How to Protect Against Email Spoofing with SPF

The world is so swamped by cybercrime that even big eCommerce tycoons like Amazon struggle to implement effective email spoofing protection. Lately, hackers are sending fake emails and text messages purporting to be from Amazon officials. 

They’re manipulating targeted people into submitting sensitive details or clicking corrupt links to infect devices with viruses. 

News like this makes it even more important to understand what email spoofing is and how you can prevent it using SPF or the Sender Policy Framework. 

Wondering what SPF is?

SPF is an email authentication technique meant to avert email-based phishing and spoofing attacks. It allows only trusted IPs to send email messages using your domain name. 

Emails sent from other IPs fail authentication and don’t reach a recipient’s mailbox, thus stopping malicious actors from ruining your business image. Knowing how an SPF record works is helpful, but how does SPF actually prevent cyber threats?

Find out how to protect against email spoofing using SPF below.

What is Email Spoofing?

When you create an SPF record correctly, you’re protecting your domain against email spoofing

But what is email spoofing?

Well, it’s a type of cybercrime where spam emails are sent using the identity of a trusted company or individual. Bad actors send fake emails that appear legitimate so they can trick victims into sharing sensitive details or downloading malware-infected files.

Usual Motives Behind Email Spoofing Attacks

Cybercriminals use email spoofing to accomplish many ulterior goals like:

  • Hiding heir identities
  • Avoiding a spam blocklist
  • Damaging a brand’s image
  • Intending to do personal damage
  • Requesting transfers of money
  • Tricking victims into submitting sensitive details like passwords and login credentials
  • Fraudulently gaining targets’ financial details or OTPs

How are Phishing and Spoofing Connected?

Before we get into email spoofing protection with SPF, it helps knowing how phishing and spoofing are connected.

Phishing is a social engineering tactic where hackers manipulate you into sharing sensitive and personal information. They then use data like social security numbers, bank details, and login credentials to conduct criminal activities.

Phishing attacks are successful as they often use emails designed to look legitimate and from a trusted sender. These cyberattacks exploit human nature, incorporating elements of urgency, fear, or excitement. 

For example, a phishing email might look like an urgent bank message saying your account has been compromised and you need to submit your login credentials. It could also seem like a communication from your boss requesting sensitive info, or an email saying you’ve won something and need to click on a malicious link (disguised as a genuine one).

You can avoid phishing attacks by checking if an email is sent from an authentic and credible domain. Other factors like misspellings, unrequested or unidentified links and files, unusual requests, etc., are red flags too.

On the other hand, spoofing involves disguising illegitimate communication as legitimate. Bad actors use anything from email addresses and phone numbers to domain names and websites.

In email spoofing, they usually send emails from a typosquatted or extended email domain. Typosquatting is a cybercrime where malicious actors register domains with deliberate misspellings to lure victims into clicking a corrupt link or sharing crucial details. For example, using amaz0n.com instead of amazon.com.

Phishing and spoofing are often used interchangeably as they go hand-in-hand to form a believable email coming from a legitimate source. Hackers use email spoofing tactics to conceal phishing attempts and fool recipients.

Steps to Protect Against Spoofing

SPF protects against email spoofing by ensuring only emails sent from authorized IP addresses of your domain are delivered. It uses TXT records in the DNS to enlist all trusted IPs from which emails are sent to recipients’ mailboxes. Companies can prevent phishing and spoofing attacks by adding an SPF record to DNS

Before delivery, an email is verified by the destination email server by checking the IP address against the listed IPs in DNS records of a particular domain.

SPF TXT records contain all authorized IP addresses and domain names of sending mail servers. To understand SPF creation, it helps knowing the three elements of SPF records:

Mechanisms

These are methods SPF can use to validate whether a particular domain is authorized to send emails. If an identified condition is fulfilled, the mechanism matches, and the mail can be verified (depending on the mechanism in question).

Qualifiers: + (pass), – (hard fail), ~ (soft fail), ? (neutral)

These are optional prefixes that can be added to the above mechanisms to specify what happens when a mechanism is matched.

Modifiers: Redirect, Exp

  • These are also optional components providing extra information without changing the way messages are verified.

All three of these components are usually necessary for generating SPF records.

What Do You Need to Do?

Here’s all that you have to do if you want email spoofing protection with SPF. We’ve included relevant guides and tools below. 

Before Setting up SPF

Define Your SPF Record: Basic

  • What is SPF?
  • How does an SPF record work?
  • SPF record examples

Define Your SPF Record: Advanced

  • Understand SPF record formats and requirements.
  • Determine SPF record mechanisms.
  • Implement SPF record qualifiers.
  • Create your SPF records.

Add SPF Records to Your Domain

  • Add an SPF record to your DNS.
  • Add SPF records for your subdomain.
  • Update your SPF record for new IPs.
  • Generate SPF records quickly and easily.

Troubleshoot SPF Issues

  • Verify your SPF records.
  • Verify emails that pass SPF authentication.
  • Cross-check if all the IPs are included.
  • Review your email sending practices.
  • Use EasyDMARC’s free EasySPF tool to resolve the common “Too Many DNS Lookups” issue causing “Permerror.”

Next Steps

SPF is a crucial email authentication protocol that can protect against email spoofing; however it has the following limitations:

  • It doesn’t work well with forwarded emails as they don’t have original senders’ authorized IP addresses.
  • Often senders fail to keep their SPF records updated to enlist all legitimate IP addresses allowed to send emails using your domain name. It also includes authorized third parties.
  • SPF verification is done using the Mail From domain, and that’s mostly hidden from the recipients.

Fortunately, this limitation has a solution. You can implement DKIM, short for DomainKeys Identified Mail, and DMARC, short for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance.

DKIM compliments SPF by deploying a cryptography-based authentication technique. It authenticates the email message and checks if hackers have manipulated or altered it in transit.

On the other hand, DMARC uses DKIM and SPF to form an extra layer of security to protect against email spoofing and other cyberattacks. It ensures SPF and DKIM protocols are in place. Moreover, it specifies the actions to be taken when SPF and DKIM authentication fails for an email. 

Essentially, DMARC protects your domain from cyberattackers using it fraudulently, prevents phishing and spoofing, and helps keep recipients’ safe from these threats too.

SPF Record Syntax: Structure and Components

SPF Record Syntax: Structure and Components

Understanding what SPF is and bringing it into use is important for technology-driven businesses...

Read More
What is a DKIM Record?

What is a DKIM Record?

What is a DKIM record? That's a question we see everywhere these days. Emails...

Read More
What is an SPF Record?

What is an SPF Record?

What if you realize a threat actor is misusing your domain name to send...

Read More