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How SESA Certification Improves Cisco Email Security

How SESA Certification Improves Cisco Email Security

The importance of email security in cloud computing and digital transformation cannot be overstated. With businesses relying heavily on emails for both internal and external purposes, protecting sensitive information has become important. Cisco Email Security Appliance (ESA) stands as a stalwart guardian in email security. But how can you use Cisco ESA? The answer lies in SESA Certification, an ultimate program that equips professionals with the knowledge and skills to fortify email security.

In this article, we will explore the importance of Cisco Email Security Appliance, the SESA Certification program, and how this certification helps professionals protect their organizations. We will also explain the complexities of email security, the benefits of Securing Email Security Appliance Certification, and its impact on your career. Let’s explore how to better protect emails and take advantage of new opportunities

Understanding Cisco Secure Email (formerly Email Security Appliance)

What is Cisco Secure Email?

Cisco Secure Email (formerly Email Security Appliance) is an advanced email security solution that protects organizations against email-borne threats. It offers email security and compliance capabilities, so businesses can communicate efficiently while maintaining the highest protection against cyber threats.

Key Features of Cisco Secure Email

Let’s take a closer look at the essential features that make Cisco Secure Email a crucial tool for cloud computing:

  • Advanced Threat Protection: Cisco Secure Email employs advanced intelligence and machine learning algorithms to detect and mitigate advanced email threats, including phishing attacks, malware, ransomware, and zero-day exploits.
  • Spam and Malware Filtering: It provides highly effective spam and malware filtering, reducing the risk of unwanted emails and malicious attachments reaching users’ inboxes.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Cisco Secure Email helps organizations prevent data leaks by identifying and blocking sensitive information from being sent outside the organization.
  • Encryption and Authentication: It provides secure communication through email encryption and authentication mechanisms, protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access.
  • Reporting and Analytics: Cisco Secure Email offers reporting and analytics tools, providing insights into email traffic patterns, security threats, and compliance violations.
  • Integration with Other Security Solutions: It easily integrates with other Cisco security products, creating a unified security ecosystem that defends against threats across the network.

Challenges in Cloud

The cloud has completely changed the way organizations work. While cloud technologies offer scalability and efficiency, they also introduce new challenges in terms of security. Here are some of the challenges that organizations face in the cloud:

  • Advanced Threats: Cybercriminals have become more sophisticated, launching advanced threats that are difficult to detect and mitigate.
  • Data Privacy Regulations: Compliance with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and HIPAA, is essential. Failure to comply can result in severe penalties.
  • Email Phishing: Phishing attacks have gotten more sophisticated, making it hard to tell the difference between safe and dangerous emails.
  • Mobile Workforce: With the rise of remote work, employees access email from various devices and locations, increasing the attack surface.

The Importance of Cisco Secure Email in cloud computing

Cloud-Based Email Security

Effective cloud-based email security solutions become crucial as more organizations migrate their email systems to the cloud. Cisco Secure Email can easily integrate with cloud-based email platforms, keeping email communication secure in the cloud.

Protecting Against Growing Threats

Email remains one of the primary vectors for cyberattacks. Cisco Secure Email gateway can adapt to new and growing threats, including Zero-day attacks, making it an essential component of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy, especially in the cloud environment where remote access and sharing are common.

Ensuring Compliance

For businesses in regulated industries, compliance with data protection regulations is non-negotiable. Cisco Secure Email’s DLP capabilities help organizations maintain compliance by preventing sensitive data from leaving the network via email.

Real-World Use-Cases for Cisco Secure Email

Mass spam campaigns and unsafe attachments are no longer your only email security concerns. By scouring social media websites, criminals find information on intended victims and create sophisticated and highly targeted attacks. They use personal data and social engineering tactics that may be tied to global news events to deceive users.

There are more opportunities for attacks than ever before. Employees once checked text-based email from a workstation behind a company firewall. Today they access rich HTML messages from multiple devices, anytime and anywhere. Ubiquitous access creates new network entry points that blur the lines of historically segmented security layers.

The Cisco Email Security portfolio includes the Cisco Email Security Appliance (ESA), Cisco Email Security Virtual Appliance (ESAv), and Cisco Cloud Email Security solutions, provide inbound protection and outbound threat control through advanced threat intelligence and a layered security approach. Features include forged email detection to protect against spoofing attacks, anti-spam and anti-virus tools, outbreak filters, and Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP).

The following are the two major threats to your organization’s email system:

  • A flood of unwanted emails, known as spam, wastes employee time and uses up important resources like bandwidth and storage.
  • Malicious email comes in two basic forms: embedded attacks and targeted or directed attacks. Embedded attacks include viruses and malware that perform actions on the end device when clicked. Targeted or directed attacks, such as phishing attacks, try to mislead employees into releasing sensitive information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, or intellectual property. Phishing attacks can trick employees into visiting harmful websites that spread more malware to their computers.

