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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 organisation 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 which 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 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 👇

 

 

As organisations set up charity funds around the world to fight Covid-19, a different sort of battle is being waged in the electronic conduits of the internet. Thousands of people around the world have fallen prey to email spoofing during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s become increasingly common to see cybercriminals use real domain names of these organisations in their emails to appear legitimate.

In the most recent high-profile coronavirus scam, an email supposedly from the World Health Organization (WHO) was sent around the world, requesting donations to the Solidarity Response Fund. The sender’s address was ‘[email protected]’, where ‘who.int’ is the real domain name for WHO. The email was confirmed to be a phishing scam, but at first glance, all signs pointed to the sender being genuine. After all, the domain belonged to the real WHO.

donate response fund

However, this has only been one in a growing series of phishing scams that use emails related to coronavirus to steal money and sensitive information from people. But if the sender is using a real domain name, how can we distinguish a legitimate email from a fake one? Why are cybercriminals so easily able to employ email domain spoofing on such a large organisation?

And how do entities like WHO find out when someone is using their domain to launch a phishing attack?

Email is the most widely used business communication tool in the world, yet it’s a completely open protocol. On its own, there’s very little to monitor who sends what emails and from which email address. This becomes a huge problem when attackers disguise themselves as a trusted brand or public figure, asking people to give them their money and personal information. In fact, over 90% of all company data breaches in recent years have involved email phishing in one form or the other. And email domain spoofing is one of the leading causes of it.

In an effort to secure email, protocols like Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) were developed. SPF cross-checks the sender’s IP address with an approved list of IP addresses, and DKIM uses an encrypted digital signature to protect emails. While these are both individually effective, they have their own set of flaws. DMARC, which was developed in 2012, is a protocol that uses both SPF and DKIM authentication to secure email, and has a mechanism that sends the domain owner a report whenever an email fails DMARC validation.

This means the domain owner is notified whenever an email sent by an unauthorised third party. And crucially, they can tell the email receiver how to handle unauthenticated mail: let it go to inbox, quarantine it, or reject it outright. In theory, this should stop bad email from flooding people’s inboxes and reduce the number of phishing attacks we face. So why doesn’t it?

Can DMARC Prevent Domain Spoofing?

Email authentication requires sender domains to publish their SPF, DKIM and DMARC records to DNS. According to a study, only 44.9% of Alexa top 1 million domains had a valid SPF record published in 2018, and as little as 5.1% had a valid DMARC record. And this is despite the fact that domains without DMARC authentication suffer from spoofing nearly four times as much as domains that are secured. There’s a lack of serious DMARC implementation across the business landscape, and it’s not gotten much better over the years. Even organisations like UNICEF have yet to implement DMARC with their domains, and the White House and US Department of Defense both have a DMARC policy of p = none, which means they’re not being enforced.

A survey conducted by experts at Virginia Tech has brought to light some of the most serious concerns cited by major companies and businesses that have yet to use DMARC authentication:

  1. Deployment Difficulties: The strict enforcement of security protocols often means a high level of coordination in large institutions, which they often don’t have the resources for. Beyond that, many organisations don’t have much control over their DNS, so publishing DMARC records becomes even more challenging.
  2. Benefits Not Outweighing the Costs: DMARC authentication typically has direct benefits to the recipient of the email rather than the domain owner. The lack of serious motivation to adopt the new protocol has kept many companies from incorporating DMARC into their systems.
  3. Risk of Breaking the Existing System: The relative newness of DMARC makes it more prone to improper implementation, which brings up the very real risk of legitimate emails not going through. Businesses that rely on email circulation can’t afford to have that happening, and so don’t bother adopting DMARC at all.

Recognising Why We Need DMARC

While the concerns expressed by businesses in the survey have obvious merit, it doesn’t make DMARC implementation any less imperative to email security. The longer businesses continue to function without a DMARC-authenticated domain, the more all of us expose ourselves to the very real danger of email phishing attacks. As the coronavirus email spoofing scams have taught us, no one is safe from being targeted or impersonated. Think of DMARC as a vaccine — as the number of people using it grows, the chances of catching an infection go down dramatically.

There are real, viable solutions to this problem that might overcome people’s concerns over DMARC adoption. Here are just a few that could boost implementation by a large margin:

  1. Reducing Friction in Implementation: The biggest hurdle standing in the way of a company adopting DMARC are the deployment costs associated with it. The economy is in doldrums and resources are scarce. Which is why PowerDMARC along with our industrial partners Global Cyber Alliance (GCA) are proud to announce a limited-time offer during the Covid-19 pandemic — 3 months of our full suite of apps, DMARC implementation and anti-spoofing services, completely free. Get your DMARC solution set up in minutes and start monitoring your emails using PowerDMARC now.
  2. Improving Perceived Usefulness: For DMARC to have a major impact on email security, it needs a critical mass of users to publish their SPF, DKIM and DMARC records. By rewarding DMARC-authenticated domains with a ’Trusted’ or ‘Verified’ icon (like with the promotion of HTTPS among websites), domain owners can be incentivised to get a positive reputation for their domain. Once this reaches a certain threshold, domains protected by DMARC will be viewed more favourably than ones that aren’t.
  3. Streamlined Deployment: By making it easier to deploy and configure anti-spoofing protocols, more domains will be agreeable to DMARC authentication. One way this could be done is by allowing the protocol to run in a ’Monitoring mode’, allowing email administrators to assess the impact it has on their systems before going for a full deployment.

Every new invention brings with it new challenges. Every new challenge forces us to find a new way to overcome it. DMARC has been around for some years now, yet phishing has existed for far longer. In recent weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic has only given it a new face. At PowerDMARC, we’re here to help you meet this new challenge head on. Sign up here for your 3-month PowerDMARC deployment for absolutely free, so that while you stay home safe from coronavirus, your domain is safe from email spoofing.