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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.

Do you know how secure your domain is? Most organizations operate with the assumption that their domains are highly secure and in a short while, they learn it isn’t the case. One of the tell-tale signs of a low security score is if your domain name is being spoofed – this means that someone is using your domain in order to impersonate you (or create confusion) and fool email recipients. But why should you care? Because these spoofing activities can potentially endanger your reputation. 

In a world full of domain impersonators, email domain spoofing shouldn’t be something that companies take lightly. Those who do could be putting themselves, as well as their clients at risk. A domain’s security rating can have a huge effect on whether or not you get targeted by phishers looking to make a quick buck or to use your domain and brand to spread ransomware without you being aware!

Check your domain’s security rating with our Free DMARC Lookup tool. You may be surprised by what you learn!

How Do Attackers Spoof Your Domain?

Email spoofing can occur when an attacker uses a forged identity of a legitimate source, usually with the intent of impersonating another person or masquerading as an organization. It can be carried out by:

Manipulating the domain name: Attackers can use your domain name to send emails to your unsuspecting recipients who can fall prey to their malicious intentions. Popularly known as direct-domain spoofing attacks, these attacks are especially harmful to a brand’s reputation and how your customers perceive your emails.

Forging the email domain or address: wherein attackers exploit loopholes in existing email security protocols to send emails on behalf of a legitimate domain. The success rate of such attacks is higher as attackers use third-party email exchange services to carry out their malicious activities that do not verify the origin of email sending sources.

Since domain verification wasn’t built into the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the protocol that email is built on,email authentication protocols that were developed more recently, such as DMARC, provide greater verification.

How Can a Low Domain Security Impact Your Organization?

Since most organizations transmit and receive data through emails, there must be a secure connection to protect the company’s brand image. However, in case of low email security, it can lead to disaster for both enterprises and individuals. Email remains one of the most widely used communication platforms. Email sent out from a data breach or hack can be devastating for your organization’s reputation. Using email can also result in the spread of malicious attacks, malware, and spam. Therefore, there is a huge need for revising how security controls are deployed within email platforms.

In 2020 alone, brand impersonation accounted for 81% of all phishing attacks, while a single spear-phishing attack resulted in an average loss of $1.6 million. Security researchers are predicting the numbers to potentially double by the end of 2021. This adds more pressure on organizations to improve their email security at the earliest.

While multinational enterprises are more open to the idea of adopting email security protocols, small businesses and SMEs are still reluctant. This is because it’s a common myth that SMEs do not fall in the potential target radar of cyber attackers. That, however, is untrue. Attackers target organizations based on the vulnerabilities and loopholes in their email security posture, rather than the size of the organization, making any organization with poor domain security a potential target.

Learn how you can get a higher domain security rating with our email security rating guide.

Leverage Authentication Protocols to Gain Maximum Domain Security

While checking your domain’s email security rating, a low score can be due to the following factors:

  • You don’t have email authentication protocols like SPF, DMARC, and DKIM deployed within your organization
  • You have deployed the protocols but have not enforced them for your domain
  • You have errors in your authentication records
  • You have not enabled DMARC reporting to gain visibility on your email channels
  • Your emails in transit and server communication are not secured over TLS encryption with MTA-STS
  • You have not implemented SMTP TLS reporting to get notified on issues in email delivery
  • You have not configured BIMI for your domain to improve your brand recollection
  • You have not resolved SPF permerror with dynamic SPF flattening

All of these contribute to making your domain more and more vulnerable to email fraud, impersonation, and domain abuse.

PowerDMARC is your one-stop email authentication SaaS platform that brings all the authentication protocols (DMARC, SPF, DKIM, MTA-STS, TLS-RPT, BIMI) across a single pane of glass to make your emails safe again and improve your domain’s email security posture. Our DMARC analyzer simplifies protocol implementation by handling all the complexities in the background and automating the process for domain users. This helps you leverage your authentication protocols to unleash their maximum potential and get the best out of your security solutions.

Sign up for your free DMARC report analyzer today to get a high domain security rating and protection against spoofing attacks.

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.

Email phishing has evolved over the years from gamers sending prank emails to it becoming a highly lucrative activity for hackers across the world.

