5 Must-Have Email Security Policies for Your Business

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Protect your email with email security policies!
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Although the average person may not encounter a substantial amount of emails, businesses and people within these businesses use email every day. Unfortunately, cybercriminals often use this common messaging tool as an attack vector. In this year’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, phishing is the costliest initial attack vector, with an average of USD4.91 million. The second highest is the dreaded Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack at USD4.89 million. If it hasn’t sunk in yet, both attack vectors involve email. So it’s clear that you need to implement email security policies!

In this article, I’ll share 5 email security policies to help you in your email security practices. I’ll start by defining what email security policies are. Next, I’ll discuss why you should have an email security policy document and what to include in that document. Lastly, I’ll delve deeper into those 5 policies mentioned earlier and share some tips on creating your email security policy document. Sounds good? Let’s begin.

What Are Email Security Policies?

Email security policies are rules or plans of action in an organization for the secure use of email. Here are a few examples of email security policies:

  • Prohibiting users from forwarding company emails to a third-party email service
  • Prohibiting users from using third-party email services to send or receive company-related communications
  • Ensuring email account passwords adhere to the requirements specified in the company’s password policy document

In common practice, the term “email security policy” also refers to the document that contains a set of these policies. To avoid confusion in this article, I’ll use “email security policy document” or just “policy document” to refer to the document. On the other hand, I’ll use “email security policy” or just “policy” to refer to a single policy or rule.

Now then, why exactly would one need a set of email security policies?

Why You Should Have Email Security Policies

In 2021, the number of emails sent and received per day was 319.6 billion, a 4.3% increase from 2020. By 2025, that number is expected to increase to 376.4 billion. Indeed, email is an effective and convenient form of information dissemination. But most email users don’t realize the security risks resulting from the unsafe and carefree use of email. 

First of all, email by itself isn’t encrypted. This security deficiency makes it easy for cybercriminals to open and read your email’s contents as it traverses the internet. Attackers can also exploit your emails through various attacks like spoofing, phishing, etc.

Image showing a man-in-the-middle attacker eavesdropping on an unencrypted email
A cyberattacker can intercept unencrypted emails and steal confidential information.
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To mitigate these threats, organizations must take the time to carefully craft an email security policy document. A set of email security policies can serve as a guide for your end users. This guide can help you, and your users avoid the possible consequences of an email attack — like reputational and financial damage as well as data loss. 

Additionally, your business should have an email security policy document that aligns with the business’s cybersecurity strategy. For example, if your strategy focuses on securing credit card data, your email security policies should reflect that. You’ll find more specific examples later in this article.

In the meantime, let’s discuss some items you need to include in an email security policy.

What to Include in an Email Security Policy Document

In this section, I’ll discuss the key sections you’ll want to include in your email security policy document. I’m not including the section for the policies themselves. We’ll tackle those later. 

The Policy Document’s Purpose

First, define the purpose of your policy document. This section will typically include the policy’s principal and sub-objectives, if any. Make the reader understand why this document exists. Also, give a brief overview of what the reader can expect to see in the policy document.

The Policy Document’s Scope

In this section, specify the group of people in your business to whom the policy document applies. For example, does it apply to employees only? Does it include third-party consultants, vendors, and agents representing your business? To avoid confusion, make a clear distinction between the people the policy document applies to and those exempted from it. 

Definitions of Terms Used in the Document

Some end users reading the policy document might not be familiar with some of the terms mentioned. To ensure they understand the rest of the document, list technical terms and define them. For example, you can define terms such as encryption, phishing, BEC, etc.

Risks and Responsibilities That Come with Using Email

One way to gain user cooperation is by educating users about the risks associated with email and the user’s role in mitigating those risks. Therefore, explain what can happen if a user falls for a phishing email, for instance. Furthermore, you can note down the consequences that they could’ve avoided. In all, ensure your users understand the possible financial, legal, and reputational repercussions should an attack succeed.

Security Awareness Tips and Suggestions

Email-based attacks like phishing and BEC succeed when email recipients fail to recognize anything suspicious in a malicious email. To counter these attacks, it’s important to raise security awareness among employees. Yes, an anti-phishing tool like GFI MailEssentials can automatically detect and block malicious emails — but not everyone has these tools in their arsenal. Therefore, you should use this section to discuss how your users can detect and avoid email security threats. Specifically, explain what users need to check to identify a potential phishing or BEC email.

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Education is your employees’ best defense against email-based threats!
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How to Respond to Security Threats

Security breaches and data leaks can prosper if your organization lacks appropriate protocols for responding to a potential threat. Use this section to outline what employees and managers must do once they’ve identified a potential threat in their email. For instance, let’s say an employee finds a suspicious attachment in their email. The right protocol would be for them to immediately contact the IT department so that trained IT staff can conduct further assessments.

Penalties for Non-compliance

Some people don’t take policies seriously, unless those policies have clear and severe consequences. Keep employees in check by specifying appropriate disciplinary actions for those who don’t adhere to your policy document. For example, you may impose suspensions on those who deliver hate speech. You may also apply terminations to those who intentionally shared confidential information without permission.

Now that we’ve looked at the essential sections in an email security policy document, it’s time to talk about 5 crucial email security policies. 

5 Must-Have Email Security Policies

Your policy document will likely have many policies, but you should consider including these 5 if you haven’t yet. In my opinion, these 5 policies combined address the biggest threats to email use and cover a lot of ground in mitigating risk. I haven’t arranged this list in any particular order. 

