Secure Your Organization’s Email and Prevent Attacks Like the DNC Email Hack
Cyber security – or, more specifically, the lack of it – is playing a major role in this year’s U.S. presidential election. The recent DNC email hack by Russian cyber criminals, which was discovered in June after the release of numerous emails on WikiLeaks, has turned out to be much larger than originally believed, involving “the private accounts of more than 100 party officials and groups,” as reported by the New York Times.
The emails that have been released on WikiLeaks so far are quite damaging and embarrassing, involving what appear to be party officers plotting to smear Bernie Sanders by questioning his religious faith and planning to reward high-dollar DNC donors with federal appointments in an anticipated Hillary Clinton administration. Additionally, numerous emails contained the private identifying information of these donors, including an image of a six-figure donation check, complete with the donor’s routing and bank account number. In the wake of the DNC email hack scandal, the DNC’s chairperson, CEO, and communications director were forced to resign.
What happened to the DNC could happen to any organization, and in fact, it already has. The DNC email hack is very similar to the infamous Sony email hack of 2014, which was believed to have been carried out by North Korean nation-state hackers. The hack, which involved over 170,000 emails – many of them containing scathing commentary about major Hollywood personalities – resulted in a class-action lawsuit and led to the removal of then-chairman Amy Pascal.
Modern organizations run on email. The DNC email hack and the Sony hack were notable in that they exposed ethical violations by organizational insiders, but even in cases where there are no ethical breaches, the release of corporate email can still severely damage an organization by leaking proprietary product, strategy, or operations information.
How to Protect Yourself Against Email Hacks
Outsource Your Corporate Email Services
The DNC ran its own, private email server as opposed to outsourcing email to a third party, such as Google or Yahoo. In most cases, this is a bad idea. Most organizations simply do not have the in-house monetary and human resources to ensure that email server connections and protocols are secure, maintain up-to-date filters to flag spam and suspicious email messages, and continuously monitor the server for anomalous activity. Outsourcing email services will not guarantee email security, but it’s a very good starting point, as it is likely a third-party email provider will offer a much higher level of security.
Don’t Let Employees Pick Their Own Passwords
The overwhelming majority of data breaches are the result of the misuse of legitimate login credentials, and it is thought that both the DNC email hack and the Sony hack followed this pattern. When employees are allowed to choose their own passwords, they tend to pick weak passwords and/or use passwords that are identical or nearly so to those they use for their personal accounts; this creates a situation wherein a hacker could get hold of an employee’s Facebook password and use it to get into your email system. Set up your system to assign random, strong passwords to your employees and require that they be changed regularly, again to a random, strong password.
Make Sure Your Employees Are Aware of Social Engineering Techniques, Especially Spear Phishing
Experts believe that the DNC email hack and the Sony hack occurred as the result of a spear-phishing campaign. Unlike regular phishing emails, which are often intercepted by spam filters, spear phishing emails are carefully crafted not only to pass through spam filters but also look completely legitimate. The best defense against spear phishing is employee training. Employees should be instructed on how to spot spear phishing emails, which, despite hackers’ best efforts, often contain small mistakes. They should also be prohibited from sending any sensitive information, including their login credentials, to anyone via unsecured email.
Neither the DNC email hack nor the Sony hack had to happen, and a similar attack doesn’t have to happen to your organization. A proactive approach to email security will prevent your company’s confidential emails from ending up on sites like WikiLeaks.
The cyber security experts at Continuum GRC have deep knowledge of the cyber security field, are continually monitoring the latest information security threats, and are committed to protecting your organization from internal threats and external security breaches. Continuum GRC offers full-service and in-house risk assessment and risk management subscriptions, and we help companies all around the world sustain proactive cyber security programs.
Continuum GRC is proactive cyber security®. Call 1-888-896-6207 to discuss your organization’s cyber security needs and find out how we can help your organization secure its email server and other systems and keep hackers out.