Email marketing has come a long way since the first large scale marketing send in 1978. With email proving itself to be an important and longstanding communication tool for marketers, email security and proper authentication has grown in importance. The widespread adoption of email and its effectiveness in reaching users’ inboxes has also made it a target for spoofing attempts and malicious practices. Fortunately, several security focused protocols and authentication techniques have evolved to help fight against spoofing, phishing, and email fraud.
Think of email authentication as the traffic cop. His job is monitoring the traffic, identifying drivers disobeying the laws, and patrolling roads to ensure they remain safe. Similarly, email authentication recognizes legit senders from bad actors, prevents email fraud and creates a secure email ecosystem for both senders and recipients.
Why do you need email authentication?
Now, let’s look at the most widely adopted authentication standards:
SPF allows senders to add email servers to an allowed list to ensure that only authorized IP addresses can send emails on behalf of a domain to prevent spoofing and phishing attacks. The receiving server compares the sending IP to the authorized IP(s) listed in the SPF record. If a match is found, the receiving server will deliver the message to the inbox. However, the message might be rejected or marked as spam if there is no match.
DKIM verifies the authenticity of a message by stamping it with a digital signature. DKIM works by adding encrypted signatures to outgoing email messages. The recipient mail server looks up the public key in the domain’s DNS and decrypts the DKIM signature. A valid signature indicates that the message content was not tampered with in transit.
DMARC is an email authentication policy that allows senders to specify how receiving servers should handle unauthenticated messages sent from their domain. DMARC builds on other standards like SPF and DKIM to perform validation. That means at least one of those standards needs to be implemented. The receiving email server performs an alignment check to verify the sender’s legitimacy. If both SPF and DKIM authentications are set up, both alignment tests are performed. A DMARC policy also offers reporting mechanism which provides insight into the domain’s traffic and authentication results. When a DMARC check fails, senders can enforce one of three policies:
In today’s digital world, where cyber threats continue to grow, staying up to date with the latest standards and protocols is paramount. An emerging concept like BIMI helps improve email security by leveraging strong email authentication like DMARC, SPF and DKIM. With BIMI, senders can display their brand logos next to authenticated messages making it easier for recipients to spot and trust legitimate emails. Several mailbox providers like Gmail, and Yahoo currently support BIMI. You can check the complete list here. To implement BIMI, senders must have a DMARC policy in place with a p=quarantine or p=reject policy.
For many years, Mailbox providers have considered email authentication a best practice to help improve email security, reduce email-related threats, and instill trust in email recipients. With the world evolving rapidly, bad actors are bound to thrive, finding innovative ways to distribute harmful content, even with the industry’s efforts to preserve a positive ecosystem. These growing threats have recently led Mailbox providers like Gmail and Yahoo to update their email sender guidelines.
Gmail and Yahoo have shared that they will mandate email authentication for bulk senders. All bulk senders must implement either SPF or DKIM; otherwise, messages will be rejected or marked as spam.
Both ISPs have also confirmed that all bulk senders must have one-click easy unsubscription processes and clear spam rate thresholds that senders must stay under. Gmail’s requirement will go into effect in February of 2024, and Yahoo plans to implement these changes in the first quarter of 2024. These new requirements by Gmail and Yahoo emphasize email authentication’s significance in safeguarding sending domains and preventing email abuse. Read more about the announcements from Google and Yahoo.
Email authentication can be tricky, but it’s essential if you don’t want your emails to wind up in the junk folder. Every sender wants their email to bypass spam filters and land in the inbox. But remember, email authentication alone is not a magic solution to guarantee the success of your email marketing. The goal is to implement email authentication in conjunction with sending best practices to boost your email deliverability and enhance your reputation.
Are you authenticating your emails? If not, talk to our deliverability experts to see how we can help. You will find our team ready and deeply committed to your email deliverability health to get the best email marketing ROI.
Hiba Khaleel is a deliverability analyst on the Inboxable team. Hiba brings her years of experience in client management and data-driven solutions to her current role, where she helps her clients achieve email marketing success. Her passion is optimizing deliverability rates for maximum impact. Hiba specializes in monitoring and optimizing email campaigns, authentication protocols, data analysis and mitigating risks related to email deliverability. She enjoys spending her free time on long walks and road trips with her family.