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Microsoft Falls Short in Email Security, Research Reveals

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A recent report by VIPRE Security Group reveals that email-based threats have undergone significant changes in 2024, necessitating the adoption of advanced security measures to safeguard businesses. The report, which analyzed nearly 1 billion malicious emails collected by VIPRE's worldwide network over the past year, highlights the increasingly sophisticated tactics employed by cybercriminals to infiltrate corporate email systems.

According to the security group, one notable trend is the rise of AI-powered attacks, with attackers leveraging artificial intelligence to create convincing deepfakes and personalized email content. This development has revolutionized the way phishing campaigns are conducted, making it more challenging for traditional security solutions to detect and prevent such attacks.

Another concerning finding is the increased use of unique file attachments, such as .eml files, to deliver malicious payloads. In Q4 of 2023 alone, .eml attachments used in phishing attempts increased by a staggering 4,600%. These attachments often evade detection by signature-based antivirus tools, posing a significant threat to organizations relying solely on standard security measures.

Microsoft's Email Security was Not Enough

The report also reveals that Microsoft remains the most spoofed URL, with cybercriminals exploiting the trust associated with the brand to trick victims into revealing sensitive information. Furthermore, the number of daily attacks targeting Microsoft Office has increased by 53% in 2023, emphasizing the need for robust email security solutions.

While Microsoft 365 offers various security packages, such as E1, E3, and E5, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often opt for a mix of these packages to balance functionality and cost. However, this approach can introduce vulnerabilities, as lower-tier subscriptions may lack critical protections against impersonation and zero-day threats. Criminals are keenly aware of these gaps and exploit them to their advantage.

Moreover, misconfigurations in the Microsoft security portal can lead to unintended security risks. As Microsoft routinely updates its platform, settings can be altered or disabled without the security team's immediate knowledge, leaving the organization exposed to potential threats.

To combat these evolving email-based threats, SMEs must consider layering advanced email threat protection on top of the standard security offered by Microsoft. 

Techniques such as Link Isolation and sandboxing can help render malicious URLs harmless and investigate suspicious attachments in a secure environment. These measures provide real-time monitoring and intelligence, enabling pre-emptive action against potential threats.

In addition to technological solutions, user security risk awareness and vigilance remain crucial. Engaging with users "in the moment" by immediately informing them of blocked emails, links, or attachments and explaining the signs of potential maliciousness can be more effective than periodic security training alone.

While Microsoft is undoubtedly a comprehensive system, it is not a dedicated security provider, particularly in the realm of email security. SMEs that may not have the resources to afford top-tier license packages or hire dedicated IT security personnel can benefit greatly from the services of third-party email security experts. By partnering with these providers, SMEs can ensure a cost-effective and reliable approach to safeguarding their email communications against the ever-evolving threat landscape.

As email remains the preferred vehicle for cybercriminals, organizations must remain vigilant and proactive in their security measures. 

Adopting advanced email threat protection, fostering user awareness, and collaborating with specialized security providers are essential steps in staying ahead of the curve and protecting businesses from the devastating consequences of successful cyberattacks.

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