Posts

Email authentication standards: SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are showing promise in cutting down on email spoofing attempts and improving email deliverability. While differentiating spoofed (fake) emails from legitimate ones, email authentication standards go further in distinguishing if an email is legitimate by verifying the identity of the sender.

As more organizations adopt these standards, the overall message of trust and authority in email communication will begin to reassert itself. Every business that depends on email marketing, project requests, financial transactions, and the general exchange of information within or across companies needs to understand the basics of what these solutions are designed to accomplish and what benefits they can get out of them.

What is Email Spoofing?

Email spoofing is a common cybersecurity issue encountered by businesses today. In this article, we will understand how spoofing works and the various methods to fight it. We will learn about the three authentication standards used by email providers − SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to stop it from happening.

Email spoofing can be classified as an advanced social engineering attack that uses a combination of sophisticated techniques to manipulate the messaging environment and exploit legitimate features of email. These emails will often appear entirely legitimate, but they are designed with the intention of gaining access to your information and/or resources. Email spoofing is used for a variety of purposes ranging from attempts to commit fraud, to breach security, and even to try to gain access to confidential business information. As a very popular form of email forgery, spoofing attacks aim to deceive recipients into believing that an email was sent from a business they use and can trust, instead of the actual sender. As emails are increasingly being sent and received in bulk, this malicious form of email scam has increased dramatically in recent years.

How can Email Authentication Prevent Spoofing?

Email authentication helps you verify email sending sources with protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to prevent attackers from forging domain names and launch spoofing attacks to trick unsuspecting users. It provides verifiable information on email senders that can be used to prove their legitimacy and specify to receiving MTAs what to do with emails that fail authentication.

Hence, to enlist the various benefits of email authentication, we can confirm that SPF, DKIM, and DMARC aid in:

  • Protecting your domain from phishing attacks, domain spoofing, and BEC
  • Providing granular information and insights on email sending sources
  • Improving domain reputation and email deliverability rates
  • Preventing your legitimate emails from being marked as spam

How Do SPF, DKIM, and DMARC Work Together to Stop Spoofing?

Sender Policy Framework

SPF is an email authentication technique used to prevent spammers from sending messages on behalf of your domain. With it, you can publish authorized mail servers, giving you the ability to specify which email servers are permitted to send emails on behalf of your domain. An SPF record is stored in the DNS, listing all the IP addresses that are authorized to send mail for your organization.

If you want to leverage SPF in a way that would ensure its proper functioning, you need to ensure that SPF doesn’t break for your emails. This could happen in case you exceed the 10 DNS lookup limit, causing SPF permerror. SPF flattening can help you stay under the limit and authenticate your emails seamlessly.

DomainKeys Identified Mail

Impersonating a trusted sender can be used to trick your recipient into letting their guard down. DKIM is an email security solution that adds a digital signature to every message that comes from your customer’s inbox, allowing the receiver to verify that it was indeed authorized by your domain and enter your site’s trusted list of senders.

DKIM affixes a unique hash value, linked to a domain name, to each outgoing email message, allowing the receiver to check that an email claiming to have come from a specific domain was indeed authorized by the owner of that domain or not. This ultimately helps to pick up on spoofing attempts.

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance

Simply implementing SPF and DKIM can help verify sending sources but isn’t effective enough to stop spoofing on their own. In order to stop cybercriminals from delivering fake emails to your recipients, you need to implement DMARC today. DMARC helps you align email headers to verify email From addresses, exposing spoofing attempts and fraudulent use of domain names. Moreover, it gives domain owners the power to specify to email receiving servers how to respond to emails failing SPF and DKIM authentication. Domain owners can choose to deliver, quarantine, and reject fake emails based on the degree of DMARC enforcement they need.

Note: Only a DMARC policy of reject allows you to stop spoofing.

Additionally, DMARC also offers a reporting mechanism to provide domain owners with visibility on their email channels and authentication results. By configuring your DMARC report analyzer, you can monitor your email domains on a regular basis with detailed information on email sending sources, email authentication results, geolocations of fraudulent IP addresses, and the overall performance of your emails. It helps you parse your DMARC data into an organized and readable format, and take action against attackers faster.

