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Users of information systems in large organizations often have strong reactions to their experience with the system. The need to navigate an IT environment composed of a myriad of point solutions can be frustrating for end users. Consequently, many departments develop and rely on their own point solutions to overcome perceived limitations with a single organization-wide solution. This marked the origin of Shadow IT. A department that has shadow IT resources has more agility in its processes. Also, it avoids the alignment between departments, which is often impossible: which is the main benefit it revolves around. However, Shadow IT poses a colossal collection of security risks and challenges that completely nullifies its one benefit. These security risks can be resolved with DMARC

Let’s learn more about what Shadow IT is and how DMARC helps combat Shadow IT security risks with enhanced visibility.

What is Shadow IT?

Big companies often have large central IT departments to monitor networks, provide support, and manage the services used by the organization. However, it has been observed that a trend of shadow IT has started in recent years as employees often bypass the central authority and purchase their own technology to fulfil work-related goals. In an increasingly mobile world, employees prefer to bring their own devices to work because they already have them, they’re familiar with them, or they aren’t as bogged down by an IT department that requires complicated setups.  As cloud-based consumer applications gain traction, the adoption of shadow IT is increasing. RSA, the security division of EMC, reports that 35 percent of employees circumvent their company’s security policies to get their job done. 

Although it has been estimated that such a considerable population of employees belonging to other departments would use non-compliant methods to do their jobs, companies must keep in mind that uncontrolled use of Shadow IT could lead to losses in productivity and security.

Shadow IT Risks and Challenges for Organizations

According to a recent survey conducted by the Cloud Computing Association, over 30% of business’s run cloud applications that IT doesn’t know about. Many businesses face data breaches and failures due to their use of cloud applications. These cloud applications are typically already in use by employees, but aren’t being monitored by the IT department.

You never know when a non-IT department in your company is using Shadow IT to bypass organizational security, and sending out emails using cloud-based applications and services that are not authorized sending sources for your organization, using your identity. This can pave the way to unfiltered malicious activities, spam, and exchange of fraudulent messages that can potentially harm your company’s reputation and credibility. Shadow IT, as it’s called, can be vulnerable to data breaches and system failures if not monitored properly. This is exactly where DMARC steps in to resolve the shadow IT risks in security by authenticating sending sources even if they are successful in bypassing integrated security gateways to reach your client’s email server.

How Does DMARC Protect Against Risks Imposed by Shadow IT

The principal problem induced by Shadow IT is the lack of visibility on different departmental activities and their communication with external sources like clients and partners via third-party email-exchange services, without the knowledge of the IT department.  This increased and unauthorized usage of cloud-based applications for exchanging information and communication causes a major influx in email fraud, impersonation attacks and BEC. DMARC as the most recommended email authentication protocol in the industry helps organizations stay one step ahead of Shadow IT activities.

  • DMARC Aggregate reports provide visibility on sending sources and the IP addresses behind them, showing the IT department the exact origin of all unauthorized sending sources
  • With DMARC enforcement at your organization, emails originating from illegitimate sources are rejected by receiving MTAs before it lands into your client’s inbox
  • DMARC forensic reports elaborate in great detail, any attempts at domain spoofing, impersonation, BEC and other fraudulent activities
  • This helps put an end to Shadow IT practices by non-IT departments without approval from the IT department
  • This also helps in gaining visibility on all emails being sent to and from your domain by different departments at all times, what they entail, and the status of their authentication

Sign up today with DMARC analyzer and start your email authentication journey to curtail Shadow IT activities at your organization and maintain complete transparency across all departments.

Is DMARC Required?

If you run an organization that makes use of a substantial amount of email flow on a daily basis, chances are you have already come across the term “DMARC”. So what is DMARC? Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance is your email checkpoint on your receiver’s side that helps you authenticate your outbound emails as well as respond to situations where these emails have questionable legitimacy. DMARC offers several advantages and it is especially useful in today’s world where remote-working environments are being adopted and electronic communication has become the most commonly used method of interaction for businesses. Let’s list down the 5 important reasons why is DMARC required in the context of today:

1) DMARC Helps Mitigate Impersonation Attacks

Ever since the news of the COVID-19 vaccine broke out worldwide in February 2021, cyber attackers took advantage of the situation to create forged emails using authentic company domains, offering vaccine lures to employees and customers. Several users, especially aged citizens fell victim to the lures and ended up losing money. This explains why is DMARC required now more than ever.

A new form of BEC (Business Email Compromise) has recently taken the internet by storm, exploiting loopholes in Microsoft 365’s read receipts and manipulating authentication protocols to evade spam filters and security gateways. Sophisticated social engineering attacks like these can easily bypass robust security measures and trick unsuspecting customers into submitting their credentials.