In fact, in the early to mid-’90s AOL experienced some of the first big email phishing attacks. Random credit card generators were used to steal user credentials which allowed hackers to gain wider access into AOL’s company-wide database.

These attacks were shut down as AOL upgraded their security systems to prevent further damage. This then led hackers to develop more sophisticated attacks using impersonation tactics which are still widely used today.

If we jump forward to today, the impersonation attacks most recently affecting both the White House and the WHO prove that any entity is at some point or another is vulnerable to email attacks.

According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigation Report, approximately 32% of data breaches experienced in 2019 included email phishing and social engineering respectively.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the different types of phishing attacks and why they pose a huge threat to your business today.

Let’s get started.

1. Email spoofing

Email spoofing attacks are when a hacker forges an email header and sender address to make it look like the email has come from someone they trust. The purpose of an attack like this is to coax the recipient into opening the mail and possibly even clicking on a link or beginning a dialogue with the attacker

These attacks rely heavily on social engineering techniques as opposed to using traditional hacking methods.

This may seem a rather unsophisticated or ‘low-tech’ approach to a cyberattack. In reality, though, they’re extremely effective at luring people through convincing emails sent to unsuspecting employees. Social engineering takes advantage not of the flaws in a system’s security infrastructure, but in the inevitability of human error.

Take a look:

In September 2019, Toyota lost $37 million to an email scam.

The hackers were able to spoof an email address and convince an employee with financial authority to alter account information for an electronic funds transfer.

Resulting in a massive loss to the company.

2. Business Email Compromise (BEC)

According to the FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report, BEC scams resulted in over $1.7 million and accounted for more than half cybercrime losses experienced in 2019.

BEC is when an attacker gains access to a business email account and is used to impersonate the owner of that account for the purposes of causing damage to a company and its employees.

This is because BEC is a very lucrative form of email attack, it produces high returns for attackers and which is why it remains a popular cyber threat.

A town in Colorado lost over $1 million to a BEC scam.

The attacker filled out a form on the local website where they requested a local construction company to receive electronic payments instead of receiving the usual checks for work they were currently doing in the town.

An employee accepted the form and updated the payment information and as a result sent over a million dollars to the attackers.

3. Vendor Email Compromise (VEC)

In September 2019, Nikkei Inc. Japan’s largest media organization lost $29 million.

An employee based in Nikkei’s American office transferred the money on instruction from the scammers who impersonated a Management Executive.

A VEC attack is a type of email scam that compromises employees at a vendor company. Such as our above example. And, of course, resulted in huge financial losses for the business.

What about DMARC?

Businesses the world over are increasing their cybersecurity budgets to limit the examples we’ve listed above. According to IDC global spending on security solutions is forecasted to reach $133.7 billion in 2022.

But the truth of the matter is that the uptake of email security solutions like DMARC is slow.

DMARC technology arrived on the scene in 2011 and is effective in preventing targeted BEC attacks, which as we know are a proven threat to businesses all over the world.

DMARC works with both SPF and DKIM which allows you to determine which actions should be taken against unauthenticated emails to protect the integrity of your domain.

READ: What is DMARC and why your business needs to get on board today?

Each of the above cases had something in common… Visibility.

This technology can reduce the impact email phishing activity can have on your business. Here’s how:

  • Increased visibility. DMARC technology sends reports to provide you with detailed insight into the email activity across your business. PowerDMARC uses a powerful Threat Intelligence engine that helps produce real-time alerts of spoofing attacks. This is coupled with full reporting, allowing your business greater insight into a user’s historical records.
  • Increased email security. You will be able to track your company’s emails for any spoofing and phishing threats. We believe the key to prevention is the ability to act quickly, therefore, PowerDMARC has 24/7 security ops centers in place. They have the ability to pull down domains abusing your email immediately, offering your business an increased level of security.
    The globe is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has only provided a widespread opportunity for hackers to take advantage of vulnerable security systems.

The recent impersonation attacks on both the White House and the WHO really highlight the need for greater use of DMARC technology.

 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in email phishing, we want to offer you 3 months FREE DMARC protection. Simply click the button below to get started right now 👇