Email Authentication: What it is and Why it Matters

Even though email is one of the leading communication channels among individuals and organizations, security was never a built-in feature. 

That’s why email is a common attack vector malicious actors use to steal sensitive data, such as credit card information, social security numbers, login credentials, and other Personally Identifiable Information. 

Hackers leverage email security weaknesses through phishing, domain spoofing, business email compromise, or spam campaigns to carry out their nefarious plans. 

Over the years, organizations have adopted several business email security measures to prevent bad actors from exploiting their email domains and targeting their customers. Email authentication was soon introduced, used to confirm the legitimacy of an email.

This article discusses email authentication and why it matters to individuals and businesses. 

So what is email authentication anyway?

 

What is Email Authentication?

Email authentication is a verification method that helps receiving mail servers determine whether you’re a legitimate sender. It’s used to prove that an email message isn’t forged, thereby blocking any fraudulent mail. 

Besides preventing spam, phishing, and spoofing attacks, email authentication can also improve your deliverability rates. Successful email marketing campaigns dodge spam filters and land in the inbox. When the legitimacy of your emails are acknowledged by internet service providers (ISPs), you gain an advantage from the get-go. 

Your sender reputation improves, and recipient servers accept that you are who you say you are. Moreover, fraudulent emails that exploit your company’s name are automatically blocked.  

Email authentication is vital for any business that relies on email marketing and communication. By implementing it, you can distinguish your legitimate emails from spam and phishing emails, thereby mitigating the risks of cyberattacks. Ignoring email authentication can cost you time and sales—it can ruin your brand reputation and deliverability rates.

 

How Does Email Authentication Work?

  • Email authentication works in different ways, each with its benefits and downsides. While implementation differs depending on the method, the concept is similar. Below is an overview of how email authentication works. 
  • First, a business or organization implements a policy that defines how email servers authenticate messages from its email sending domains. 
  • The email sender configures the mail server to deploy and publish this policy.
  • When an email receiver gets a message from this sender, it verifies the message by comparing the details of the message to the rules set by the sender. 
  • Depending on the authentication results, the email receiver may decide to flag, deliver, or reject the message. 

The above process is a simple explanation of email authentication, regardless of the approach. However, for this process to work, the sender and receiver must collaborate. That’s why email authentication protocols are essential. They define the rules governing an organization’s email authentication.

Email authentication is crucial for companies to build trust and confidence among business associates and potential customers. Without it, scammers can exploit your domain to impersonate your brand and send legitimate-looking messages to victims.

In the digital age, where cyberattacks are rife, companies must deploy the best possible standards for email authentication. 

Let’s look at the different email authentication standards. 

What Standards Does Email Authentication Use?

Email communication is never secure, hence the need for authentication. This process relies on several standards, such as SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and BIMI to ensure maximum protection. We briefly discuss each standard below. 

SPF

SPF or Sender Policy Framework is an email authentication that allows you to specify the sending sources authorized to send messages on your domain’s behalf. These senders are listed in your SPF record, a TXT record in your DNS. Once published, email receivers can verify whether a sender is authorized. If a receiver gets a message from a sender not listed in your SPF record, the message is considered malicious and therefore rejected.

DKIM

DKIM or DomainKeys Identified Mail is another email authentication standard used alongside SPF to provide additional protection against email attacks. DKIM allows you to include a digital signature in every email using a private cryptographic key to confirm the origin and authenticity of the message.

DKIM authentication is possible through cryptographic authentication using public and private keys, which must match to verify the identity of a domain.  A DKIM configuration needs at least 1024 bits to ensure adequate protection from hackers. Like SPF, you need to publish your DKIM record (containing the public key) as aTXT record in your domain’s DNS. 

DMARC

DMARC, or Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance is an email authentication protocol designed to add an extra layer of security to your email channel. DMARC leverages SPF and DKIM to verify whether a message is indeed legitimate.

DMARC also covers the shortfalls of SPF and DKIM by verifying that the return-path address and the DKIM signing address matches the “from:” address the recipient sees. Besides that, this email authentication standard also tells receiving servers what to do with messages that fail these authentication checks. 

Configuring and implementing DMARC correctly requires technical expertise. If done improperly, legitimate emails could be blocked. Fortunately, EasyDMARC has made the process seamless. 

You can use our DMARC Record Checker to determine if your DMARC policy is working or use our DMARC Record Generator to create one. Our Hosted DMARC feature also provides an all-inclusive solution for smooth and simple DMARC implementation.

BIMI

BIMI, or Brand Indicators for Message Identification, is an innovative email standard that enables brands to display their logo beside their message. With BIMI, only authenticated emails can have a brand logo so recipients know the message is legitimate. 

BIMI works alongside SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to confirm that a sender is who they claim to be. The first step to implementing BIMI is full DMARC compliance. As such, your emails need to pass SPF and DKIM alignment and authentication checks.

 

Who Needs Email Authentication?

Any organization using email can be a target of phishing attacks. Email authentication is vital for every business using a public domain. With SPF, DKIM, and DMARC deployment, you can validate your legitimate emails and prevent hackers from spoofing your domain. Meanwhile, BIMI further verifies your emails while increasing brand recognition and trust—vital aspects of marketing.

 

3 Benefits of an Authenticated Email

There are several reasons why you should authenticate your emails using SPF, DKIM, DMARC and BIMI. In this section, we’ll discuss three primary benefits of DMARC-authenticated emails. 

Fraud Prevention

Emails aren’t built with security, so bad actors can leverage them to trick victims into releasing sensitive data that can be used for fraudulent activities. With DMARC implementation, you can confirm the authenticity of your messages to prevent email fraud. 

Brand Image Protection

Building a reliable reputation with your customers takes years. However, cyberactors can leverage this trust to lure your customers into a trap, damaging your reputation. When you implement DMARC, you can prevent hackers from exploiting your domain for Business Email Compromise, email spoofing, and spear phishing attacks

Enhanced Email Deliverability

Cybercriminals send non-stop malicious emails daily. ISPs usually filter out suspicious messages, which commonly lack email authentication. With DMARC, ISPs can validate the authenticity of your message from the get-go and avoid spam or junk folders.

When your emails are authenticated, they’re usually sent directly to the receiver’s inbox. This can improve your click and open rates, thereby increasing conversions. With a better deliverability rate, your sender reputation improves, and your email campaigns are more successful.

 

Final Thoughts

Email authentication is vital if you want to prevent hackers from exploiting your domain or brand reputation to steal customers’ data—which can severely damage your business. When your emails are authenticated, recipients know you care about email security and can be trusted. This enhances your sender reputation and email deliverability while stopping malicious actors. 

The best email authentication standards include SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, which can be challenging to understand and implement. BIMI is still relatively new, but that’s why it’s worth pursuing.

If you haven’t implemented DMARC, now’s the time to start. With EasyDMARC, you can quickly deploy SPF, DKIM, and DMARC without any technical knowledge. 

Want to know more about how we can help you improve your email security? Feel free to reach out today!

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