DMARC minimizes the chances of BEC and domain spoofing attacks and helps secure your emails from fraud and impersonation. This is because DMARC works differently than your ordinary integrated security gateways that come with your cloud-based email exchange services, offering a way for domain owners to decide how they want receiving servers to respond to emails failing SPF/DKIM email authentication protocols.

2) DMARC Improves Email Deliverability

When your email domain gets spoofed, your receivers who have been interacting with your brand  for years are the last people to be suspicious of fraudulent activities from your side. Hence, they readily open the spoofed emails and fall prey to these attacks. However, the next time they receive an email from you, even if the message is authentic and from an authorized source they would be reluctant to open your email. This will drastically impact your email deliverability, as well as your company’s email marketing strategies and agendas.

However, DMARC can improve email deliverability by almost 10% over time! DMARC is required for you to remain in complete control of your domain by choosing which messages get delivered to your recipients’ inboxes. This keeps illegitimate emails at bay and makes sure legitimate emails always get delivered without delay.

3) DMARC Aggregate Reports Help You Gain Visibility

DMARC Aggregate reports can help you view your authentication results and mitigate errors in email delivery at a faster pace. It helps you gain insight on sending sources and IP addresses that are sending emails on behalf of your domain and failing authentication. This helps you track down malicious IP addresses as well, explaining why is DMARC required.

PowerDMARC’s DMARC aggregate reports are available in 7 distinctive views on the platform that helps you gain an unfiltered perspective on your email sending sources and hostnames, like never before! Additionally, we provide you with the option to instantly convert your DMARC reports into PDF documents that you can share with your whole team, as well as create a schedule for them to be emailed to you at regular intervals.

4) DMARC Forensic Reports Help You Respond to Forensic Incidents

DMARC forensic reports are generated whenever a forensic incident is triggered, such as when the outbound email fails SPF or DKIM authentication. Such an incident may be triggered in case of domain spoofing attacks when an email domain is forged by an impersonator using a malicious IP address to send a fraudulent message to an unsuspecting receiver that appears to be coming from an authentic source they know and can trust. Forensic reports provide in-detail analysis of malicious sources that may have attempted to spoof you, so that you can take action against them and prevent future incidents.

Note that forensic reports are highly detailed and may contain your mail body. However, you can avoid disclosing your email contents while viewing your DMARC forensic reports by encrypting your reports with a private key that only you have access to, with PowerDMARC.

5) DMARC Helps Improve Your Domain Reputation

A good domain reputation is like a feather in your cap, as the domain owner. A good domain reputation indicates to receiving email servers that your emails are legitimate and from reliable sources and hence are less likely to be marked as spam or land up in the junk folder. DMARC helps you improve your domain reputation by validating your message sources and indicates that your domain has extended support towards secure protocols by implementing standard email authentication practices like SPF and DKIM.

With this, it is evident why is DMARC required, and can prove to be beneficial for your business! So the next step is :

How to Configure DMARC for Your Domain?

PowerDMARC’s DMARC Analyzer can help you implement DMARC in 4 easy steps:

  • Publish your SPF, DKIM and DMARC record in your domain’s DNS
  • Sign up with PowerDMARC to gain access to your DMARC aggregate and forensic reports and monitor your email flow
  • Shift from a policy of monitoring to DMARC enforcement, to gain maximum protection against BEC and spoofing
  • Stay under the SPF 10 lookup limit with PowerSPF

Sign up today for your free DMARC Analyzer and avail of the multiple benefits of DMARC today!

Reasons why to avoid SPF Flattening

Sender Policy Framework, or SPF is a widely acclaimed email authentication protocol that validates your messages by authenticating them against all the authorized IP addresses registered for your domain in your SPF record. In order to validate emails, SPF specifies to the receiving mail server to perform DNS queries to check for authorized IPs, resulting in DNS lookups.

Your SPF record exists as a DNS TXT record that is formed of an assemblage of various mechanisms. Most of these mechanisms (such as include, a, mx, redirect, exists, ptr) generate DNS lookups. However, the maximum number of DNS lookups for SPF authentication is limited to 10. If you are using various third-party vendors to send emails using your domain, you can easily exceed the SPF hard limit.

You might be wondering, what happens if you exceed this limit? Exceeding the 10 DNS lookup limit will lead to SPF failure and invalidate even legitimate messages sent from your domain. In such cases the receiving mail server returns an SPF PermError report to your domain if you have DMARC monitoring enabled.This makes us come to the primary topic of discussion for this blog: SPF flattening.

What is SPF Flattening?

SPF record flattening is one of the popular methods used by industry experts to optimize your SPF record and avoid exceeding the SPF hard limit. The procedure for SPF flattening is quite simple. Flattening your SPF record is the process of replacing all include mechanisms with their respective IP addresses to eliminate the need for performing DNS lookups.