Use Case: Inbound and Outbound Mail Filtering

Inbound Mail Filtering
Figure 3-1: Inbound Mail Filtering
 Outbound Mail Filtering
Figure 3-2: Outbound Mail Filtering

Inbound mail filtering helps prevent spam and malicious email from being delivered to users. This following design overview enables the following capabilities:

  • Preventing unsolicited email from being delivered to the mail system reduces the flood of spam.
  • Preventing malicious email from being delivered to the mail system (Malicious email is quarantined to allow it to be further evaluated).
  • Tracking and providing reports on the email that was filtered.

Design Overview

The Cisco ESA protects the email infrastructure and employees who use email at work by filtering unsolicited and malicious email before it reaches the user. Cisco ESA easily integrates into existing email infrastructures with a high degree of flexibility by acting as a mail transfer agent (MTA) within the email-delivery chain. Another name for an MTA is a mail relay.

A typical email exchange in which an organization uses an MTA might look like the message flow shown below.

Figure 3-3: Outbound Message Flow

In addition to all the email security capabilities provided by Cisco ESA for inbound email, Cisco ESA also provides anti-virus protection for outbound email.

Outbound Message Flow
Figure 3-4: Outbound Message Flow

Cisco ESA can be deployed with a single physical interface to filter email to and from an organization’s mail server. The second deployment option is a two-interface configuration, one interface for email transfers to and from the Internet and the other for email transfers to and from the internal servers. This design guide uses the single-interface model for simplicity.

Cisco ESA uses various mechanisms to filter spam and fight malicious attacks. The goal of the solution is to filter out positively identified spam, and quarantine or discard email sent from untrusted or potentially hostile locations. Antivirus scanning is applied to emails and attachments from all servers to remove known malware.

Filtering Spam

There are two ways to filter spam and combat phishing attacks: reputation-based filtering and context-based filtering.

  • Reputation-based filtering: Reputation filters provide the first layer of defense by looking at the source IP address of the email server and comparing it to the reputation data downloaded from Cisco SenderBase. Cisco SenderBase is the world’s largest repository for security data, including sources of spam, botnets, and other malicious hosts. When hosts on the Internet engage in malicious activity, SenderBase lowers the reputation of that host. The composite score for reputation from Cisco SenderBase can range from –10 to +10.
 Outbound Message Flow

Figure 3-5: Outbound Message Flow

  • Context-based filtering: These anti-spam filters in the appliance inspect the entire mail message, including attachments, analyzing details such as sender identity, message contents, embedded URLs, and email formatting. Using these algorithms, the appliance can identify spam messages without blocking legitimate email.
Email filtering overview

Figure 3-6: Email filtering overview

Fighting Viruses and Malware

Cisco ESA uses a multilayer approach to fight viruses and malware:

  • The first layer of defense consists of outbreak filters, which the appliance downloads from Cisco SenderBase. These filters contain a list of known bad mail servers. They are generated by watching global email traffic patterns and looking for anomalies associated with an outbreak. When an email is received from a server on this list, it is kept in quarantine until the antivirus signatures are updated to counter the current threat.
  • The second layer of defense is using antivirus signatures to scan quarantined emails, to ensure that they do not carry viruses into the network. Cisco ESA also scans outbound emails to provide antivirus protection (optional).

Automatically Remediating Messages in Mailboxes

A file can turn malicious anytime after reaching the user’s mailbox. Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) can identify this as new information emerges and push retrospective alerts to your appliance. When the threat verdict changes, you can configure your appliance to perform auto-remedial actions on the messages in the user mailbox. For example, you can configure your appliance to delete the message from the recipient’s mailbox when the verdict of the attachment changes from clean to malicious.

The appliance can perform auto-remedial actions on the messages in the following mailbox deployments:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online – mailbox hosted on Microsoft Office 365
  • Microsoft Exchange on-prem – a local Microsoft Exchange server
  • Hybrid/Multiple tenant configuration – a combination of mailboxes configured across Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft Exchange on-prem deployments.
Email filtering overview

Figure 3-7: Mailbox Auto Remediation Workflow

  1. A Message with an attachment reaches the appliance.
  2. The appliance queries the AMP server to evaluate the reputation of the attachment.
  3. The AMP server sends the verdict to the appliance. The verdict is clean or unknown.
  4. The appliance releases the message to the recipient.
  5. After a certain period, the appliance receives a verdict update from the AMP server. The new verdict is malicious.
  6. The appliance performs the configured remedial action on the message (with malicious attachment) residing in the recipient’s mailbox.

