You Can’t Fight AI with AI: The Crucial Role of Sender Verification in Content Inspection

In today's digital landscape, phishing attacks remain a persistent and ever-evolving cybersecurity concern.

These malicious attempts to deceive individuals and companies into revealing sensitive information or performing harmful actions continue to evolve in sophistication.

Attackers recognize the potential of Generative AI. It empowers malicious actors to innovate continually, outpacing cybersecurity defenses by automating attacks, scanning potential vulnerabilities, and crafting tailored content that resonates with diverse regions and demographics. This versatility allows them to target a wider pool of potential victims across various countries.

Moreover, cybercriminals have embraced AI to create persuasive phishing emails, leveraging AI-generated text to produce highly personalized messages that increase their chances of deceiving targets.

While the number of zero-day threats continued to rise, it was the utilization of AI that fundamentally changed the game.

The conventional defense against phishing attacks has long been content inspection. These tools meticulously assess email content for potential threats, but while they offer substantial value, they harbor inherent limitations that may not provide comprehensive protection against AI-generated phishing attacks.

In this blog post, we will explore the functionality of content inspection tools and their limitations. Additionally, we will investigate methods to strengthen them with sender verification tools to prevent phishing effectively.

How to Prevent Phishing with Content Inspection Tools

Content inspection tools belong to the category of software solutions meticulously crafted to shield organizations from advanced email threats.  

Their modus operandi involves an in-depth analysis of email content, encompassing attachments, message text, and subject lines. These tools leverage techniques such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies and contextual machine learning 

How does it work in practice? Security administrators can establish and customize inspection and filtering rules to align with the organization's security policies. When potential threats are detected, these tools take automated actions as specified in the rules, such as blocking or quarantining emails, removing malicious attachments, or flagging suspicious messages. 

Furthermore, these tools allow security administrators to review and analyze their performance, identify potential security gaps, and respond to incidents effectively. 

So, why should companies still avoid using only content inspection to prevent phishing attacks? 

The Limitations of Standalone Content Inspection

Generally, the main limitation is that content inspection tools utilize pattern recognition techniques to identify known threats, such as malware signatures, specific keywords, or indicators commonly associated with phishing, within the content they examine.

To keep up with the evolving threat landscape and AI-generated phishing mails, content inspection vendors started integrating AI into their tools. The goal was to make these tools smarter, more adaptable, and capable of identifying novel threats.

However, a significant problem emerged: Attackers were quick to adopt and leverage AI, often outpacing companies in innovation. As a result, content inspection, even when enhanced with AI, is still not sufficient to combat these AI-generated attacks effectively.

Furthermore, content inspection faces two more critical challenges when applied in isolation:  

  • Lack of Additional Context: Content inspection tools analyze email content; however, they often lack additional context, such as sender reputation or email context, which can make it challenging to assess the intent of the content accurately. Thus, these tools may struggle to distinguish between legitimate and malicious elements within complex email content, leading to false alarms (false positives) or missing sophisticated threats (false negatives). When sender trust is unclear, malicious actors can easily craft AI-generated emails that closely resemble legitimate communication, making it difficult for content inspection tools to differentiate between genuine and harmful content.
  • The Trade-off Usability vs. Security: Given the persistent threat of AI-generated attacks and the absence of additional context for every email, it becomes imperative to establish stringent email content management policies to prevent phishing effectively. However, the more rigorous these policies become, such as the removal of attachments and links, the greater the potential they hold to disrupt the seamless flow of email communication. This disruption, in turn, poses a significant challenge to maintaining productivity within the organization. Conversely, overly lax policies open the door to potential security vulnerabilities.

To effectively thwart these advanced AI-driven phishing attacks, a new approach is needed—one that goes beyond relying solely on AI content inspection. Verifying the sender's identity, a concept known as Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA), becomes crucial.

This innovative approach acknowledges that, in the era of AI, combating AI-based attacks requires more than just AI-based content inspection.

Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA): An Overview

ZTA adheres to the "never trust, always verify" paradigm, which requires emails to have the following key security features:  

  • Continuous Authentication: Within Zero Trust Architectures, continuous authentication is essential for email security, treating every interaction as a potential threat and constantly validating access to detect any unauthorized or malicious attempts. This relentless verification quickly identifies anomalous access or irregular sending patterns, mitigating the risks of phishing, business email compromise, and data breaches. By adapting permissions in real-time, continuous authentication ensures that only authenticated and authorized users can interact with email accounts, fortifying email security against emerging threats.  
  • Visual Identification: Compromised contacts are visually marked to deter inadvertent security breaches. This visual identification provides additional context to users, helping them recognize potential security risks associated with those contacts. It serves as an extra layer of information beyond just analyzing email content, aiding users in making more informed decisions about the trustworthiness of the sender. 
  • Asymmetric Cryptography: This is a method of encrypting and decrypting data using a pair of distinct but mathematically related keys. Private keys remain exclusively on the sender and recipient devices, never remotely, ensuring the confidentiality of email content. Its primary purpose is to protect email content from interception and decryption by unauthorized parties during transmission. 
  • True End-to-End Encryption: Emails undergo local encryption and decryption following authentic end-to-end encryption principles. Consequently, even if third parties intercept emails during transmission, they only encounter encrypted content. This approach not only secures email content during transmission but also ensures that only the intended recipient with the necessary decryption keys can access the message. 

Moreover, ZTA ensures that in the event of contact compromise, the contact's identity cannot be manipulated for data theft or the propagation of threats. 

By adhering to these principles, it becomes feasible to address the limitations typically associated with content inspection tools. Nevertheless, it is crucial to strike a delicate balance between usability and security.  

Thus, there is a need for a user-friendly solution that aligns with ZTA principles and seamlessly integrates with the organization's existing content inspection tools.

A Multi-layered Approach Against AI-Generated Phishing Attacks: planck Secure Email & Content Inspection Tools

Especially AI-driven spear phishing attacks, highly personalized and targeting recipients with specific information, pose a significant challenge for content analysis alone. Recognizing this, sender identification becomes a critical complementary strategy. It adds an essential layer of security by verifying the sender's legitimacy. 

planck Secure Email identifies the sender and categorizes contacts into distinct groups, allowing organizations to prevent phishing more effectively while ensuring trusted contacts can communicate without hindrance. Thus, this additional layer balances robust security and seamless usability.  

planck Secure Email automatically distinguishes emails from various categories of contacts:  

  1. Trusted Contacts: These are well-established contacts with a history of trustworthiness. Emails from trusted contacts are given the green light, with more relaxed security rules in place to minimize disruptions to productivity and user experience. 
  1. Yet-to-Be-Trusted Contacts: Contacts that have not yet earned full trust fall into this category. planck Secure Email allows organizations to implement highly protective rules for these contacts. For instance, emails from such contacts can be subjected to stricter scrutiny, and attachments and links may be temporarily deactivated to mitigate potential threats. 
  1. Compromised Contacts: Contacts that were once trusted but have since been compromised are a critical concern. planck Secure Email empowers organizations to take proactive measures, such as blocking emails from compromised contacts, to prevent potential security breaches. 

These trust indicators streamline the process of identifying emails from recognized and trusted sources, reducing the stress and constant vigilance typically associated with the threat of malicious AI-generated emails. 

In Conclusion: A Holistic Approach to Prevent Phishing 

As phishing attacks become increasingly sophisticated, organizations must adopt equally sophisticated defenses. Relying solely on content inspection, even when powered by AI, is no longer adequate. planck Secure Email, when integrated with content inspection offers a holistic approach. It not only identifies potential threats but also empowers organizations to make informed decisions about email communications. With planck Secure Email, the fight against AI-generated phishing attacks takes a significant leap forward! 

 

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