Ever heard of DMARC? It might sound complicated at first, but it’s a powerful tool that protects your organization from phishing scams.
Cybercriminals utilize sophisticated techniques to craft deceptive emails by impersonating real domains. Fraudulent email and phishing pose significant challenges to business email communications. In 2022, the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) reported 1,025,968 phishing attacks in Q1 alone. This can lead to financial losses, data breaches, and damage to your brand reputation or your emails. Your legitimate emails may also land in spam folders if not authenticated with DMARC.
In this guide, we will break down DMARC, explain its functionalities, benefits, and how you can implement it to safeguard your organization and email communications.
What is DMARC?
DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) is an email authentication protocol that verifies email senders and provides insights for enhanced email security. It allows domain owners to set up domain-level policies on mail handling. This includes setting up preferences for message verification, failure responses, and reporting. DMARC is described under RFC 7489 of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
DMARC is intended to help combat email fraud and phishing attacks. It does so by allowing email recipients to determine the authenticity of a message using SPF and DKIM protocols. Based on the results of the verification, domain owners can reject, quarantine, or deliver the email. All these functions are controlled by DNS-level instructions that are uploaded by the domain owner himself.
DMARC Full Form
DMARC stands for “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance”.
Here’s a breakdown of the components of “DMARC” acronym:
Domain-based: DMARC runs at the domain level.
Message Authentication: DMARC allows domain owners to designate the authentication protocols. These are used to validate incoming email messages. SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) are two such protocols.
Reporting: You can enable feedback reports within your DMARC configuration. Following this, receiving MTAs will send over XML reports to your defined email address. These reports may contain DMARC aggregate or forensic data.
Conformance: Domain owners can use DMARC to describe the actions of receiving mail servers. These actions are implemented once an email fails the DMARC check.
How Does DMARC Work?
A message is sent from an authorized server to the DMARC-compliant domain’s SPF record and/or DKIM signature, which are stored at the DNS level.
If either check passes, the message is termed as “DMARC PASS”; if both fail, the message fails DMARC (since it didn’t meet SPF or DKIM requirements).
Depending on the DMARC policy configured, the message can now be rejected or discarded, flagged as spam or quarantined, or delivered as is.
Once you’ve set up DMARC correctly for your domain, you can enable DMARC reports. This helps you identify suspicious messages so you can take action against them quickly—and keep your subscribers safe!
Why is DMARC Important?
DMARC plays a pivotal role in scaling your email security efforts. While email systems have spam filters in place, these are not effective against direct-domain spoofing attacks. By impersonating companies, attackers can retrieve login credentials to sensitive information. In fact, IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report found that compromised credentials led to 19% of all data breaches.
Moreover, visibility through report-based feedback is a DMARC feature that truly stands out.
Here are some more features that highlight the importance of DMARC:
- It ensures email authentication
- It protects from domain spoofing
- It protects against phishing attacks
- It is mandatory for Google & Yahoo bulk senders
- It is mandatory for PCI-DSS compliance
- BIMI Requires DMARC Enforcement
Benefits of DMARC
DMARC benefits a company/business by helping them prevent impersonation attacks. It also has long-term capabilities of reducing spam and deliverability issues. Moreover, DMARC has been made mandatory by various major ESPs. Yahoo and Google inboxes can now even reject emails that do not have DMARC implemented. Hence, to stay compliant, configuring the protocol is highly recommended.
Here are some of the benefits of implementing DMARC:
- Email Fraud Prevention: You can prevent phishing attacks by using DMARC Reports. They help identify spoofed emails and sources that may be impersonating you.
- Improves Brand Reputation: You can improve your brand reputation by ensuring that only legitimate messages are delivered to your recipients.
- Minimizes Spam: You can reduce the amount of spam in your customer’s inboxes by preventing fraudulent messages from reaching them in the first place.
- Provides Visibility: Quickly identify who is sending emails on your behalf without your knowledge using reports.
- Improves Deliverability: You can improve your email’s deliverability rate by 10% over time by deploying the protocol correctly for your emails.
How to Enable DMARC for Your Domain?
Setting up DMARC can be a bit technical and we have covered it in detail in our DMARC setup guide. Here are the general steps involved:
1. Assess Your Email-Sending Infrastructure
Make a note of marketing automation platforms, customer service tools, and email delivery services.
2. Configure SPF or DKIM Records
Publish the generated records on your DNS with the help of your DNS registrar.
3. Create a DMARC TXT Record
You can sign-up with PowerDMARC for free to create your record using our DMARC record generator tool. The mandatory fields include protocol version “v”, which is always DMARC1, and the policy mode “p” can be configured according to your preference.
4. Select a DMARC policy
A DMARC policy tells email receivers how to handle messages that fail DMARC checks. You can choose between three policy modes – “none”, “quarantine” or “reject”.
Optional (but recommended) fields:
- Alignment requirements: You can specify the alignment requirements for your domain’s SPF and DKIM records. This means that the domain name in the “From” header of an email may/may not exactly match the domain name in the SPF and/or DKIM record.
- Reporting: As discussed earlier, you can configure DMARC to receive reports on your email address or a third-party service. These reports will provide information on email activity. Including the number of emails sent, the number of emails that passed/failed authentication checks.
