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Cloud email security concerns

Cloud email has undergone a meteoric rise in popularity in the last few years, but as with any new and widely used technology, security concerns have arisen. 

This guide will run through some of the things you need to be aware of as a cloud email user. 


The top cloud email security concerns 

It's impossible to ignore the security concerns that come along with cloud email. After all, you are entrusting a third-party to manage your data. 

The swathes of companies moving their email hosting to the cloud has created much wider attack surfaces for malicious actors and hackers to take advantage of. This means cloud email service users will have to be much more vigilant as they're now, possibly, more of a target. It's incredibly hard to make a network 100% secure, but reducing the attack surface as much as possible via security solutions is an effective tactic.

A decrease in data visibility is another problem faced by cloud email servers.

Many organizations have IT teams that rely on detailed logs to spot anomalous behavior that could be malicious. Handing your email infrastructure over to a third-party cloud vendor means that you'll have fewer logs to work with – or perhaps even none at all. 

Finally, the cloud email providers themselves can pose a problem. A significant number of cloud email service providers offer all-in-one security packages that deal with different threat profiles. However, cloud security isn't particularly watertight, and rushing into a provider's arms in the name of simplicity may not be the best idea you've ever had. Depending on the size of your business and corresponding security provisions, however, this might actually be an upgrade. 

General email security threats 

There are some concerns that persist whether you're hosting an on-premises email server or cloud email. These are still cloud email security threats, but they're threats that you'll likely run into if you're using email services in general. 

Perhaps an obvious one is end-user security vulnerabilities. By this, I mean parts of the security network individuals subsume responsibility for – their own accounts, for instance, and the login credentials that secure them.

Time and time again employees across all sectors of the economy have been found wanting when it comes to passwords and account security. A malicious threat only needs a single entry point into a network, after all. This is why it's vital to ensure you have an email credentials policy that encourages your employees to create complex passwords. 

Another issue – one that also links to user errors or lack of knowledge – is increasingly sophisticated phishing attacks that are designed to steal user credentials. Phishing has become such a prevalent threat over the last two years that lots of companies now send out mock phishing attacks to employees and arrange training courses to further raise awareness.

Cloud email security best practices

There are several things you can do to protect your employee email accounts and data if you're using a cloud hosting service. The first, which I've already alluded to, is choosing the right vendor. There's a broad spectrum of cloud email service providers out there and not all of them provide watertight security. If you're already using a cloud email service, it's recommended that you review its security provisions regularly to make sure they're still meeting your requirements. 

One definite must is utilizing authenticator apps and essentially enforcing some sort of multi-factor authentication – no ifs, no buts. The more barriers to entry you put up, the less likely a malicious attacker will be able to break through them and cause havoc. In general, authentication that curtails access and can integrate with cloud email services – it's a definite must-have. 

Regardless of what platform you're using to host your business's email service, you and your staff will need to be able to spot the signs of a phishing attack. Training employees to be aware of the latest phishing scams and what to look out for when they're opening emails is vital to securing your network. Likewise, it also pays to know which brands are often impersonated by scammers – Paypal, for example, is one of the brands most often used to confer legitimacy by scammers, along with Amazon and IKEA. 

It's always best to enforce the Principle of Least Privilege when a lot of data is moving over a network and a lot of employees are receiving emails that could contain malicious files. The principle dictates that employees should only have access to the resources they need to complete their job, and no unnecessary permissions that allow them to access data they really don't need in their day-to-day working life. 

Cloud email vs On-premise email 

For most businesses nowadays, email is an integral part of the day-to-day running of things. Whether it's pushing out press releases, sending out marketing materials, or organizing inter-company events, email is essential. Before we talk about the risks associated with cloud email solutions, it's important to know the difference between on-premise email and cloud email solutions. 

Historically, companies opt for on-premise email solutions or outsource them to a third-party hosting company. On-premise email solutions are typically deployed in-house and hosted by the company using them. All the data, in this case, is stored on one of the company's organization’s physical servers. A cloud-based email solution, on the other hand, is not contained on an on-premise server – the data is stored in a secure cloud environment and could be managed by a third-party vendor who owns and manages the cloud infrastructure. 

If you're using a Cloud email server, a lot of this will be outsourced to the vendor. Cloud email vendors deal with the security and maintenance of a network for their clients. Utilizing the cloud for business can have significant advantages, and often offer customers:

Cloud email vs On-premise: which is better?

From a security perspective, both types of email hosting have their merits. On-premises email hosting will be integrated into a given business's IT infrastructure and the business hosting will have complete control over when and where it is implemented. Your email will never be randomly suspended and you can manage your own data loss prevention policy, deploying it how you see fit. 

In on-premise situations, the servers themselves will be paid for and managed by the company itself, and IT staff will monitor the servers, fix problems, and manage the data security strategy. This is a one-time investment in servers that doesn't need to be made again – however, you'll experience running and maintenance costs that wouldn't be present if you used a cloud email solution. 

Indeed, cloud computing certainly has its advantages. Your email will remain up even if your work network goes down, for example, and you don't have to make any costly hardware purchases either. As was mentioned at the start of this article, the cloud vendor's security team will take care of all security-related issues.

It's easy to scale up your business too, as expanding your cloud space is a lot simpler than actually buying and hooking up more hardware to your network. If you find a good enough service provider, you may find yourself able to cut back on IT infrastructure altogether, which can be massively cost-efficient. 

Uncloud your thoughts

Feeling cloudy on the cloud? If so, you should visit ProPrivacy's cloud and storage hub for a variety of cloud-based solutions to problems.

There's loads of handy tips and tricks relating to cloud security and managing your data, as well as product recommendations that'll help you do so. 

Written by: Aaron Drapkin

After graduating with a philosophy degree from the University of Bristol in 2018, Aaron became a researcher at news digest magazine The Week following a year as editor of satirical website The Whip. Freelancing alongside these roles, his work has appeared in publications such as Vice, Metro, Tablet and New Internationalist, as well as The Week's online edition.


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