Ultimately, SPF, DKIM, and DMARC can work together to help you catapult your organization’s email security to new heights, and stop attackers from spoofing your domain name to safeguard your organization’s reputation and credibility.

Email authentication is a crucial aspect of an email provider’s job. Email authentication also known as SPF and DKIM checks the identity of an email provider. DMARC adds to the process of verifying an email by checking if an email has been sent from a legitimate domain through alignment, and specifying to receiving servers how to respond to messages failing authentication checks. Today we are going to discuss the various scenarios that would answer your query on why is DMARC failing.

DMARC is a key activity in your email authentication policy to help prevent forged “spoofed” emails from passing transactional spam filters. But, it’s just one pillar of an overall anti-spam program and not all DMARC reports are created equal. Some will tell you the exact action mail receivers took on each message, and others will only tell you if a message was successful or not. Understanding why a message failed is as important as knowing whether it did. The following article explains reasons for which messages fail DMARC authentication checks. These are the most common reasons (some of which can be easily fixed) for which messages can fail DMARC authentication checks.

Common Reasons Why Messages Can Fail DMARC

Identifying why is DMARC failing can be complicated. However I will go over some typical reasons, the factors that contribute to them, so that you as the domain owner can work towards rectifying the problem more promptly.

DMARC Alignment Failures

DMARC makes use of domain alignment to authenticate your emails. This means that DMARC verifies whether the domain mentioned in the From address (in the visible header) is authentic by matching it against the domain mentioned in the hidden Return-path header (for SPF) and DKIM signature header (for DKIM). If either matches, the email passes DMARC, or else DMARC fails.

Hence, if your emails are failing DMARC it can be a case of domain misalignment. That is neither SPF nor DKIM identifiers are aligning and the email is appearing to be sent from an unauthorized source. This however is just one of the reasons why is DMARC failing.

DMARC Alignment Mode 

Your protocol alignment mode also plays a huge role in your messages passing or failing DMARC. You can choose from the following alignment modes for SPF authentication:

  • Relaxed: This signifies that if the domain in the Return-path header and the domain in the From header is simply an organizational match, even then SPF will pass.
  • Strict: This signifies that only if the domain in the Return-path header and the domain in the From header is an exact match, only then SPF will pass.

You can choose from the following alignment modes for DKIM authentication:

  • Relaxed: This signifies that if the domain in the DKIM signature  and the domain in the From header is simply an organizational match, even then DKIM will pass.
  • Strict: This signifies that only if the domain in the DKIM signature and the domain in the From header is an exact match, only then DKIM will pass.

Note that for emails to pass DMARC authentication, either SPF or DKIM need to align.  

Not Setting Up Your DKIM Signature 

A very common case in which your DMARC may be failing is that you haven’t specified a DKIM signature for your domain. In such cases, your email exchange service provider assigns a default DKIM signature to your outbound emails that doesn’t align with the domain in your From header. The receiving MTA fails to align the two domains, and hence, DKIM and DMARC fails for your message (if your messages are aligned against both SPF and DKIM).

Not Adding Sending Sources to Your DNS 

It is important to note that when you set up DMARC for your domain, receiving MTAs perform DNS queries to authorize your sending sources. This means that unless you have all your authorized sending sources listed in your domain’s DNS, your emails will fail DMARC for those sources that are not listed, since the receiver would not be able to find them in your DNS. Hence, to ensure that your legitimate emails are always delivered be sure to make entries on all your authorized third party email vendors that are authorized to send emails on behalf of your domain, in your DNS.

In Case of Email Forwarding

During email forwarding the email passes through an intermediary server before it ultimately gets delivered to the receiving server. During email forwarding SPF check fails since the IP address of the intermediary server doesn’t match that of the sending server, and this new IP address is usually not included within the original server’s SPF record. On the contrary, forwarding emails usually don’t impact DKIM email authentication, unless the intermediary server or the forwarding entity makes certain alterations in the content of the message.

