Check Point Research Navigates Outlook’s Security Landscape: The Obvious, the Normal, and the Advanced

Cyber Security Threat Summary:
In a recent blog from Check Point, Outlook, the desktop app in the Microsoft Office suite, is highlighted as one of the world's most widely used applications for organizational communication. However, it poses significant security risks, acting as a critical gateway for cyber threats. The blog categorizes attack vectors into three types: the "obvious" Hyperlink attack vector, the "normal" Attachment attack vector, and the "advanced" Email Reading and Special Object attack vectors.

The Hyperlink attack vector involves phishing emails with malicious web links, exploiting the user's tendency to click without confirmation. The Attachment attack vector examines the security risks associated with opening email attachments, considering file types marked as "unsafe" or "safe." The blog emphasizes the importance of users exercising caution, especially with untrusted attachments.

The Email Reading attack vector, also known as the "Preview Pane" attack, involves vulnerabilities triggered when users read emails, particularly those in HTML or TNEF formats. The blog suggests configuring Outlook to read plain text emails for enhanced security.

The Special Object attack vector is advanced, requiring no user interaction beyond opening Outlook. It exploits vulnerabilities in objects like reminders, allowing attackers to gain control without the victim reading the email.

Security Officer Comments:
Outlook is a widely used email and communication platform across organizations globally. Understanding the potential security risks associated with such a commonly used application is crucial for maintaining the overall security posture of businesses and individuals. The blog concludes by comparing the user interoperability required for each scenario and emphasizes the need for a comprehensive understanding of Outlook's security threats.

Suggested Correction(s):
The blog from Check Point suggests several mitigation strategies to address potential security risks associated with Outlook. These strategies are aimed at enhancing the overall security posture of organizations and reducing the likelihood of successful cyberattacks. Here are some of the mitigation strategies mentioned in the text:

  • User Caution and Awareness: Emphasizes the importance of user caution, especially when dealing with email attachments and hyperlinks. Users are encouraged to exercise vigilance and not easily click on links or open attachments from untrusted sources.
  • Configuration for Plain Text Emails: Recommends configuring Outlook to read plain text emails for enhanced security. While this may reduce usability, it minimizes the risk associated with HTML and TNEF formats, which are known to have vulnerabilities.
  • File Type Classification: Discusses the importance of classifying file types as "unsafe," "safe," or "unclassified." For instance, attachments marked as "unsafe" are blocked, adding a layer of protection against potentially malicious files.
  • Protected View Mode: Recommends application developers to implement application sandboxing, such as the "Protected View" mode in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This mode enhances security by limiting features and potential risks associated with opening attachments.
  • Mark-of-the-Web (MotW): Encourages developers to honor the Mark-of-the-Web (MotW) for attachments, which can help in balancing security and usability. MotW can be used to mark attachments from external sources, adding an additional layer of security.
  • Comprehensive Security Solutions: Highlights that Check Point solutions, including Check Point Email Security & Collaboration Security and Harmony Endpoint, provide protection against various Outlook-related attack vectors. These solutions are designed to prevent, detect, and respond to threats effectively.
  • Understanding Attack Vectors: The blog encourages a comprehensive understanding of different attack vectors, such as Hyperlink, Attachment, Email Reading, and Special Object. This understanding is crucial for organizations to tailor their security strategies based on specific threat scenarios.
  • Educating Users: Promotes ongoing user education and awareness programs to ensure that individuals within the organization are informed about the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices. Informed users are better equipped to identify and avoid potential risks.
By incorporating these mitigation strategies, organizations can significantly reduce their susceptibility to cyber threats originating from Outlook and similar communication platforms, thereby fostering a more secure digital environment.