
  7. How ESP and third-party tools can help: Stripo’s safe email design and development practices
  8. Wrapping up
1.
What is email security?

You may have already read hundreds of articles on avoiding falling into the trap of scammers trying to steal your information by using emails. Today, we tell you how companies and brands can protect their emails from being used for fraudulent purposes and safeguard the data of their subscribers.

This article provides tips on using security protocols and safe email design and development practices, as well as describing how Stripo safeguards clients’ data and subscribers’ privacy.

What is email security?

Email security encompasses a set of protocols, technologies, and practices designed to protect email accounts, content, and communications from unauthorized access, misuse, or loss. The goal is to ensure email data’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability, while preventing cyber threats, such as phishing, spoofing, and malware attacks.

Email security involves safeguarding inboxes from takeovers, protecting domains from spoofing, stopping phishing attacks, preventing fraud, blocking malware, filtering spam, and using encryption to secure email content from unauthorized access.

Why is it essential for businesses to protect their emails from being used by cybercriminals?

These days, the issue of customer trust in the company comes first. People prefer to become clients of companies they trust, and if clients give you their data, this trust should be unconditional.

If you do not protect your emails, and scammers can use them to spoof the company’s email address and the emails themselves to send fraudulent messages, this may pose the following threats to your business:

  • loss of customer trust — when customers receive emails, they expect the company to ensure its email security so that its email messages are genuine and secure;
  • damage to brand reputation — victims of company email scams may associate negative experiences with legitimate businesses, resulting in loss of customer loyalty and potential revenue;
  • financial losses associated with the theft of financial information or receiving payments to fraudulent accounts — you may have direct and indirect losses from customer departure;
  • fines and lawsuits due to noncompliance with data protection rules that resulted in a leak.

What potential data breaches exist in email marketing?

Here are the ways that modern cyber criminals use to get to the data of your company and your subscribers and how they use email design for this:

  1. Phishing attacks. One of the main risks is using the design of emails for phishing. Fraudsters may copy the design of genuine emails from reputable companies to convince the recipient that the email is legitimate and force them to provide sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card information.
  2. Spoofing. Attackers forge email headers to make messages appear as if they came from a trusted source. The email design can be used to imitate the sender’s email address, which can mislead the recipient as to the trustworthy source of the email.
  3. Malware distribution. Emails may contain malicious attachments or links that, when opened, install malware on the recipient’s device, compromising data security or taking the recipient to a dangerous site. The email design can be designed to hide suspicious elements or make them appear harmless.
  4. Business email compromise (BEC). In a BEC attack, the target is tricked into sending sensitive data or, more commonly, money to the attacker.
  5. Man-in-the-middle attacks. Intercepted email messages can be read, modified, or stolen during transmission by attackers, resulting in data leakage.
  6. Unauthorized access. Weak passwords, lack of two-factor authentication, and compromised email accounts can allow unauthorized individuals to access sensitive emails.
  7. Data leak. Accounts and email messages contain sensitive information. If accidentally sent to unwanted recipients, they can lead to data leakage and loss of confidential information.
  8. Activity tracking. Emails may use hidden images or tracking pixels that provide the sender with information about when and how often you open its emails. This may be a privacy issue.
  9. HTML and JavaScript. Using HTML and JavaScript in emails can increase security risks, as they may contain vulnerable elements or be used to execute malicious scripts.

Security and privacy were not integrated into email when it was first developed. Despite email’s crucial role in communication, these protections are still not inherent in email by default. Consequently, email remains a significant attack vector for organizations of all sizes and individuals.

New email threats are constantly emerging, and existing ones are evolving. Email marketers need to implement email security solutions because the business consequences of these cyberattacks can be dire.

What areas should you consider to ensure email security?

Effective email security is about more than just using technology to help detect threats and protect data and digital assets. We divide the measures used to protect data and email security into three groups:

  • things that email clients help with, including encryption, spam filters, and analysis of email bodies and attachments;
  • actions that a company can take on its own or through the introduction of special security protocols;
  • tasks that email builders and ESPs can help with, including what Stripo is already helping with.

How email clients protect recipients from fraudulent emails

Email clients care about the email security of their users. They take measures to block malicious activity in real time, preventing it from harming large audiences and protecting information.