As we know that SPF inevitably fails during email forwarding, if in case the sending source is DKIM neutral and solely relies on SPF for validation, the forwarded email will be rendered illegitimate during DMARC authentication. To resolve this issue, you should immediately opt for full DMARC compliance at your organization by aligning and authenticating all outgoing messages against both SPF and DKIM, as for an email to pass DMARC authentication, the email would be required to pass either SPF or DKIM authentication and alignment.

Your Domain is Being Spoofed

If you have your DMARC, SPF and DKIM protocols properly configured for your domain, with your policies at enforcement and valid error-free records, and the problem isn’t either of the above-mentioned cases, then the most probable reason why your emails are failing DMARC is that your domain is being spoofed or forged. This is when impersonators and threat actors try to send emails that appear to be coming from your domain using a malicious IP address.

Recent email fraud statistics have concluded that email spoofing cases are on the rise in recent times and are a very big threat to your organization’s reputation. In such cases if you have DMARC implemented on a reject policy, it will fail and the spoofed email will not be delivered to your recipient’s inbox. Hence domain spoofing can be the answer to why is DMARC failing in most cases.

We recommend that you sign up with our free DMARC Analyzer and start your journey of DMARC reporting and monitoring.

  • With a none policy you can monitor your domain with DMARC (RUA) Aggregate Reports and keep a close eye on your inbound and outbound emails, this will help you respond to any unwanted delivery issues
  • After that we help you shift to an enforced policy that would ultimately aid you in gaining immunity against domain spoofing and phishing attacks
  • You can take down malicious IP addresses and report them directly from the PowerDMARC platform to evade future impersonation attacks, with the help of our Threat Intelligence engine
  • PowerDMARC’s DMARC (RUF) Forensic reports help you gain detailed information about cases where your emails have failed DMARC so that you can get to the root of the problem and fix it

Prevent domain spoofing and monitor your email flow with PowerDMARC, today!

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!

Email spoofing is a growing problem for an organization’s security. Spoofing occurs when a hacker sends an email that appears to have been sent from a trusted source/domain. Email spoofing isn’t a new concept. Defined as “the forgery of an email address header in order to make the message appear to be sent from someone or somewhere other than the actual source,” it has plagued brands for decades. Whenever an email is sent, the From address doesn’t display what server the email was actually sent from—instead it displays whatever domain is entered during the address creation process, thereby raising no suspicion among email recipients.

With the amount of data passing through email servers today, it should come as no surprise that spoofing is an issue for businesses.At the end of 2020,  we found that phishing incidents rose by a staggering 220% compared to the yearly average during the height of global pandemic fears.. Since not all spoofing attacks are carried out on a large scale, the actual number could be much higher. It is 2021, and the problem seems to be only worsening with each passing year. This is why brands are availing of secure protocols to authenticate their emails and steer clear of the malicious intentions of threat actors.

Email Spoofing: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Email spoofing is used in phishing attacks to trick users into thinking the message came from a person or entity they either know or can trust. A cybercriminal uses a spoofing attack to trick recipients into thinking the message came from someone it didn’t. This lets attackers harm you without letting you trace them back. If you see an email from the IRS saying that they sent your refund to a different bank account, it may be a spoofing attack. Phishing attacks can also be carried out via email spoofing, which is a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details (PIN numbers), often for malicious ends. The term comes from ‘fishing’ for a victim by pretending to be trustworthy.

In SMTP, when outgoing messages are assigned a sender address by the client application; outbound emails servers have no way to tell if the sender address is legitimate or spoofed. Hence, email spoofing is possible because the email system used to represent email addresses does not provide a way for outgoing servers to verify that the sender address is legitimate. This is why large industry players are opting for protocols like SPF, DKIM and DMARC to authorize their legitimate email addresses, and minimize impersonation attacks.

Breaking Down the Anatomy of an Email Spoofing Attack

Each email client uses a specific application program interface (API) to send email. Some applications allow users to configure the sender address of an outgoing message from a drop- down menu containing email addresses. However, this ability can also be invoked using scripts written in any language. Each open mail message has a sender address that displays the address of the originating user’s email application or service. By reconfiguring the application or service, an attacker can send email on behalf of any person.

