Do-it-yourselfers abound everywhere in these days – from YouTube stars demonstrating the latest hacks through tutorials to entire cable channels and streaming networks devoted to DIY, average laypeople have become self-proclaimed experts in a variety of areas and skills. But should you take a do-it-yourself approach when it comes to technology and email security, or more specifically to DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance)?
Most experts would say no. While it can feel empowering to try something new all by yourself, it may be risky when it comes to security, data privacy, and consumer confidentiality. In fact, states in the U.S. are now following the EU’s GDPR example by implementing data privacy laws which dictate privacy regulations like the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) for one, which was enacted in January of 2020. In this new era of tightening up standards and regulations, shouldn’t you consider doing the same when it comes to your organization’s email security?
DMARC Control & Conformance is Complicated
DMARC is a free email authentication protocol that helps identify and quarantine malicious emails, like spam or those generated in phishing or domain spoofing attacks, so they don’t end up in your inbox. DMARC stops attackers from sending fraudulent messages from your domain by allowing the owners to publish their email authentication policies and dictate what happens to inbound messages that fail a series of authentication checks. DMARC utilizes SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) authentication standards to provide better security.
While setting up DMARC records and implementing policies is not necessarily the most complex process, it is definitely time-consuming to do correctly. For example, the process of setting up DMARC for each of your domains consists of:
- Publishing a DMARC record in DNS with a p=none policy for each domain for data analysis.
- Deploying email authentication for SPF and DKIM protocols.
- Using DMARC data to ensure your SPF record and DKIM signing are complete for each domain.
- Ensuring your SPF domain, DKIM-signing domain, and “From” header are in DMARC alignment.
Three total steps may not seem that daunting, however when you consider how many domains your organization sends email from, how many total business units send email throughout your organization (such as HR, Payroll, Marketing, IT/Applications, Corporate, and other departments) AND how many third-party senders and cloud/SaaS providers are sending email on your behalf (such as Marketo, HubSpot, MailChimp, among others), it can quickly become unwieldy for those who have to go in to set up DMARC policies, continuously monitor them, and tighten them up if when necessary. In the evolving era of data breaches, IT is already overwhelmed with constantly chasing sources of spam and phishing attacks.
DMARC Data is Designed for Automation
Unfortunately, there are numerous inherent complexities of DMARC and it takes more than the average layperson to know what they are and how to find them. For one, DMARC can fail based on the configuration of your alignment mode. For full DMARC authentication to occur either SPF or DKIM needs to be aligned, but they each have their own alignment modes that can be set to either “relaxed” or “strict” and if set incorrectly, authentication can fail. For example, if your modes are set to “strict” you must ensure that they match the exact domain found in the “From” headers of the message because subdomains are treated differently and require explicit permission for authentication. Similar issues pop up for email forwards that pass through an intermediary server before being delivered, as well as emails coming from third parties, unless the entries in your DNS server include all trusted third parties sending on your behalf.
But once it’s all set up correctly, then the fun of plowing through all the DMARC reports begins and there are two types: Aggregate (RUA) and Forensic (RUF), both of which come in machine-readable file formats, making them difficult to parse and a bear to correlate. The RUA reports contain information regarding the authentication status of messages sent on behalf of your domain and show which messages are passing DKIM and SPF validation, and which ones haven’t. These details include the domain used to send the message, the IP address the message was sent from, the date, and the result of the DKIM/SPF policy check. These reports can identify spoofing attempts, as well as outline or inform future “reject” policies.
The RUF reports contain information when an email sent through your domain fails either DMARC, SPF, or DKIM validation and help you identify the source of these messages and even fix the issues. RUF reports are valuable for both troubleshooting deliverability issues, as well as identifying sending IP addresses of attackers who are actively attempting to spoof your domain. We all think that having more information at our fingertips is better, but between all of these reports it could be thousands to sift through per day!
Be Reticent of Alerting Receivers to Reject
Plus, you need to go a step beyond setting up DMARC to keep it running smoothly and effectively. As a leading third-party email platform executive warns: “There is the potential that if they [administrators] configure their DMARC policies incorrectly, they can disrupt their own legitimate e-mails. The main idea here is proceed with caution. Use a phased approach. Make adjustments before tightening up the policy.”
That’s why it’s so important that you are receiving the data necessary for true DMARC visibility, as well as being alerted when there are changes to your email infrastructure. This will allow you to troubleshoot the authentication status for email sent directly from your domain or on your behalf via third-party providers. This visibility will give you confidence that mission-critical emails are authenticated and delivered — and that your DMARC policy is working as it should. Because with the right DMARC-analyzing solution that provides continuous monitoring, remediation and threat mitigation, “real” email should be let in while fraudulent email should be funneled out based on the appropriate DMARC policies that have been set up.
Agari Brand Protection is THE DMARC authentication solution that protects organizations’ customers and partners from email attacks that can hijack their brand. It does so by automating and simplifying DMARC email authentication, as well as the SPF and DKIM protocols. It also integrates with leading SOAR and SIEM platforms, as well as a rich set of native APIs that enable your team to develop custom automations and orchestrate complex, multi-system processes. By doing all of this, customers come to trust the legitimacy of their received email messages, which in turn can boost deliverability rates, conversion rates, and instill loyalty for your brand and hard-earned reputation. For more on how Agari Brand Protection could make DMARC email authentication easier, watch our on-demand recording here.