For example, if your SPF record initially looked something like this:

v=spf1 include:spf.domain.com -all

A flattened SPF record will look something like this:

v=spf1 ip4:168.191.1.1 ip6:3a02:8c7:aaca:645::1 -all

This flattened record generates only one DNS lookup, instead of performing multiple lookups. Reducing the number of DNS queries performed by the receiving server during email authentication does help in staying under the 10 DNS lookup limit, however, it has problems of its own.

The Problem with SPF Flattening

Apart from the fact that your manually flattened SPF record may get too lengthy to publish on your domain’s DNS (exceeding the 255 character limit), you have to take into account that your email service provider may change or add to their IP addresses without notifying you as the user. Every now and then when your provider makes changes to their infrastructure, these alterations would not be reflected in your SPF record. Hence, whenever these changed or new IP addresses are used by your mail server, the email fails SPF on the receiver’s side.

PowerSPF: Your Dynamic SPF Record Generator

The ultimate goal of PowerDMARC was to come up with a solution that can prevent domain owners from hitting the 10 DNS lookup limit, as well as optimize your SPF record to always stay updated on the latest IP addresses your email service providers are using. PowerSPF is your automated SPF flattening solution that pulls through your SPF record to generate a single include statement. PowerSPF helps you:

  • Add or remove IPs and mechanisms with ease
  • Auto update netblocks to make sure your authorized IPs are always up-to-date
  • Stay under the 10 DNS lookup limit with ease
  • Get an optimized SPF record with a single click
  • Permanently defeat ‘permerror’
  • Implement error free SPF

Sign up with PowerDMARC today to ensure enhanced email deliverability and authentication, all while staying under the 10 DNS SPF lookup limit.

All right, you’ve just gone through the whole process of setting up DMARC for your domain. You published your SPF, DKIM and DMARC records, you analysed all your reports, fixed delivery issues, bumped up your enforcement level from p=none to quarantine and finally to reject. You’re officially 100% DMARC-enforced. Congratulations! Now only your emails reach people’s inboxes. No one’s going to impersonate your brand if you can help it.

So that’s it, right? Your domain’s secured and we can all go home happy, knowing your emails are going to be safe. Right…?

Well, not exactly. DMARC is kind of like exercise and diet: you do it for a while and lose a bunch of weight and get some sick abs, and everything’s going great. But if you stop, all those gains you just made are slowly going to diminish, and the risk of spoofing starts creeping back in. But don’t freak out! Just like with diet and exercise, getting fit (ie. getting to 100% enforcement) is the hardest part. Once you’ve done that, you just need to maintain it on that same level, which is much easier.

Okay, enough with the analogies, let’s get down to business. If you’ve just implemented and enforced DMARC on your domain, what’s the next step? How do you continue keeping your domain and email channels secure?

What to Do After Achieving DMARC Enforcement

The #1 reason that email security doesn’t simply end after you reach 100% enforcement is that attack patterns, phishing scams, and sending sources are always changing. A popular trend in email scams often doesn’t even last longer than a couple of months. Think of the WannaCry ransomware attacks in 2018, or even something as recent as the WHO Coronavirus phishing scams in early 2020. You don’t see much of those in the wild right now, do you?

Cybercriminals are constantly changing their tactics, and malicious sending sources are always changing and multiplying, and there’s not much you can do about it. What you can do is prepare your brand for any possible cyberattack that could come at you. And the way to do that is through DMARC monitoring & visibility .

Even after you’re enforced, you still need to be in total control of your email channels. That means you have to know which IP addresses are sending emails through your domain, where you’re having issues with email delivery or authentication, and identify and respond to any potential spoofing attempt or malicious server carrying a phishing campaign on your behalf. The more you monitor your domain, the better you’ll come to understand it. And consequently, the better you’ll be able to secure your emails, your data and your brand.

Why DMARC Monitoring is So Important

Identifying new mail sources
When you monitor your email channels, you’re not just checking to see if everything’s going okay. You’re also going to be looking for new IPs sending emails from your domain. Your organization might change its partners or third party vendors every so often, which means their IPs might become authorized to send emails on your behalf. Is that new sending source just one of your new vendors, or is it someone trying to impersonate your brand? If you analyse your reports regularly, you’ll have a definite answer to that.

PowerDMARC lets you view your DMARC reports according to every sending source for your domain.

Understanding new trends of domain abuse
As I mentioned earlier, attackers are always finding new ways to impersonate brands and trick people into giving them data and money. But if you only ever look at your DMARC reports once every couple of months, you’re not going to notice any telltale signs of spoofing. Unless you regularly monitor the email traffic in your domain, you won’t notice trends or patterns in suspicious activity, and when you are hit with a spoofing attack, you’ll be just as clueless as the people targeted by the email. And trust me, that’s never a good look for your brand.