Let’s just say that now it is possible to send thousands of fake messages from an authentic email domain! Moreover, you don’t have to be an expert in programming to use this script. Threat actors can edit the code according to their preference and begin sending a message using another sender’s email domain. This is exactly how an email spoofing attack is perpetrated.

Email Spoofing as a Vector of Ransomware

Email spoofing paves the way for the spread of malware and ransomware. If you don’t know what ransomware is, it is a malicious software which perpetually blocks access to your sensitive data or system and demands an amount of money (ransom) in exchange for decrypting your data again. Ransomware attacks make organizations and individuals lose tons of money every year and lead to huge data breaches.

DMARC and email authentication also acts as the first line of defense against ransomware by protecting your domain from the malicious intentions of spoofers and impersonators.

Threats Involved for Small, Medium and Large Businesses

Brand identity is vital to a business’s success. Customers are drawn to recognizable brands and rely on them for consistency. But cybercriminals use anything they can to take advantage of this trust, jeopardizing your customers’ safety with phishing emails, malware, and email spoofing activities. The average organization loses between $20 and $70 million a year due to email fraud. It is important to note that spoofing can involve trademark and other intellectual property violations as well, inflicting a considerable amount of damage to a company’s reputation and credibility, in the following two ways:

  • Your partners or esteemed customers can open a spoofed email and end up compromising their confidential data. Cybercriminals can inject ransomware into their system leading to financial losses, through spoofed emails posing to be you. Therefore the next time they might be reluctant to open even your legitimate emails, making them lose faith in your brand.
  • Recipient email servers can flag your legitimate emails as spam and lodge them in the junk folder due to deflation in server reputation, thereby drastically impacting your email deliverability rate.

Either ways, without an ounce of doubt, your customer-facing brand will be on the receiving end of all complications. Despite the efforts of IT professionals, 72% of all cyber attacks begin with a malicious email, and 70% of all data breaches involve social engineering tactics to spoof company domains – making email authentication practices like DMARC, a critical priority.

DMARC: Your One-Stop Solution against Email Spoofing

Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) is an email authentication protocol which when implemented correctly can drastically minimize email spoofing, BEC and impersonation attacks. DMARC works in unison with two standard authentication practices- SPF and DKIM, to authenticate outbound messages, providing a way to specify to receiving servers how they should respond to emails failing authentication checks.

Read more about what is DMARC?

If you want to protect your domain from the malicious intentions of spoofers, the first step is to implement DMARC correctly. But before you do so, you need to set up SPF and DKIM for your domain. PowerDMARC’s free SPF and DKIM record generators can aid you in generating  these records to be published in your DNS, with a single click. After successfully configuring these protocols, go through the following steps to implement DMARC:

  • Generate an error-free DMARC record using PowerDMARC’s free DMARC record generator
  • Publish the record in your domain’s DNS
  • Gradually move to a DMARC enforcement policy of p=reject
  • Monitor your email ecosystem and receive detailed authentication aggregate and forensic (RUA/RUF) reports with our DMARC analyzer tool

Limitations to Overcome While Achieving DMARC Enforcement

You have published an error-free DMARC record, and moved to a policy of enforcement, and yet you are facing issues in email delivery? The problem can be far more complicated than you think. If you didn’t already know, your SPF authentication protocol has a limit of 10 DNS lookups. However, if you used cloud-based email service providers and various third-party vendors, you can easily exceed this limit. As soon as you do so, SPF breaks and even legitimate emails fail authentication, leading your emails to land in the junk folder or not being delivered at all.

As your SPF record gets invalidated due to too many DNS lookups, your domain again becomes vulnerable to email spoofing attacks and BEC. Therefore staying under the SPF 10 lookup limit is imperative to ensure  email deliverability. This is why we recommend PowerSPF, your automatic SPF flatenner, that shrinks your SPF record to a single include statement, negating redundant and nested IP addresses. We also run periodical checks to monitor changes made by your service providers to their respective IP addresses, ensuring that your SPF record is always up-to-date.

