Some 91% of cyberattacks begin with a ‘spear phishing’ email, according to research from security software firm Trend Micro. So, if an attacker can garner some information about you, they can focus an attack and make it far more effective.

There are many risks in using email, predominantly from emails received by the organisation. Examples of these include:

  • Emails being intercepted and sensitive information exposed.
  • An attacker impersonating another user and generating false emails.
  • Users receiving phishing emails requesting they provide authentication or account details through an embedded URL.
  • Email attachments containing malware.
  • Hiding URLs.

Though .exe are not used as much for attacks as before other files such as. RFT, .XLS and .ZIP are now often used for malware attacks.

Laptop on white desk with user’s hand in shot.


Countermeasures to these risks can include:

  • Implementing boundary controls, especially filtering incoming emails and checking for malware.
  • Implementing antivirus controls on all endpoints. Many antivirus products, including those that would be installed as boundary controls, can detect spam emails and phishing attacks.
  • Implementing secure email. Many products, including Microsoft Outlook, provide the ability to encrypt and digitally sign emails. However, many organisations prefer to accept the risk of interception rather than implement this measure. If they need to send sensitive information to another party, organisations often use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption or ZIP technology to encrypt attachments. See this link for more on encryption.
  • Check URL’s social media for link shrink.

Users should also be made aware of the following risks:

  • Opening attachments from an unknown origin.
  • Following hyperlinks embedded in an email that link to a phishing site.
  • Not sending sensitive information in an email unless some protection is applied. Beware of downgrading to bypass security – this should never be done.

Common sense really, but easy to forget when you're doing your best to deal with data quickly and efficiently!

Diagram showing sources of Email traffic: Home, mobile, external services, partner.

Figure 1: sources of Email traffic

What's next?

To round off this Course, you see a summary of all the countermeasures you've encountered so far.


In this next course you will be taking a closer look at network security issues. These include old technologies like PSTN as well as more recent ones like VoIP, as well as staples like email and mobile.

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