Find and blacklist malicious IPs
It’s not enough just to find who exactly is trying to abuse your domain, you need to shut them down ASAP. When you’re aware of your sending sources, it’s much easier to pinpoint an offending IP, and once you’ve found it, you can report that IP to their hosting provider and have them blacklisted. This way, you permanently eliminate that specific threat and avoid a spoofing attack.

With Power Take Down, you find the location of a malicious IP, their history of abuse, and have them taken down.

Control over deliverability
Even if you were careful to bring DMARC up to 100% enforcement without affecting your email delivery rates, it’s important to continuously ensure consistently high deliverability. After all, what’s the use of all that email security if none of the emails are making it to their destination? By monitoring your email reports, you can see which ones passed, failed or didn’t align with DMARC, and discover the source of the problem. Without monitoring, it would be impossible to know if your emails are being delivered, let alone fix the issue.

PowerDMARC gives you the option of viewing reports based on their DMARC status so you can instantly identify which ones didn’t make it through.

 

Our cutting-edge platform offers 24×7 domain monitoring and even gives you a dedicated security response team that can manage a security breach for you. Learn more about PowerDMARC extended support.

At first glance, Microsoft’s Office 365 suite seems to be pretty…sweet, right? Not only do you get a whole host of productivity apps, cloud storage, and an email service, but you’re also protected from spam with Microsoft’s own email security solutions. No wonder it’s the most widely adopted enterprise email solution available, with a 54% market share and over 155 million active users. You’re probably one of them, too.

But if a cybersecurity company’s writing a blog about Office 365, there’s got to be something more to it, right? Well, yeah. There is. So let’s talk about what exactly the issue is with Office 365’s security options, and why you really need to know about this.

What Microsoft Office 365 Security is Good At

Before we talk about the problems with it, let’s first quickly get this out of the way: Microsoft Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (what a mouthful) is quite effective at basic email security. It will be able to stop spam emails, malware, and viruses from making their way into you inbox.

This is good enough if you’re only looking for some basic anti-spam protection. But that’s the problem: low-level spam like this usually doesn’t pose the biggest threat. Most email providers offer some form of basic protection by blocking email from suspicious sources. The real threat—the kind that can make your organization lose money, data and brand integrity—are emails carefully engineered so you don’t realize that they’re fake.

This is when you get into serious cybercrime territory.

What Microsoft Office 365 Can’t Protect You From

Microsoft Office 365’s security solution works like an anti-spam filter, using algorithms to determine if an email is similar to other spam or phishing emails. But what happens when you’re hit with a far more sophisticated attack using social engineering, or targeted at a specific employee or group of employees?

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill spam emails sent out to tens of thousands of people at once. Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Vendor Email Compromise (VEC) are examples of how attackers carefully select a target, learn more information about their organization by spying on their emails, and at a strategic point, send a fake invoice or request via email, asking for money to be transferred or data to be shared.

This tactic, broadly known as spear phishing, makes it appear that email is coming from someone within your own organization, or a trusted partner or vendor. Even under careful inspection, these emails can look very realistic and are nearly impossible to detect, even for seasoned cybersecurity experts.

If an attacker pretends to be your boss or the CEO of your organization and sends you an email, it’s unlikely that you’ll check to see if the email looks genuine or not. This is exactly what makes BEC and CEO fraud so dangerous. Office 365 will not be able to protect you against this sort of attack because these are ostensibly coming from a real person, and the algorithms will not consider it to be a spam email.

How Can You Secure Office 365 Against BEC and Spear Phishing?

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance, or DMARC, is an email security protocol that uses information provided by the domain owner to protect receivers from spoofed email. When you implement DMARC on your organization’s domain, receiving servers will check each and every email coming from your domain against the DNS records you published.

But if Office 365 ATP couldn’t prevent targeted spoofing attacks, how does DMARC do it?

Well, DMARC functions very differently than an anti-spam filter. While spam filters check incoming email entering your inbox, DMARC authenticates outgoing email sent by your organization’s domain. What this means is that if someone is trying to impersonate your organization and send you phishing emails, as long as you’re DMARC-enforced, those emails will be dumped in the spam folder or blocked entirely.

And get this — it also means that if a cybercriminal was using your trusted brand to send phishing emails, even your customers wouldn’t have to deal with them, either. DMARC actually helps protect your business, too.

But there’s more: Office 365 doesn’t actually give your organization any visibility on a phishing attack, it just blocks spam email. But if you want to properly secure your domain, you need to know exactly who or what is trying to impersonate your brand, and take immediate action. DMARC provides this data, including the IP addresses of abusive sending sources, as well as the number of emails they send. PowerDMARC takes this to the next level with advanced DMARC analytics right on your dashboard.

Learn more about what PowerDMARC can do for your brand.