Skip to the content

Follow us @UKAuthority

Protecting email for cross-agency working

31/12/19

Industry Voice

FOR REVIEW

Industry voice: Email remains the prime channel in collaborative working, and it is important that it is not allowed to become a cyber soft spot, writes Johan Dreyer, Director of Sales Engineering, Europe at Mimecast.

There is growing awareness that organisations in any part of the public sector – local government, healthcare, policing – can only deliver the best possible outcomes for the public by collaborating with other agencies to take into account related factors and a holistic view of the citizen. Cross-agency working is becoming an increasingly important bedrock for effective public service delivery. 

But this creates risks around cyber security. Organisations can take stringent measures to protect their networks and build a culture of cyber hygiene internally, but when their employees begin to exchange information, often in the form of links and case files attached to email, with other organisations they cannot assume the same standards have been applied. And when sensitive information is being shared externally the risk of inadvertently sending the information to the wrong recipient increases dramatically. In fact, research on data breaches at NHS hospitals shows that human error is the most common cause.

This can open them up to significant threats. Opening a link or downloading a file from a partner in an external agency could allow malware into the network: malicious code that could cripple a network and take the organization offline for days or give a third party access to sensitive data. The sender would probably be an unwitting participant but it could inflict considerable damage, undo the efforts of an internal security team and undermine the cause of collaborative working.

The number one communication tool

Two factors are at work. One is that email remains the number one tool for communication. Despite the growth in availability of online collaboration tools and sharing apps, most people feel comfortable with email - they know how it works and trust its authenticity. eMail’s uniformity and ubiquity makes it a reliable channel to communicate with others.

Even in organisations with other collaboration tools email is still the de facto channel for the internal sharing of information; and most employees believe that they know how to spot anything suspicious and use it in a secure manner.

But the threat landscape is changing. It is not just that cyber criminals are developing new types of malicious code, but that they are aware of this enduring preference for email and have chosen it as the main route for their attacks. Many attackers have perfected methods of ensuring that messages look as if they have come from credible sources, making links and file attachments appear harmless, and sneaking into devices and organisational networks.

Verizon's 2018 Data Breach Report shows that 92% of malware enters a network through email, and the volume is expected to remain very high. It is also notable that many attacks are directed through a third party rather than straight at an organisation’s network.

In addition, organisations cannot assume that the email provision within the main productivity suites provide sufficient levels of security. They can work sufficiently for organisations that handle less sensitive information and feel they have a lower risk profile; but email is a potential soft spot that has to be closely monitored and safeguarded to stave off cyber threats. For public authorities in which cyber is a high risk factor, email demands an extra security wrapper drawing on deep expertise from specialists in the field.

Underpinning security in collaborative working

Any public authority aiming to improve outcomes through working with others needs to take this seriously, and this is where Mimecast comes in, helping to provide that extra security that creates the trust needed in cross-agency working.

It is a specialist in email security and resilience, with an approach that can strengthen the cyber capability of organisations using its services. It can also support the increasingly challenging need for good governance – such as in complying with the General Data Protection Regulation – and the ability to recover content through its archiving facilities.

The company can draw on two major assets in supporting public authorities.

One is the UK-hosted cloud based platform through which it provides its service, that brings together solutions for security, archiving and continuity. This saves organisations from having to manage a fractured and complex infrastructure to support its use of email. 

It monitors traffic for established and emerging threats, identifying malicious emails and providing the appropriate quarantines and alerts. This includes protection against ransomware, phishing, spear-phishing, email fraud and other advanced attacks. It also provides encryption and secure messaging options to ensure that sensitive information remains under the control of the sending organisation. Other available security features include anti-spam, anti-virus, data loss prevention and protection in the event of a malicious employee or compromised insider.

Partnering to keep ahead of the threat

Cyber resilience means more than just preventing the current attacks. Mimecast keeps email working before, during and after an attack with capabilities for threat protection, adaptability, durability and recoverability. For threat protection, Mimecast firmly believes in layered security and combines its own advanced defences with best-of-breed third party cyber security solutions to help optimise protection.

Adaptability is also important as today’s threats evolve and morph. The company’s ability to add new layers and remove less effective layers keeps defenses current. And with an open platform, organisations can use APIs to access information and improve threat sharing across other attack vectors such as firewalls and endpoints. Durability in the form of email continuity keeps employees sending and receiving email even in the event of a primary mail server outage. Recoverability is provided in the form of information back-ups that can be restored quickly in the event of a ransomware attack or other data loss. The same immutable data source is also used for e-discovery and compliance support.

Cyber resilience provides public authorities with the capability to take a more proactive and comprehensive approach to their email environment, monitoring for potential threats, taking preventative action, continuing to work during and if necessary, recovering from a cyber attack.

View from the front line

Mimecast has been put to use on the front line of cyber defence and resilience in central and local government, the NHS and emergency services, helping them to reduce risk and address challenges in their use of email.

Among these customers is Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, which had seen increasing attack attempts in recent years using email as the attack vector. Having reviewed the market, network manager John Lees implemented Mimecast to prevent malicious URL and attachment exploits, impersonation attacks, spam and malware.

“It gives me absolute peace of mind to know that, thanks to Mimecast, we have improved our email security,” says Lees, adding that the council has “seen a significant reduction in the number of malicious emails getting through.”

Lees estimates that the admin burden has “at least halved” within a couple of months of implementing Mimecast, with service desk calls down as a consequence.

As an added bonus, says Lees, Mimecast Secure Messaging offers users a simple, hassle free alternative to GCSX: “When we retire GCSX, Mimecast should ease the transition. To send sensitive email via an encrypted, secure channel, users will have the option to add the [SECURE] tag to any email and send in the usual way. Mimecast will do the rest.”

This provides an example of how a public authority can benefit from a robust email security and resilience solution, in terms of its own savings and increased confidence in working with other public agencies. Now is the time to investigate the solution further.

Mimecast's security experts have produced a useful deep dive paper on how to keep your email secure - download it via the form below:

Register: Library & Alerts

Keep informed - Get the latest news about the use of technology, digital & data for the public good in your inbox from UKAuthority.