It’s the silly season, and, while most go shopping, cyber criminals go phishing. With the larger volumes of promotional e-mails hitting inboxes over the festive and back-to-school period, now is the time for companies to step up e-mail management.

“Companies can help protect their users and businesses from becoming phishing victims by putting a good e-mail phishing and Business Email Compromise (BEC) strategy in place. Especially over the festive season, there is a dramatic rise in spam, promotional e-mails and phishing e-mails.

“For organisations who have a holiday break coming up over December, it is a good time to get a Phishing and BEC strategy in place, test the technology properly and get everything up and running while there are fewer people in the office, before the New Year starts,” says Charl Ueckermann, CEO at AVeS Cyber Security.

He explains that phishing is the fraudulent process of getting information like passwords, usernames, credit card numbers, banking details, business information and other sensitive information by posing as a company or person that the receiver recognises or trusts.

Phishing e-mails are always made to look like the real thing from banks, popular social networking Web sites, retailers, Internet service providers and sometimes even as a company’s e-mail administrator. As phishing e-mails are so well disguised, conventional e-mail security solutions can fail to detect them.

“The e-mails often contain a link to draw the recipient to a fake Web site, where they erroneously give away sensitive or personal information. Cyber criminals use this information to steal money, steal identities, steal business information and conduct all manner of fraudulent activities. It can impact users individually or the business as a whole,” says Ueckermann.

Companies can consider installing technology that is capable of blocking certain components of e-mails, corrupted e-mails and even label e-mails in the subject line. Ueckermann notes there are a few technology solutions that offer next-generation e-mail protection. The solutions detect and stop spam and malicious e-mail before it becomes a problem and without slowing down productivity. Companies can also rest assured that legitimate e-mails won’t be deleted by mistake.

Leading e-mail security software includes features such as advanced heuristics, sandboxing and machine learning to protect e-mail from spam, phishing, BEC and other advanced threats. It gives companies complete control over what happens to suspicious e-mails and includes the latest spam, phishing, malware (including ransomware) protection and advanced attachment filtering.

Ueckermann says there are some important things to consider when implementing a strategy and technologies to address phishing and BEC.

“In today’s digital-driven business environment, a great user experience is vital for improving productivity, employee morale and technology adoption in the organisation. Don’t stop people from receiving business e-mails; rather, put mechanisms into place to ensure only legitimate e-mails arrive in their inboxes. These mechanisms must not hamper productivity in any way or stop legitimate e-mails from getting through. The technology should detect and stop dubious e-mails; it should ideally not be left up to users or administrators. As we know, phishing e-mails are well disguised, and it is difficult for a non-technical person to know what is legit and what is not.

“As a business owner or IT executive, look at a number of e-mails people are getting and compare it to the industry norm to determine what you can cut out. Also, look at the type of content employees receive and cut out what might be of danger to the organisation. The same e-mail security software described above can give you statistics on how many e-mails coming into your organisation have malware in attachments, spam or are potential phishing attacks. This will also help you understand how big the problem is within your organisation compared to industry norms. If your e-mail risks are high, you can use these statistics to plan appropriate user awareness among business e-mail users.

“Cost and the manageability of these solutions are obviously key considerations. Companies should aim to deploy the most effective and easiest to manage solutions that they can afford. Free or open source solutions will not offer the level of protection needed to stop the latest threats, as they’re often the source of these security backdoors.”

If people are more aware, they will tend to protect the company on their own.

He points out that deploying technology is only half of the solution. User education is the other half.

“When a phishing e-mail manages to get in, it is pretty harmless until the recipient opens it, clicks on links and ventures onto an unsafe Web site to disclose information they should not be disclosing. That is why it is important to educate employees about the dangers of phishing and how they put themselves, and the business, at risk.”

He offers these tips for employers to guide employees on keeping their business e-mail inboxes clean:

* Don’t use company e-mails for social media profiles;
* Don’t buy stuff online using company e-mails;
* Don’t wait for someone to teach you safe e-mail practices; self-educate and ask experts in the organisation; there are many free resources made available by industry experts via social media, such as how-to videos and quick-tips articles;
* Understand the dangers of opening or clicking on links in e-mails;
* Treat unsolicited e-mails requesting sensitive information with suspicion;
* When subscribing to Web sites, use other e-mail accounts, such as a separate Gmail account; and
* Don’t sign up for newsletters using their business e-mail addresses.

Ueckermann concludes by saying companies can enforce their rights to protect networks and data with formal policies on social media usage, password changes, IT security, browsing the Internet and e-mail usage.

“These policies formalise an organisation’s standpoint on the usage of their Internet and e-mail resources without complicating it. Accompanying technologies to address each problem will help to enforce the policies. Employees should be made aware of these policies as well as the consequences of non-compliance.”