Encryption

Encryption is the process of encrypting data so that only authorized individuals can decrypt and read it. Encryption is similar to sending an email in a sealed envelope.

Transport layer security (TLS) encrypts emails during transmission to prevent interception, which is performed by email service providers, such as Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo, to implement TLS to secure emails during transmission.

When an email is sent, the sending server initiates a TLS handshake with the receiving server. This handshake establishes a secure encrypted channel using cryptographic keys. Emails are then encrypted and transmitted over this secure channel, preventing interception by unauthorized parties during transit.

Spam filters

Spam filters analyze every email to protect recipients from suspicious emails:

  • filters scan emails for common spam and phishing keywords, phrases, and suspicious patterns;
  • perform sender verification — known malicious senders are blocked, while trusted senders are allowed through;
  • conduct behavioral analysis — filters learn from users’ actions, identifying emails marked as spam or legitimate to refine their accuracy.

Analysis of emails and attachments

Another task that email clients handle on their own is URL checking. Filters inspect links within emails for known malicious URLs or redirect patterns. Attachments are scanned for malware or executable files that could harm the recipient.

Google and other email clients monitor all email security threats, but it is better not to give them a reason to find malicious activity and block you. Therefore, it is worth taking action and using proven third-party tools.

What brands and companies can do to protect themselves

A company can solve some of its email security problems through multifactor authentication (MFA), antivirus protection settings, regular monitoring, user training on email security issues, understanding the complex nature of modern threats, and other measures within the company.

Read more about measures within the company in this article.

Another group of problems is solved through the introduction of strong email security measures, such as additional encryption, special authentication protocols (SPF, DKIM, and DMARC), and the use of a secure email gateway.

From SPF to BIMI protocols: Email authentication techniques

The domain name system (DNS) stores the public records of a domain, including the IP address of that domain. Using a DNS, users connect to websites and send emails.

Special types of DNS records — the SPF, DKIM, and DMARC protocols — help ensure that emails come from a legitimate source and not from a lookalike. Email service providers check emails against all three records to ensure they were sent from the location they claim they were from and have not been altered in transit.

Trust is fundamental in email deliverability. Authentication and encryption standards like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) help verify the sender’s identity and ensure the email content hasn’t been tampered with. For example, DKIM adds an authentication token to emails to confirm the content is unchanged.

Keith Kouzmanoff

Keith Kouzmanoff,

Leading email marketing strategist.

In recent years, an additional way of confirming the legitimacy of the sender’s domain has been BIMI and Gmail’s blue verified checkmark. BIMI allows you to display the company logo in the mailbox, further building brand loyalty.

For these security protocols to verify your domain in the eyes of mailers, the company must initiate and complete verification procedures.

Taking proactive steps to protect your brand from spoofing or impersonation is now required. In the past, these were strong recommendations. As of Q1 2024, these are now required elements for email. Mailbox providers are dealing with more spam than ever before. Authentication of brands of all sizes helps keep your mail from being abused by others and protects your consumers and employees from abuse.

Matthew Vernhout

Matthew Vernhout,

Principal Email Advisor at Email Industries.

Important fact: In October 2023, Gmail and Yahoo announced they would collaborate on antispam efforts and create common criteria that brands must meet to remain in their graces. As of February 2024, brands must implement all three authentication standards — SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.

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End-to-end encryption (E2EE)

Secure email providers, such as ProtonMail, Tutanota, and certain custom enterprise solutions, use end-to-end encryption.

The sender’s device encrypts the email content using the recipient’s public key. Only the recipient’s private key can decrypt the email content, ensuring that only the sender and recipient can read the email. This method ensures that even email service providers or intermediaries cannot access the content, providing maximum privacy and security.

Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Cloudflare can enhance security. CDNs protect end users by anonymizing IP addresses and safeguarding data during transmission. This is a cost-effective way to add a layer of security to your email campaigns.

Keith Kouzmanoff

Keith Kouzmanoff,

Leading email marketing strategist.

Protection against external intrusions

Secure email services and various email security tools that protect your email from malware and hackers can help you cope with this task. These include secure email gateways, anti-malware software, and anti-phishing tools.

