Email security is of utmost importance for any business today. Email continues to remain the primary means of business communication, and as such, the concerns regarding unwanted spam emails, email spoofing, phishing, and other email attacks are justified. Email authentication standards, such as SPF, are the best tool in any organization’s arsenal against email threats. And paired with DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance), SPF can create a shield around your domain to protect you from advanced email threats. Let us see how SPF protects against spam and phishing.
Why do Organizations Need SPF?
Emails follow the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) specified in RFC 821. RFC is the technical and organizational document space that provides detailed specifications for Internet Standards. However, with the advanced email attacks and spoofing tactics, SMTP fails organizations as it offers no security features and relies on additional protocols for email security such as TLS (Transport Layer Security) for encrypting emails, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) for decryption, encryption, and authentication, and similar ones.
Emails may be encrypted, but they are not from authentic sources every time. You cannot check the same as email protocols do not provide validation mechanisms to check if a server is authorized to send emails from the email-sending domain. Furthermore, there is also a need for an email validation tool that does not affect email deliverability, which is why SPF has become an ideal tool for protection against various email threats.
How does SPF Protect Organizations?
SPF protects organizations against spam, phishing, and spoofing. These attacks occur when there is an absence of an email security protocol.
- Email Spam: Spam emails are unwanted email conversations that may be promotions for products, scams, surveys, and more. Threat actors employ spam emails to gather information about an organization’s email infrastructure and disrupt email services.
- Email Spoofing: Email spoofing is a part of BEC (Business Email Compromise) and whaling phishing attacks to compromise businesses and target the C-Suite. Cybercriminals use email spoofing to disguise themselves and convince recipients that the email is from an authentic source.
- Phishing: Phishing is the most common cyberattack where threat actors send social engineering emails to manipulate victims. These emails are accompanied by URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) to fake web pages and portals to steal credentials and sensitive or financial information.
The combination of SPF, DKIM, and DMARC is the weapon organizations can employ to improve email security and deliverability. But before we get into how SPF protects against spam and phishing, let us see what SPF is.
SPF stands for Sender Policy Framework, a protocol defined by RFC 7208. SPF, along with DKIM and DMARC, are email authentication and protection mechanisms that allow any organization to:
- Identify authenticated mail sending servers for any domain, subdomain, or hostname with the help of SPF records.
- Include digital signatures in outgoing emails using DKIM.
- Notifying recipient servers how to proceed if any email is received from unauthorized servers or when the DKIM signature is absent.
How Does SPF Work?
Domain owners use SPF to specify particular email servers they send emails from so threat artists cannot spoof the sender information. SPF is like a public list that allows individuals to know where your organization sends its mail from. Suppose the email does not match that list; recipients can tell that the email is fake and not from your organization, thus protecting them.
SPF plays a key role in email security and improves email deliverability and domain reputation. SPF records also protect against email spoofing and phishing attacks by verifying the email’s sender’s IP (Internet Protocol) address with the domain’s owner.
How does SPF Protect Against Email Spam and Phishing?
SPF resolves various issues while dealing with emails and protections against spam, spoofing, and phishing. SPF records and provides the following information by working with DKIM and DMARC:
- Checks Authorized Sender: SPF records identify domain names and use the IP addresses of email servers authorized to send emails from the particular domain.
- Indicates Next Steps: In case the sender is not authorized, DMARC records specify the next course of action based on the SPF record for the domain. You can allow these emails to be delivered, i.e., accepted as pass SPF, not delivered, i.e., rejected, accepted but tagged, or accepted as neither pass nor fail SPF.
- Individual Email Authentication: After these two, DKIM records come into play, providing a public key to recipient organizations and allowing them to authenticate individual emails.
SPF is specified as DNS (Domain Name System) TXT records. Using SPF, DKIM, and DMARC in DNS records allows organizations to flag all suspecting emails that may include spam, spoofed, or phishing emails.
How can Organizations Implement SPF?
Organizations using ESPs (Email Service Providers) should ensure that the provider implements SPF. Most ESPs worldwide rely on SPF, DKIM, and DMARC already to reduce email spoofing, email forgery, spam, and other malicious emails.
For organizations that own a domain, you should roll out SPF, DKIM, and DMARC by publishing DNS TXT records for each of these protocols and configuring email servers to accept and take actions per the policies specified.
Here are the steps to create your SPF record:
· Collect all IPs used to send email
· Make a list of your sending domains
· Create an SPF record and publish it to the DNS
SPF is an important tool in any organization’s arsenal. Now that you know how SPF functions and improves email security and deliverability by protecting against spam, phishing, and other email threats, it is time to implement SPF for your organization. We recommend deploying DKIM and DMARC protocols with SPF as it would allow you to define policies for email recipients and enhance your organization’s image and email security.