Secure Email Gateway Vs. Integrated Cloud Email Security (SEG Vs. ICES) – What’s the difference, and which should my business use?

When you think of phishing or any form of internet crime, many believe this is something completely remote to them, only happening to a few select individuals that let their guard down. However, this generally isn’t the case, with 86% of all organizations within the United States having at least one employee that clicked on a phishing link within 2020 alone.

With 86% of businesses potentially being exposed to just one form of cybercrime, it’s essential that business owners understand the importance of email safety, as well as the services available to prevent cyberattacks via email.

In this article, we’ll be outlining two of the main technologies that are built to protect email accounts, SEGs, and ICES. Alongside that, we’ll outline why your business should be worrying about email security, now more than ever. Let’s jump right into it.

What is a Secure Email Gateway?

SEGs are and have been for quite some time, the first line of defense when it comes to email services and cybersecurity. 

As signaled by the meaning of SEG, this is a gateway employed by email services that intend to keep out spam emails, emails that contain viruses or malware, and those that come in the form of DoS (denial of service) attacks. They mainly target the most well-known email attack vectors that are used by potential hackers or those with malicious intentions. 

In simple terms, they do this by employing threat detection when the account receives an email, then creating large lists which either permit or reject the email. However, as this is often a blanket service, system administrators may have to tinker with the MX records (the criteria which either reject or accept an email) depending on what their business receives. 

Additionally, a security administrator could add specific domains that are targeting them with spam or potentially compromising emails to the block list. While this seems tedious, once configured once, this system will then be able to pre-scan every single email that is set to arrive in the inbox. 

One problem with SEGs is that they are often located outside of the email provider themselves, meaning that network providers would have to disable, let’s say, Microsoft Office’s internal security to then uses the SEG effectively. What’s more, as SEG requires editing of the MX Records (Mail Exchanger), companies have to undergo a very intrusive development, with public MX records meaning that nefarious individuals could work out what type of security a business is using.

Equally, as SEGs is an external tool, with their records being on the MX, they are notoriously ineffective for internal traffic. If the scam or email was through an internal account within the business, then an SEG would be severely limited in what it could do to protect the system as a whole. 

This means that if one account becomes compromised, it could easily send more emails to all of the other accounts on the system, creating a domino effect of compromised profiles.

Like many older technologies, this tried and tested tool is currently falling out of favor as new, and more comprehensive cybersecurity defenses rise to the scene. 

What is an Integrated Cloud Email Security Solution?

In our modern age, there is a Software as a Service (SAAS) solution to absolutely everything. Seeing the inefficiency of SEGs for the more complex digital threats now plaguing businesses, ICES have been developed that aim to create a stronger email security solution. Considering that 89% of network administrators found at least one problem with how effective their SEG was for their business, it’s no wonder that ICES are gaining popularity quickly. 

ICES solutions are located at the confluence of two core technologies: machine learning and NLP. Machine learning allows the system that monitors the emails to become increasingly effective over time, gaining context into what an email with a threat looks like, their geographical location, and how they’ve communicated. 

Additionally, NLP, which is natural language processing, is a service that turns language into data that technology can then act upon. In the case of emails, this is about understanding what sort of language is common in ransomware, malware, or scam email, and then flagging that language.

What’s more, ICES can be used within internal email systems, covering the elements that SEGs fail to catch. As there are no MX records to keep, this system will scan emails before they come into contact with the account, providing a more comprehensive level of security. The shift to a modern API architecture that ICES entails allows third parties to both manage and query a user’s email ensures a more comprehensive system than simply intercepting emails like within the SAG system. 

The combination of these technologies takes a holistic approach to email security and one that continually becomes more refined over time. Instead of creating a rigid yes or no list of permissions, ICES creates a smart system that takes into account human language, as well as a range of other factors to deliver a more precise judgment on incoming emails. 

Taking notice of how effective ICES seem to be, IBM included studies into them in one of their Cost of Breach Reports, demonstrating that their use in business had reduced the cost of data breaches from $6.71 million to only $2.90 million. This goes to show just how effective this technology is, catching the vast majority of malicious emails.

Why Does Email Security Matter to My Business?

As email now seems like such a natural feature of a business, it’s easily overlooked as an important resource to protect. Yet, the average office worker will receive around 121 emails every single day, themselves sending out around 40 that directly relate to business purposes. 

Email accounts are busy locations, with confidential documents, important notices, and private information passing through them on a daily basis. Alongside protecting this information, there are a few other reasons why email security should be a top priority for your business:

  • Phishing is on the rise – Phishing is notoriously concentrated through email, with 96% of all reports of this cybercrime being connected to the opening of a link or the downloading of a document that came through email. If your business has security in place that ensures those emails never even arrive at your employees, you’ll be radically decreasing the chance that your business will join the long list of companies impacted by phishing online. 
  • Cybercrime is concentrated through email – In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Report released the fact that cybercriminals had made more than $1.8 billion USD only through exploiting email accounts. Whether it be phishing that’s targeted through the accounts or gaining entry to them and then exploiting internal systems, this is a huge area of risk for your business. If you don’t want to fall into the statistics of data breaches and exposure, then you should be creating email defense systems that are used company-wide. 
  • Email is closely connected to data breaches – Cybercrime, in general, is rising around 50% each year, demonstrating that your business should turn toward ensuring you have the very best possible systems in place to keep your company’s data safe. Alongside this, phishing, which is a primarily email-based form of crime, is responsible for around 22% of data breaches. Due to this, if your business falls into the trap of a phishing email, it’s highly likely that your whole data infrastructure could be undermined and exposed, causing huge damage to your public image and costing thousands in associated fees.

With the importance of email in the global network of businesses, it has also become one of the primary locations where cybercriminals will focus their efforts. Due to this, your business should take every step possible to ensure that they, too, do not fall prey to these risks.

While cloud email services like Google and Microsoft provide a base level of native cloud email security, this is often an additional element instead of a core focus. This leads to 626 missed phishing emails coming through per 100,000 on Google, and 932 with Microsoft’s security, demonstrating the fallibility of the system.

Currently, the two leading technologies that help to protect emails are still SEG and ICES.

When protecting my business, is it SEG or ICES?

While ICES is often painted as an advanced method of email security, it is not actually necessarily the case that your business must use either one or another. In fact, it’s actually a much better solution to use both of these at once. 

SEGs are fantastic at the core of what email security needs. From detecting malware in attachments, filtering out the 320 billion spam emails that are sent each day, and cutting back on the malicious links that end up in your inbox, they definitely have their uses. 

On top of this, your business can decide to add a leading ICES solution like Check Point or ProofPoint, adding an additional layer of security to your email accounts. Not only will this provide internal support for your emails, but it will create a more comprehensive layer of security that catches what SEG fails to find.

Taking a dual approach, rather than sitting in either the ICES or SEG camp, is a much more efficient solution, helping to cover your business from all bases. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to keeping businesses safe, the most comprehensive approach that you can take will start with ensuring that your email accounts are properly secured. While SEG defense systems were the go-to for many years, offering a great level of protection against the most common form of internet scams and phishing attempts, they have become less effective as the complexity of risks gets higher.

By combining your email SEG with an ICES, you’re able to afford your email systems a more comprehensive level of security, creating a system that covers your email from all angles, you’ll be able to reduce the risk for yourself and all of your employees. 

Considering the importance of business data, being worth upwards of $138.9 billion back in 2020, it’s critical that you keep yours safe. Luckily, with the development and easily-accessible ICES solutions, you’ll be able to keep your company safe with their holistic approach to email security. 

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