1. Read the Security Awareness Section

I can’t emphasize this enough, but your users need to read the security awareness section of your document. Education is the number one defense against cyberattacks. Since most email-based attacks come in the form of phishing attacks, your users need to know how to identify them. Therefore, highlight the importance of reading the Security Awareness section by reminding them to do so in a policy.

2. When in Doubt, Contact Your Cybersecurity Team or IT Department

If you notice anything suspicious, but don’t see any of the indicators specified in the Security Awareness section, contact your cybersecurity or IT team. They might already have that particular email format flagged from recent cyber threat intelligence activities. 

3. Users Can Only Discuss Company Information through Company Email Accounts

This policy is crucial because users are usually less cautious when using their personal email accounts. Restricting company-related communications to company email accounts assures company policy adherence. At the very least, you can monitor company email accounts for any suspicious activity.

4. Users Shouldn’t Expect Any Privacy When Using Company Email

Since company email is business property, it’s only reasonable that you have complete access to it. This access puts your cybersecurity team in a better position to conduct monitoring and prevent data leaks and breaches. That said, it’s important to communicate this policy clearly to users to avoid any confusion and conflict.

5. Use of Company Email for Personal Use Is Strictly Prohibited

The motivation for this policy relates to #3. When users use company email for personal communications, they tend to let their guard down. This malpractice can lead to unintentional data leaks. So, one variation of this policy can be requiring users to confine company emails to company-owned devices. That way, you can avoid any accidental slip-ups.

Alright, now it’s time to outline the steps for putting together an effective email security policy document.

How to Create an Effective Email Security Policy Document

It’s not enough to just put together a set of email security policies and call it a day. A policy document requires proper planning and nurturing for it to work. Here are some things you can do in that regard.

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Invite various stakeholders to help create your company’s email security policy document.
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1. Align Your Email Security Policies with Your Company Needs

While security is important, it shouldn’t be overly restrictive. Otherwise, it hinders your productivity. Therefore, when you create your policy document, it’s important to prioritize areas with the biggest risk. Identify your most critical vulnerabilities and biggest threats, and then base your security efforts on that. #3 below can help you in achieving alignment.

2. Leverage Existing Email Security Policy Templates

You can find several email security policy document templates online. Simply search for “email security policy template”. If you haven’t tried creating a security policy document before, just follow a template from a reputable source. SANS Institute, for example, is a good source. Of course, you’ll have to customize that template to suit your business’s needs. Also, ensure your email security policies adhere to your company policies and mission. 

3. Solicit Inputs from Various Stakeholders

Invite stakeholders from different departments to ensure your email security policies consider various aspects of your business. Essentially, having representatives from IT, legal, HR, and other departments will help you institute a holistic approach. In turn, this approach will improve the effectiveness of your policy document since it’ll factor in every concern and need. 

4. Test the Effectiveness of Your Email Security Policies

While testing isn’t part of creating a policy document, it certainly helps ensure your email security policies are working as envisioned. Here’s one example. You can send users a bogus phishing email to see if they respond appropriately. If a user violates policy like, say, downloading an attachment from an unknown source, you can call that user’s attention. Then, you can re-educate that user to ensure they don’t commit the same mistake in a real attack.

Okay. Time to wrap things up.

Final Words

To conclude, implementing email security policies makes a huge difference when it comes to defending against email-based threats. However, you can’t have policies in place without the proper document backing them up.

In this article, I listed 5 essential email security policies. These policies reminded users to read the policy document’s Security Awareness section; to contact their IT team when unsure if an email presented a threat; to restrict the use of company information to emails communicated through company email accounts; to expect their company email accounts to get monitored for security purposes and; to strictly avoid using company email accounts for personal communications.

It’s a very simple process. Create a document tailored to your company’s needs and requirements, and add the necessary policies. I hope this article gave you some insights into email security policies as a whole. Remember to save it as a point of reference should you need it in the future.

Do you have more questions about email security policies? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

Why is email security important?

Email security is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, email is still the number one option for business communications. Secondly, it can be formal and personal, providing cybercriminals with the right environment for social engineering attacks. Thirdly, advanced email-based attacks are still on the rise. 

Aside from security awareness training, what other methods can I use to protect my employees against phishing emails?

You can use tools that automatically detect and block phishing emails. Some phishing emails are so deceptive that even users who have undergone training find it hard to recognize them. This detailed review of GFI MailEssentials presents a nice inside look into the features of these tools.

Which laws and regulations govern the use of email, if any?

Data security and privacy laws and regulations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and CAN-SPAM contain certain email provisions. This email security and compliance guide discusses the various laws and regulations that have these provisions. It also talks about how you can stay compliant.  

How do I know if someone hacked my email?

One clear sign is when you receive email password reset notifications even if you didn’t request a password reset. Another sign is when contacts start asking if you sent them a certain email, and you never did. This article offers a detailed discussion about ways to prevent and identify email hacking. 

What is a whaling attack?

A whaling attack is a type of phishing attack that targets high-value individuals like CEOs and other top executives. Since top executives have access to a company’s crown jewels, e.g., bank accounts, a whaling attack’s ROI is usually high. This article explains in more detail the elements of a whaling attack and how to prevent one.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Email Spoofing

Read about how you can defend your business against email spoofing attacks.

TechGenix: Article on Secure Email Gateway

Learn what a secure email gateway is and how to choose one for your business. 

TechGenix: Article on Email Security Policies in Microsoft 365

Understand the email security policies in Microsoft 365.

TechGenix: Article on Email Archiving

Find out how email archiving can protect your business data.

TechGenix: Article Featuring Top Email Backup Solutions

Discover the top corporate email backup solutions in 2022.

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