One of the easiest ways to put yourself at risk of losing your data is to use email. No, seriously — the sheer number of businesses that face data breaches or get hacked because of an email phishing scam is staggering. So why do we still use email, then? Why not just use a more secure mode of communication that does the same job, only with better security?
It’s simple: email is incredibly convenient and everyone uses it. Pretty much every organization out there uses email either for communication or marketing. Email is integral to how business works. But the biggest flaw of email is something that’s unavoidable: it requires humans to interact with it. When people open emails, they read the contents, click on links, or even enter personal information. And because we don’t have the time or ability to carefully scrutinize every email, there’s a chance that one of them ends up being a phishing attack.
Attackers impersonate well-known, trusted brands to send emails to unsuspecting individuals. This is called domain spoofing. The recipients believe the messages to be genuine and click on malicious links or enter their login information, putting themselves at the attacker’s mercy. As long as these phishing emails continue entering people’s inboxes, email won’t be totally safe to use.
How Does DMARC Make Email Secure?
DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance) is an email authentication protocol designed to combat domain spoofing. It uses two existing security protocols—SPF and DKIM—to protect users from receiving fraudulent email. When an organization sends email through their domain, the receiving email server checks their DNS for a DMARC record. The server then validates the email against SPF and DKIM. If the email successfully authenticates, it gets delivered to the destination inbox.
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Only authorized senders are validated through SPF and DKIM, which means if someone tried to spoof their domain, the email would fail DMARC authentication. If that happens, the DMARC policy set by the domain owner tells the receiving server how to handle the email.
What is a DMARC Policy?
When implementing DMARC, the domain owner can set their DMARC policy, which tells the receiving email server what to do with an email that fails DMARC. There are 3 policies:
- p = reject
If your DMARC policy is set to none, even emails that don’t pass DMARC get delivered to the inbox. This is almost like not having a DMARC implementation at all. Your policy should only be set to none when you’re just setting up DMARC and want to monitor the activity in your domain.
Setting your DMARC policy to quarantine sends the email to the spam folder, while reject outright blocks the email from the receiver’s inbox. You need to have your DMARC policy set to either p=quarantine or p=reject in order to have full enforcement. Without enforcing DMARC, users receiving your emails will still receive emails from unauthorized senders spoofing your domain.
But all of this raises an important question. Why doesn’t everyone just use SPF and DKIM to verify their emails? Why bother with DMARC at all? The answer to that is…
If there’s one key shortcoming of SPF and DKIM, it’s that they don’t give you feedback on how emails are being processed. When an email from your domain fails SPF or DKIM, there’s really no way to tell, and no way to fix the issue. If someone’s trying to spoof your domain, you wouldn’t even know about it.
That’s what makes DMARC’s reporting feature such a game-changer. DMARC generates weekly Aggregate Reports to the owner’s specified email address. These reports contain detailed information about which emails failed authentication, which IP addresses they were sent from, and lots more useful, actionable data. Having all this information can help the domain owner see which emails are failing to authenticate and why, and even identify spoofing attempts.
So far, it’s pretty clear that DMARC benefits email recipients by protecting them from unauthorized phishing emails. But it’s the domain owners that are implementing it. What advantage do organizations get when they deploy DMARC?
DMARC For Brand Safety
Although DMARC wasn’t created with this purpose, there’s one major advantage organizations stand to gain by implementing it: brand protection. When an attacker impersonates a brand to send malicious emails, they’re effectively co-opting the brand’s popularity and goodwill to peddle a scam. In a survey conducted by the IBID Group, 83% of customers said that they’re concerned about purchasing from a company that was previously breached.
The intangible elements of a transaction can often be as powerful as any hard data. Consumers put a lot of trust in the organizations they buy from, and if these brands become the face of a phishing scam, they stand to lose not only the customers who got phished, but many others who heard about it in the news. Brand safety is fragile, and must be guarded for the sake of the business and the customer.
There’s more to brand safety than just DMARC. BIMI lets users see your logo next to their emails! Check it out:
DMARC enables brands to take back control of who gets to send emails through their domain. By shutting out unauthorized senders from exploiting them, organizations can ensure only safe, legitimate emails go out to the public. This not only boosts their domain’s reputation with email providers, but it also goes a long way in ensuring a relationship built on trust and reliability between the brand and consumers.
DMARC: Making Email Safe for Everyone
DMARC’s purpose has always been greater than helping brands safeguard their domains. When everyone adopts DMARC, it creates an entire email ecosystem inoculated against phishing attacks. It works exactly like a vaccine — the more people that enforce the standard, the smaller the chances of everyone else falling prey to fake emails. With each domain that gets DMARC-protected, email as a whole becomes that much safer.
By making email safe for ourselves, we can help everyone else use it more freely. And we think that’s a standard worth upholding.