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The Ugly Truth: Emails are at High Risk of Data Breach

Data breaches affecting millions of Australians have been on the rise throughout 2023. Sadly, this trend isn’t slowing down as hackers continue to find new ways to infiltrate personal and private information.  If you think that emails are safe… think again.

Today, emails have become an indispensable part of our communication. We send and receive personal and sensitive information with ease and trust that it remains confidential.  However, sending sensitive information by email is at a major risk as hackers continue to employ various tactics to exploit email vulnerabilities and gain access to private data.

As an example, in 2020, 47 Service NSW staff email accounts were hacked through a series of phishing cyber-attacks due to a lack of multi-factor authentication. The attack led to 5 million documents being accessed, 10% of which contained sensitive data impacting 104,000 people. The incident highlights the importance of safeguarding sensitive data and the consequences of failing to do so.

The effects of an email hacker on an individual can have massive ramifications, both personally and professionally.  Potential effects can include privacy invasion, identity theft causing financial and personal hardships, financial loss, emotional distress, reputation damage (especially if sensitive or embarrassing information is exposed), loss of personal data (valuable memories and information), compromised online accounts, and may become entangled in legal matters or regulatory investigations.

As malicious or criminal attacks remain the leading cause of data breaches involving personal information in Australia, being aware of hacker tactics and how to safeguard your emails is imperative.

Hacker Tactics

1.    Phishing – cyber criminals send seemingly legitimate emails designed to trick recipients into revealing personal information or login credentials. These emails may appear to come from trusted sources, such as banks, companies, or government agencies.

2.    Email Spoofing - Hackers can forge the sender’s email address, making it appear as though an email has come from a trusted entity. This tactic is used to deceive recipients into taking actions that could compromise their data.

3.    Email Interception - Cyber criminals intercept emails in transit to gain access to sensitive information. This may occur through unsecured networks or compromised email servers.

Safeguarding Your Emails and Information

1. Strong Passwords – Create strong, unique passwords for your email accounts and change them regularly. Consider using a secure password manager to keep track of complex passwords.  Never write them down as these can be stolen.

2. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) – Enable MFA to add an extra layer of security to your email accounts. This requires a secondary verification method, such as a code sent to your phone.

3. Be wary of Phishing – Be vigilant when opening emails, especially from unknown sources. Avoid clicking on suspicious links and never share personal information via email.

4. Secure Wi-Fi – Use a secure and encrypted Wi-Fi network when sending sensitive date through email. Avoid public or unsecured networks.

5. Cybersecurity Software – Install reputable antivirus and anti-malware software to detect and mitigate threats in real-time.

Information Etiquette for Cyber Protection

1.    Limit Sensitive Data Sharing – Only share personal or confidential information through email when the attached documents are encrypted. When possible, opt for secure file sharing platforms or collect information through a secure dynamic forms applications.

2.    Double-Check Recipients – Before hitting send, verify that you’re sending the email to the intended recipient to avoid accidental data leakage.

3.    Regular Updates – Keep your email client, operating system, and security software up to date to protect against vulnerabilities.

4.    Email Security Awareness – The importance of training employees in email security cannot be understated. Training should emphasise the significance of double-checking email content, attachments, and recipients especially links.

5.    Incident Response Plan – Have a well-defined incident response plan in place to mitigate the consequence of data breaches and to address them promptly.

6.    Regulatory Compliance – Ensure that the company complies with industry specific regulations and standards. This is critical for maintaining the trust of clients and avoiding potential legal repercussions.

The dangers of sending personal and private information via email are real, and the consequences can be severe. Australian companies have experienced serious data breaches, and hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their tactics.

ASIC’s November 2023 report on cyber findings and insights summarises important trends, identifies areas for improvement and highlights better practices with practical examples. Their survey showed 44 per cent of respondents failed to manage the risk from vendors, suppliers, partners, contractors or service providers with access to an organisation’s internal or confidential information.

By increasing the focus on taking preventative action in following best practices and exercising information etiquette, you can safeguard your personal data. When data breaches occur, organisations must move swiftly to contain the breach and thereby minimise the risk of harm to people and their lives.

Stay vigilant and be proactive in your approach to email, data protection and cyber awareness.

Does your business need a secure way to obtain customer and intercompany data without using emails?  Consider a dynamic form building tool that integrates with your business management system and can be accessed on mobile devices.
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