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Introducing browser isolation for email links to stop modern phishing threats
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There is an implicit and unearned trust we place in our email communications. This realization — that an organization can't truly have a Zero Trust security posture without including email — was the driving force behind Cloudflare’s acquisition of Area 1 Security earlier this year.  Today, we have taken our first step in this exciting journey of integrating Cloudflare Area 1 email security into our broader Cloudflare One platform. Cloudflare Secure Web Gateway customers can soon enable Remote Browser Isolation (RBI) for email links, giving them an unmatched level of protection from modern multi-channel email-based attacks.

Research from Cloudflare Area 1 found that nearly 10% of all observed malicious attacks involved credential harvesters, highlighting that victim identity is what threat actors usually seek. While commodity phishing attacks are blocked by existing security controls, modern attacks and payloads don’t have a set pattern that can reliably be matched with a block or quarantine rule. Additionally, with the growth of multi-channel phishing attacks, an effective email security solution needs the ability to detect blended campaigns spanning email and Web delivery, as well as deferred campaigns that are benign at delivery time, but weaponized at click time.

When enough “fuzzy” signals exist, isolating the destination to ensure end users are secure is the most effective solution. Now, with the integration of Cloudflare Browser Isolation into Cloudflare Area 1 email security, these attacks can now be easily detected and neutralized.

Human error is human

Why do humans still click on malicious links? It’s not because they haven’t attended enough training sessions or are not conscious about security. It’s because they have 50 unread emails in their inbox, have another Zoom meeting to get to, or are balancing a four-year old on their shoulders. They are trying their best.

Anyone, including security researchers, can fall for socially engineered attacks if the adversary is well-prepared.

If we accept that human error is here to stay, developing security workflows introduces new questions and goals:
  • How can we reduce, rather than eliminate, the likelihood of human error?
  • How can we reduce the impact of human error when, not if, it happens?
  • How can security be embedded into an employee’s existing daily workflows?
It’s these questions that we had in mind when we reached the conclusion that email needs to be a fundamental part of any Zero Trust platform. Humans make mistakes in email just as regularly — in fact, sometimes more so — as they make mistakes surfing the Web.

To block, or not to block?

For IT teams, that is the question they wrestle with daily to balance risk mitigation with user productivity. The SOC team wants IT to block everything risky or unknown, whereas the business unit wants IT to allow everything not explicitly bad. If IT decides to block risky or unknown links, and it results in a false positive, they waste time manually adding URLs to allow lists — and perhaps the attacker later pivots those URLs to malicious content anyway. If IT decides to allow risky or unknown sites, best case they waste time reimaging infected devices and resetting login credentials — but all too common, they triage the damage from a data breach or ransomware lockdown. The operational simplicity of enabling RBI with email — also known as email link isolation — saves the IT, SOC, and business unit teams significant time.
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