Email Authentication Protocols 101

Email authentication is a set of techniques to identify the authenticity of email messages. It is essential to check the sender’s legitimacy and authenticity to avoid fraudulent activities like phishing and spamming.

The term email authentication is used to address the technical standards that help verify the sender’s authenticity. If the sender’s authenticity is not confirmed, then the email will either be undelivered or will end up being in the spam folder, far away from the receiver’s reach. In ord er to improve the email deliverability, you must validate your emails.

In this article, I will explain the different types of authentication protocols and set them to boost your email deliverability.

Here are the top three email authentication protocols:

Protocol #1 – SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is the email authentication protocol used to restrict spammers from sending emails from your domain. It checks the ‘from’ address of an email to verify the identity of the sender. The recipient email server does this task of identifying the sender’s email authenticity by checking the IP addresses associated with that email server. If the sender’s IP address is not present on the list, SPF will fail the email deliverability and display a message “email failed to send”.

Protocol #2 – DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mails)

DKIM protocol offers senders with a private cryptographic key. Hence, only authentic users can send emails using that address, and the chances of spam are reduced. Moreover, only the intended recipient can open the email because the headers of the email are encoded, and only the receiver can open it with a public key hosted on the DNS.

Protocol #3 – DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, And Conformance)

DMARC is a protocol that integrates SPF and DKIM to validate the authenticity of an email. DMARC helps the domain owners to restrict fraudulent email practices that compromise the personal data of the recipients.

DMARC allows the domain owner to add a new policy in the DNS record to specify the mechanism for checking the emails’ authenticity. The receiving email servers can authenticate the information based on the DNS entry. Setting up DMARC improves the email deliverability of the senders.

How To Setup SPF Authentication?

Cybersecurity is vital for businesses. Hence, companies willing to send emails include the SPF records in the DNS (Domain Name System) along with a list of several IP addresses that are authorized to send an email on behalf of the domain of the company.

SPF records examine and validate whether the sender’s IP was authorized to send emails under the domain name or not. This way, identifying forged emails becomes easy.

Here is the process of setting up SPF authentication records:

  • Identify the list of domains used to promote your email campaigns.
  • List down all the IP addresses used to send emails.
  • Create an SPF record containing all the relevant domain and IP address data.
  • Publish your SPF records to the DNS for the domains you’ll be sending emails from. Don’t forget to leave any IP from the SPF record, or else emails sent using that IP address will land in spam.
  • Check the records to validate the efforts.

How To Setup DKIM Authentication?

DKIM helps to boost email security and prevents email spoofing. Google recommends you to use a DKIM key on all the outgoing emails. The process of setting-up DKIM is provided below.

  • Get the domain key for your domain.
  • Obtain the public and private DKIM keys.
  • Publish the public key to the DNS records of your domains.
  • Keep your private key safe.
  • Turn the DKIM signing feature on, and start including the DKIM signatures on all the outgoing emails.

How To Configure DMARC Policies?

DMARC policies are made to detect and restrict fraudulent email practices. Let us understand how these policies are being configured.

  • The first step includes configuration of DKIM and SPF records for your domain.
  • Secondly, send a test email to yourself or on any email address that you own. Once you receive the test mailer, check the headers of the mail for the domain name. The domain name can be present in either the envelope from the domain, return path, or in the DKIM signature. It is important to note that the name of the domains mentioned in these three areas must be identical. If any deviation is found, the DMARC alignment will fail.
  • Thirdly, it is highly recommended for you to create at least two different email addresses to receive forensic reports and daily aggregates.
  • Lastly, create the TXT record. To create a TXT record, log-in to your panel and reach out to the manage domains page. Then click on the DNS link under your primary domain. After this, change the “type” to TXT and save the changes.

What Email Authentication Means For Senders?

By implementing DMARC policies, the senders have complete control over the email server in order to avoid phishing or any other fraudulent or spamming activities. Some of the popular email providers like Yahoo already have this policy structure in place. Hence, if anyone tries to send emails using your domains will fail the authenticity check and emails will not be delivered.

Suppose you are willing to send emails on behalf of your clients. In that case, it is your responsibility to ensure that your clients have the accurate DNS entries in place to improve email deliverability.

Final Thoughts

Email authentication is a must for businesses because it protects the reputation of your brand and the domain. You can keep your email servers safe from hackers and spoofers. Moreover, your emails will reach the customers at the right time without getting into the spam folder. Always use proper email authentication protocols to make sure your emails are not forged.