To reduce these risks, it is vital to use safe design and development practices, such as content screening and filtering, limiting the use of active content, applying secure coding principles, and choosing reliable third-party tools.

For example, to ensure that our customers are confident that their data are safe, Stripo has passed data protection certifications:

You can view these and other data security confirmations in our Trust Center.

However, since Stripo is an email builder, our email security concerns continue beyond there. Below, we will tell you how we protect every email that clients create with our builder.

How ESP and third-party tools can help: Stripo’s safe email design and development practices

Some email security problems are solved by third-party tools that are used to build emails. In the case of blocking spam/phishing attacks and other fraudulent emails, ESP/third-party tools do a lot of work to prevent emails from being sent. If Gmail and Yahoo block the display of sent suspicious content, then third-party tools ensure that such emails (or the real-time data in them) are not even sent.

How email builders can help in data protection

An email builder can make a significant contribution to improving the security of emails. Here are a few key aspects that an editor can influence:

  1. Filtering and cleaning content. Editors can automatically filter out malicious code, such as scripts, and clean up HTML code to remove potentially dangerous elements. This helps prevent cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks and other threats.
  2. Phishing prevention. Advanced editors can provide link-checking and visual styling features to reduce the risk of phishing attacks. They can alert users to suspicious links or appearances that could be used to scam people.
  3. Integration with antivirus software. Some email editors integrate antivirus programs to scan attachments for malware.
  4. Limiting the use of HTML and JavaScript. Secure editors can restrict or completely turn off active elements such as JavaScript, reducing the risk of executing malicious code.
  5. Support for secure protocols. Editors can support the encryption protocols and digital signatures of emails to ensure privacy and confirm the identity of the sender.

How Stripo safeguards clients’ data and combats fraudulent email attempts

We ensure that attackers do not use emails created in our editor for fraudulent activities and safeguard our clients’ accounts from being hacked.

Here is what Stripo is already doing as an email builder and what customer problems it solves.

  1. To protect clients’ accounts and emails with sensitive data from various security threats, we introduced 2-factor authentication for logging into Stripo accounts.
  2. To ensure that scammers do not use our service, we pay special attention during registration and use of the free plan, as scammers most often use the free plan:
    • we do not allow registration from disposable mailboxes. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of such services, and we have a fairly healthy list of such services that we are constantly adding to;
    • we do not allow users to start creating emails until they confirm their mailbox;
    • on the free plan, we do not allow the sending of test emails to any third-party email addresses, but only to your email address;
    • on the free plan, we do not allow the viewing of emails using a public link because, in this way, they create phishing emails and use them as domains.
  3. Content moderation and email code validation. This proactive check becomes the main responsibility of services from a security point of view. We automatically cut out all scripts inserted into the email code at the editor level, allowing scripts to be saved only in a specific domain. When the system detects an email containing dynamic AMP components, it is subject to manual moderation.
  4. Filtering requests at the header level. We block requests and do not provide responses if the CORS headers or the request body are different from expected.
  5. We monitor activity for all services created at the LB level. The algorithm automatically sends alerts when anomalies are detected. This could be due to too many requests from the same IPs over a certain period or an instant surge in requests almost immediately after the service is created.
  6. To combat spam senders, we collaborate with SPAMCOP and receive alerts regarding spam emails to find user accounts and block them instantly.

Truly important work must be done proactively. The goal of the services is to prevent the sending of malicious content, and we spend a lot of effort in this direction. Stripo safeguards both the data of our clients and their subscribers’ privacy.

Dmytro Kulaksyz

Dmytro Kulaksyz,

COO at Stripo.

Wrapping up

Email security is vital for protecting sensitive data and maintaining customer trust in email marketing. Companies can safeguard their communications and prevent data breaches by implementing robust security measures, such as phishing detection, malware defense, and encryption.

It is crucial for businesses to educate their employees on recognizing threats and to use advanced tools that provide real-time threat intelligence. Prioritizing email security mitigates risks and enhances brand reputation and customer confidence. Ultimately, a proactive approach to email security is essential for the long-term success of any business.

In our next article, we will dive into the details by discussing practices and showing examples of the use of secure email design.

Ensure email security and data protection with Stripo
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