3.5 Monitoring

Cisco Secure Email Gateway Monitoring tab
Figure 3-8: Cisco Secure Email Gateway Monitoring tab

You can monitor the behavior of Cisco ESA by viewing various reports available under the Monitoring tab. These reports allow an administrator to track activity and statistics for spam, virus types, incoming mail domains, outbound destinations, system capacity, and system status.

3.6 Troubleshooting

If you need to determine why Cisco ESA applied specific actions for a given email, you can run the Trace tool under System Administration.

Cisco Secure Email Gateway Trace tool

Figure 3-9: Cisco Secure Email Gateway Trace tool

By defining a search using details of a given email in question, it is possible to test a specific email to determine how and why Cisco ESA handled the message. This search capability is especially useful if some of the more advanced features of ESA are used, such as data loss prevention (DLP).

What is the SESA Certification?

SESA, which stands for Securing Email with Cisco Email Security Appliance, is a specialized certification program that Cisco offers. SESA Certification trains IT professionals in the knowledge and skills needed to effectively manage and secure email communications using Cisco ESA.

The certification covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • Cisco ESA Deployment: Understanding how to deploy Cisco ESA within an organization’s network.
  • Email Security Policies: Configuring and managing email security policies to protect against threats.
  • Message Tracking and Reporting: Monitoring email traffic, tracking messages, and generating reports for analysis.
  • Authentication and Encryption: Implementing authentication and encryption mechanisms to secure email communication.
  • Integration with Other Security Solutions: Understanding how Cisco ESA integrates with other security solutions for a holistic approach to cybersecurity.
  • Troubleshooting and Incident Response: Identifying and resolving issues related to email security and responding to security incidents.

SESA Certification is a valuable asset for IT professionals looking to grow their careers in cybersecurity and email security.

Preparing for the SESA Exam

Exam Topics

Securing Email with Cisco Secure Email Gateway v1.1 (SESA 300-720) is a 90-minute exam associated with the CCNP Security Certification. This exam certifies a candidate’s knowledge of Cisco Secure Email Gateway (formerly Cisco Email Security Appliance), including administration, spam control and antispam, message filters, data loss prevention, LDAP, email authentication and encryption, and system quarantines and delivery methods.

To succeed in the SESA exam, candidates should have a strong understanding of the following topics:

  • Cisco ESA Deployment: Knowledge of how to deploy Cisco ESA appliances in various network environments.
  • Configuration: Configuring email policies, security settings, and integration with other security solutions.
  • Threat Protection: Understanding and mitigating email-borne threats, including phishing, malware, and spam.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Implementing DLP policies to prevent data leaks via email.
  • Troubleshooting: Diagnosing and resolving issues related to Cisco ESA.

The following topics are general guidelines for the content likely to be included in the exam.

  1. Cisco Email Security Appliance Administration                                    15%
  2. Spam Control with Talos SenderBase and Antispam                           15%
  3. Content and Message filters                                                                20%
  4. LDAP and SMTP Sessions                                                                    15%
  5. Email Authentication and Encryption                                                    20%
  6. System Quarantines and Delivery methods                                         15%

Download the Complete List of Topics in PDF format

Study Resources

To prepare for the SESA exam, consider using the following study resources:

  • Cisco Official Study Guide: Cisco provides official study guides that cover all the exam objectives in detail.
  • Training Courses: Enroll in Cisco-approved training courses that offer hands-on experience with Cisco ESA.
  • Cisco Learning Network: Join the Cisco Learning Network community to connect with other exam candidates and access valuable study materials.
  • Practice Exams: Utilize practice exams provided by 591Lab to test your knowledge and get a feel for the exam format.

Benefits of SESA Certification

Here are some compelling reasons for security professionals to pursue the SESA certification:

  • Expertise Validation: SESA certification shows your expertise in email security and your ability to maximize the potential of Cisco Secure Email gateway deployment, administration, and troubleshooting.
  • Career Advancement: Having the SESA certification can open doors to new career opportunities in the field of cybersecurity, particularly in organizations that rely on Cisco ESA for email security.
  • Enhanced Skills: The certification process equips you with advanced skills in email security, threat mitigation, and compliance management.
  • Industry Recognition: Cisco certifications are globally recognized and respected in the IT and cybersecurity industry. SESA certification can enhance your professional reputation.
  • Contribution to Organizational Security: With SESA certification, you can contribute significantly to your organization’s security posture by ensuring the effective implementation of Cisco Secure Email gateway.


SESA Certification greatly improves Cisco Secure Email by training IT professionals with the expertise to handle new challenges in email security for cloud computing. By fully understanding the important features of Cisco Secure Email and its role in cloud computing, certified experts can better set up strong security, meet regulations, and deal with cyber threats.

By getting SESA Certification, companies can improve their security and better manage risks, making sure their emails are safe and reliable. As security threats grow, the knowledge and skills gained through SESA Certification will be crucial for keeping email systems secure and trustworthy.

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