PowerDMARC assembles a range of email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, DMARC, MTA-STS, TLS-RPT and BIMI to give your domain a reputation and deliverability boost. Sign up today to get your free DMARC analyzer.

Knowing how to implement DMARC is crucial to an organization’s growth, reputation and security.

A very common question asked by domain owners is “why are my emails going to junk folder instead of the recipients’ inboxes?”. Now it is important to note that the underlying reason behind emails going to the junk folder is never unidirectional, but can be due to various reasons starting from simple inducements like a poorly written email to more complex causes like in case your domain name has been previously used for spam. In either of the cases, your emails landing in the spam folder drastically affects your email deliverability rate and domain reputation. 

If you want to quickly resolve this obstacle all while ensuring that your emails always reach their designated destinations in future, you have come to the right place. Without beating around the bush much, let’s get right into the solution for stopping your emails from getting flagged as spam: opt for email authentication solutions from a reliable service provider today!

How Does Email Authentication Improve Email Deliverability?

Remember that it is all about boosting your domain’s reputation and ensuring that your domain is not used to carry out malicious activities like spoofing or phishing attacks and BEC. This is exactly what an email authentication protocol like DMARC does. Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) is an industry-recommended email authentication standard that makes use of SPF and DKIM to authenticate email messages sent from your domain. DMARC exists in your domain’s DNS as a DNS TXT record specifying to receiving servers how they should treat emails that fail authentication (probable spoofing/phishing emails sent by threat actors using your domain name).

However, it isn’t as easy and it appears to be. Simply publishing a DMARC record would not protect you against email fraud, rather it might worsen the situation in case you have incorrectly configured your authentication protocols. For implementing DMARC correctly you need to set up SPF and DKIM for your domain with the correct syntax and policy mode. Furthermore, only a DMARC policy level of enforcement (p=reject/quarantine) can adequately protect your domain against BEC and spoofing.

Keeping all of this in mind, eventually with DMARC you can observe a more than 10% increase in your email deliverability rate and a noticeable decrease in the number of emails landing in the spam folder.

How Can I Properly Configure DMARC to Stop Being Marked as Spam?

You can follow the steps given below to setup DMARC correctly for your domain:

  • Make a note of all authorized sending sources that can send emails on behalf of your domain.
  • Setup SPF for your domain completely free of cost, with PowerDMARC’s free SPF record generator.
  • Configure DKIM for your domain with PowerDMARC’s free DKIM record generator.
  • Configure DMARC for your domain with PowerDMARC’s free DMARC record generator.
  • Lookup and validate your records.
  • Monitor your authentication results and email flow with automatically generated and easy to comprehend DMARC aggregate and forensic reports using our DMARC analyzer tool, so that you can shift from a none policy to DMARC enforcement in no time!

You can find all the record generators in the PowerDMARC toolbox

Additional Recommendations on Stopping Emails Going to Junk Folder

Stay under the SPF hard limit

You may not be aware of this but SPF authentication comes with a DNS lookup limit of 10. Exceeding this limit invalidates your SPF record causing SPF to break and even legitimate emails to fail authentication checks. In such cases, an SPF permerror result is returned if you have enabled DMARC monitoring for your domain. Hence, staying under the SPF 10 DNS Lookup Limit is imperative to ensure your emails reach your recipients’ inboxes and prevent emails going to junk folder.

Report abusive IP addresses

Blacklisting abusive IP addresses that are using your domain name to conduct fraud can be an important step towards ensuring that similar incidents do not take place in the future. Our DMARC analyzer can help your report malicious addresses from all around the world, in real-time, to make sure they can no longer use your domain for fraudulent activities again!

Gain 100% DMARC compliance

Align emails sent via your domain against both SPF and DKIM authentication standards to gain 100% DMARC compliance. This would considerably improve your senders’ reputation over time and minimize the chances of your emails being flagged as spam, thereby minimizing the chances of your emails going to junk folder.

Sign up with PowerDMARC today to get your free DMARC and take the first step towards preventing your emails from going to the junk folder!