Most of what an email administrator deals with on a daily basis is protecting the inbox of his or her user base. With the number of spam and phishing attacks on the rise, there is little time for anything else.
While management is beginning to see the threat that illicit emails pose to their organizations, an increase in the dollars available to keep the inbox spam free might not be enough to completely protect your organization from the problems associated with spam. Sure, users won’t complain as much and you will reduce the threat landscape from incoming email attacks; but if you are not allocating enough resources to dealing with outbound email threats then your organization could be finding itself dealing with some unforeseen problems.
What is an Outbound Email Threat?
Outbound email threats are simply spam or phishing attacks that originate from your mail servers. At one time, mail servers themselves were often left unprotected or they were configured to be open relay servers so the problem was with the server itself. However mail server security has been addressed and most network appliances will help to protect this layer. Nowadays, illicit emails generally come from two sources: your marketing department or your endpoints.
Email Marketing Spam
When I was serving as a consultant to a non-profit organization the marketing director decided to send an email to as many education professionals as she could in a particular state. Obtaining a list was easy and she went ahead and crafted up a nicely written email to promote the company’s services, which were free and actually quite beneficial to teachers and students. Despite my warnings about sending unsolicited mail, the CEO was determined to launch the campaign believing that no one would find fault with a non-profit that was trying to give something away to schools.
I’m sure most people know how this story ends, the address was blacklisted by the various block lists because so many people reported the message as spam and because it was all sent from one address at one time. Care was not taken to obtain a legitimate mailing list nor was the bulk mailing done responsibly. Being overridden by the CEO, there was not much I could do but clean up the mess and quietly think, “I told you so,” to myself.
Spam From Your Endpoints
Spammers are smarter than most marketing professionals who send out email blasts. They know that a mass mailing originating from one address at one time will certainly raise a few eyebrows. Instead, they send out steady streams of malicious emails from large botnets of compromised computers.
Small to medium sized companies can find themselves targeted by spammers looking to increase the size of their botnet. Using malware, they can take over any number of vulnerable computers in your network and use them to send spam.
The problem for you is that when ISPs start seeing spam originating from your mail servers you could easily find yourself on one or more of the DNS block lists.
Dealing With Outbound Spam
Being labeled as a spammer can do some heavy damage to your organization. Those who have found themselves in this situation often:
- Suffer damage to their reputation
- Find themselves having to defend themselves against legal action
- Spend time and money clearing their name with the block lists
Proactively dealing with outbound spam is a much more cost effective, and responsible, way to deal with this problem.
Start by working with upper-level management to educate anyone who would be sending newsletters, marketing materials or any other type of mass emails. Create policies that govern how and when these emails can be sent. When a department or individual is planning to use a mass email campaign be sure that everything is reviewed beforehand.
To protect against spam originating from your endpoints, the solution is much more simple. Utilize the right technologies to guard against outbound spam. If you are using Microsoft Exchange, make sure that in the Outbound spam preferences menu (under Protection > Outbound spam) is configured to alert you when suspicious email is being sent. In addition to this, make sure that your anti-spam solution offers outbound email protection as well.
All too often, outbound email is forgotten in the fight against spam. You will be doing your organization a tremendous favor by addressing it before it is too late.