5. Publish Your DMARC Record
You will need to access your DNS management console to publish your record. Enter “_dmarc” in the Host field and resource type as TXT. You can keep your TTL at 1 hour.
6. Verify Your DMARC Setup
Check your DMARC implementation with the help of our DMARC checker tool. Just enter your domain name and click on “lookup” to check if your record is valid.
What Do DMARC Records Look Like?
The structure of a DMARC record is defined in the DNS (Domain Name System) as a TXT record associated with the domain. It contains several tags including ones that specify the policy mode and reporting options. Here’s an example of what a DMARC record might look like:
In this example:
- _dmarc.example.com.” refers to the specific domain where the DMARC record is being set up. In this case, it is “example.com.”
- IN TXT” indicates the record type as a text record.
- v=DMARC1” signifies that the version of the protocol being used is version 1.
- p=reject” sets the DMARC policy to “reject”. This instructs receiving email servers to reject or discard emails that fail DMARC.
- rua=mailto:” specifies the email address “[email protected][email protected]” as the destination to receive aggregate reports.
- ruf=mailto:” designates the email address “[email protected][email protected]” as the destination to receive forensic reports. These reports provide more information on email delivery failures.
- sp=reject” sets the subdomain policy to “reject,” ensuring that this DMARC policy applies to subdomains.
DMARC, SPF and DKIM – Pillars of Email Authentication
SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is an authentication protocol which authorizes your legitimate senders. By creating SPF records in the domain’s DNS, the owner specifies the allowed IP addresses or domains. These domains/IPs are permitted to send emails using that domain.
DKIM is an email authentication protocol that allows the sender of an email to digitally sign the message with an encrypted signature, which is associated with the sender’s domain. The receiving email server can then verify the authenticity of the message by checking the DKIM signature against the corresponding public key in the sender’s DNS records.
Combining DMARC, SPF and DKIM Against Email Fraud
Implementing DMARC, SPF, and DKIM together provides a more robust defense against email spoofing and phishing attacks. Let’s explore the benefits of using these authentication methods in combination:
- Comprehensive Protection: The combination of DMARC, SPF, and DKIM provides a layered approach to email authentication. It offers comprehensive protection against email spoofing, phishing, and unauthorized senders.
- Enhanced Email Deliverability: By ensuring that emails are properly authenticated and aligned with domain policies, the chances of legitimate emails being marked as spam or rejected are significantly reduced.
- Brand Reputation Protection: Implementing these authentication methods helps maintain the integrity of your brand. They prevent email abuse and spoofing, safeguarding your reputation among recipients.
- Improved Security: The use of DMARC, SPF, and DKIM together minimizes the risk of unauthorized entities sending malicious emails on behalf of your domain, strengthening overall security and mitigating potential cyber threats.
- Reporting and Visibility: DMARC provides valuable reporting insights into email authentication failures, allowing domain owners to identify and address issues promptly, and enhancing the effectiveness of their email security measures.
Should you use SPF and DKIM if you already have DMARC?
Yes, it is highly recommended to use both SPF and DKIM even if you have already implemented DMARC. DMARC is designed to work alongside SPF and DKIM, and together they form a powerful email authentication framework.
PowerDMARC’s Cloud-Based DMARC Solution
As a business owner maintaining an online domain, having DMARC implemented serves as a feather in your cap in terms of security. While you can do so manually, there are certain additional benefits of choosing a third-party vendor like PowerDMARC. With us, you get a host of reporting, management, and monitoring facilities at a very affordable rate. These don’t fall within the scope of a manual DMARC setup and can really make a difference for your business!
By configuring our DMARC analyzer you can:
- Configure hosted DMARC and other email authentication protocols easily
- Monitor your authentication results through simplified, human-readable reports
- Get real-time alerts on email, slack, discord, and webhooks
- Improve your email deliverability over time
Our customers enjoy dedicated support from our in-house DMARC experts to configure the solutions tailored to their needs. Get in touch with us today for a free DMARC trial!
Why use DMARC?
DMARC is essential for preventing email spoofing and phishing attacks, enhancing email deliverability, and safeguarding brand reputation by providing visibility and control over email authentication.
What is a DMARC record?
A DMARC record is a DNS (Domain Name System) entry that domain owners publish to specify their email authentication policy that helps prevent email spoofing and phishing attacks by instructing email receivers on how to handle unauthenticated emails from the domain.
What is a DMARC report?
A DMARC report provides information about email authentication results for a domain. These reports are generated by email receivers and sent to the email address specified in the DMARC record.
Is DMARC and SPF a good combination?
DMARC and SPF are a powerful duo to bolster email security and protect against email spoofing and phishing attacks. DMARC builds upon SPF’s sender validation capabilities by allowing domain owners to set a policy on how to handle messages that fail SPF checks.
What is DMARC compliance?
DMARC compliance refers to the adherence of an email domain to the DMARC authentication protocol. When a domain implements DMARC with properly configured policies, SPF, and DKIM, it is considered DMARC compliant.
How to Fix DMARC Issues?
To address DMARC issues, domain owners should carefully review DMARC reports and analyze authentication failures. Read our DMARC fail guide to learn more.
How to test DMARC?
You can test DMARC by using our DMARC checker tool for free.
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