Cybercriminals hijack emails and impersonate legitimate businesses to send bogus emails for fraudulent activities. As a result, email services have implemented a security feature called email authentication and three are commonly known of them.
The purpose of these authentication protocols is to check emails and filter out spam so that businesses’ reputations and every user’s online experience are safe. Since this new security feature is tough, marketing emails from innocent businesses have also been blocked, rejected, and sent to the spam folder by email services.
What Is Email Authentication And What Are Its Benefits?
Email authentication is a cybersecurity essential/protocol designed to verify the legitimacy of the email a user receives. Think of each email as having a watermark and a brand makes and puts that watermark in the email.
Email services such as Gmail will then check for the watermark in the email to see if the message hasn’t been tampered with or was truly sent from a domain it claims to have come from.
Aside from the email service checking for email legitimacy, an ISP can also check for the email watermark. Everyone on the receiving end of the email can verify the IP addresses where the email comes from and public keys used to unlock and peek inside the email contents. But the email contents cannot be altered or tampered with.
If the authentication protocols don’t match, the receiving end of the email such as an email service or ISP will then reject, block, or send the email to the spam folder of the user.
This is to protect the users from receiving emails that have viruses, phishing links, and other malicious programs that cybercriminals send. There are two other purposes of email authentication:
Different Email Authentication Protocols
1. Sender Policy Framework (SPF) Record
This authentication protocol lets an email recipient’s server check the IP address of where the email comes from. The recipient’s server then compares it to the IP addresses that are authorized by the sender’s domain.
For example, if “PayPal” sends an email to their customer and that customer’s email service is Gmail, Gmail will then check which IP addresses PayPal authorizes to send emails from.
If the email’s sender’s IP address doesn’t belong to PayPal’s authorized email sender list, the email is automatically rejected.
2. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Record
The DKIM record acts more like a lock for a letter. It makes sure that the email a user receives wasn’t modified or tampered with during delivery. This is because some cybercriminals hijack emails during delivery by putting malware in them.
With the DKIM record, the email sender puts a private lock-in an email and provides a public key to email services like Gmail. The purpose of it is to let email checkers see if the email’s content isn’t messed with.
It is impossible to make modifications to an email content without leaving evidence. Think of it as if an email is a locked chest and in that chest is a glass box with another box in it.
Gmail may open the chest lock only to see if the glass box is untampered. If there is evidence of content modification, the email will not pass through Gmail’s server meaning the email will not reach a receiver’s inbox.
3. Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC)
DMARC is the latest email authentication tool. It checks if every email follows SPF and DKIM requirements before the emails are delivered to a user’s inbox. Legitimate businesses also use this authentication tool for feedback in case their emails don’t go to customers’ inboxes. This way, they can fix the issue of why their emails are rejected, blocked, or spammed.
How To Set Up Email Authentication In 3 Steps
Step #1: Set Up SPF Authentication
- Identify the list of domains you’re using in promoting your email campaigns.
- List down all the IP addresses you will use in your campaigns.
- Create an SPF record that has all the domain and IP address data from above.
- Publish the SPF records to the DNS using the domains in the records.
- Use all the IP addresses from the SPF record when publishing.
- Double-check the records to validate your setup.
Step #2: Set Up DKIM Authentication
- Get the domain keys of the domains you’re using for email marketing.
- Get both public and private DKIM keys.
- Publish the public keys to the DNS records of the said email marketing domains.
- Hide your private key and keep it safe.
- Turn on the DKIM signing feature.
- Include the DKIM signatures for all the marketing emails you’re going to send.
Step #3: Configure DMARC Policies
- Configure the DKIM and SPF records for the domains you’ll use for email marketing – these are steps 1 and 2 from above.
- Send a test email to yourself.
- Check the headers of the testing mail for the domain name.
- The domain name should be in the email from the domain, return path, or in the DKIM signature. The domain names mentioned in these three email components must be identical. Mismatches will cause an error in the DMARC alignment resulting in rejected, blocked, or spam mail.
- Create two different email addresses for receiving email deliverability reports and daily email aggregates.
- Create the TXT record by logging-in to your panel and reaching out to the manage domains page of the domain you’re using. Then, click on the DNS link of your primary domain. After this, change the “type” into TXT. Save the changes when you’re all done.
Email authentication is the best system to use in protecting your customer’s experience, your business’s, and the domain’s reputation while ensuring successful email deliverability. It may be tedious work to set it up but it is a worthy thing to have in your domain to generate more leads, conversions, and sales. Not to mention, the emails you’ll send arrives on time in the users’ inbox folder because it won’t go to the spam folder.