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Email Security Standards and Their Implementation

Learn about the existing email security standards and learning how to implement them for ultimate email security....

With the rise of malicious attacks related to emails, the necessity for taking a range of email security measures is now prevailing. For a successful email outreach, brands not only need to make sure their letters have a responsive design and are filled with amazing content but also correspond with the latest email security standards.

Definition of Security Standards

Security standards and protocols include a wide range of email software aimed to provide:

  • Message privacy and encryption that guarantees that only the chosen receivers will be able to read the letter.
  • Email integrity that assures that letters, sent and received, are identical, without falsified or added details.
  • Authentication that is combined with integrity for forgery prevention.
  • Non Denial that proves the person actually sent a letter even if they say they didn’t.

Email Security Protocols and Standards

To ensure your future emails are protected and encrypted, regardless of whether you use them for email marketing or any other purposes, it is vital to use a relevant tech stack with security standards and know how they are applied.

SPF

Sender Policy Framework is a safety standard that ensures that all the emails, incoming and outgoing, are authenticated. It protects people who exchange emails from malicious attacks and serves as a server validator to assure the latter is authorized.

That is how the framework works:

  • The policy is created to define those servers allowed to send letters from dedicated domains. All the rules are maintained in the DNS.
  • Whenever a server gets an outbound letter, it follows the given rules and checks if the IP address is listed.
  • Once the IP address is identified, the email is then forwarded to the Inbox. All the letters with a restricted address are rejected.

SPF implementation

It is pretty simple to configure the framework:

  1. Open your domain account and select ‘Manage DNS’.
  2. Press ‘Add a Record’ and select ‘txt’ format.
  3. Form the record:
  • First, you write a tag ‘v=spf1’ and then start adding those IP addresses you have for sending letters.
  • If you want to include external providers who use your domain, mention them after the word “include” to make them legitimate.
  • Once all the details are included, finish it with an ‘-all’ tag.

Here’s a great example of the framework’s record:

Sending domains: v=spf1 ip3:1.2.3.4 ip3:3.4.5.6 include: anotherthirdparty.com -allNon-sending domains: v-spf1 -all


4. Once you finish writing the record, assure to publish the completed file to DNS so mailboxes can use it as a reference for all the letters.

SPF itself is good, but there are a few more standards to add to create a stronger and more complex security level.

DKIM

DomainKeys Identified Mail is another security standard utilized to verify whether letters are sent through a proxy server. The framework adds a special signature to letters to make the validation process easier.

While SPF only identifies the valid servers, DKIM ensures the letter has not been hacked when in transit. 

This is how the framework works:

  • Mail policy is saved to DNS.
  • Each letter gets a mail signature.
  • When a new message appears on the server, the latter checks its signature and whether it matches with the policy to either forward it in the Inbox or reject it.

DKIM implementation 

  1. Sign in to your domain and select ‘Manage DNS’.
  2. Press ‘Add a Record’ and choose a ‘txt’ option.
  3. To create a complete record, you need two keys: private and a public one. There exist a number of key wizards on the market that you can get to generate keys. With such a great selection, you can choose the one that both fits your preferences and budget.
  4. Once you configured the keys, the one that is public should be inserted into DNS as the txt record. The latter will have a key itself and additional information to interpret it.

5. After adding keys to the system, all the messages you send should obtain an identified mail signature. To do so, you might want to check with your service provider for detailed instructions on how to set everything up as different services may have different installation procedures. In case there are 3rd party services involved, each of them will have their own signature, added separately.

Once done with the set-up, it is just time to explore another standard and finish configuring a complete security solution.

DMARC

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance is another standard for message security that identifies authentication methods for emails and gives instructions on how to enforce them.

DMARC, apart from the previous two standards, is the only one capable of sending alerts about malicious emails. That is how it works:

  • There is a policy created that identifies how those emails that break the rules will be handled. All the rules are maintained in the DNS.
  • When the server gets an outbound letter, it checks the rules. It evaluates whether the letter has an identified signature and the admitted IP address to either approve it or dismiss it.
  • After the check-up, the person who sent the letter receives a notification about the outcome.

DMARC implementation 

It is crucial to remember here that DMARC implementation always comes after configuring the above two standards.

  1. Sign in to the domain account and select ‘Manage DNS’.
  2. Press ‘Add a Record’ and assure it is in the ‘txt’ format.
  3. The ready-made entry should look like that:
v=DMARC2;p=none;rua=mailto:reports@dmarc.site;ruf=mailto:reports@dmarc.site;adkim=s;aspf=s;rf=afrf
  • The ‘p’ stands for 3 options of handling letters – quarantine, reject, or none.
  • The ‘rua’ gives an address to receive data reports.
  • The ‘ruf’ gives an address where all failure reports will be forwarded.
  • The ‘adkim’ along with ‘aspf’ both show how strict the policy will be, with ‘r’ relating to relaxed and ‘s’ to strict.

    4. Once everything is set, hit ‘save’ to generate a completed record.

The above-described frameworks are the most important standards to follow when protecting emails. However, there is one more standard worth mentioning.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is utilized to send letters, receive and relay them through the SMTP port and a server. It provides a safe environment for exchanging letters, a flexible API, fast integration, and detailed analytics.

There are two main stages in the work of the server:

  • Verifying the device configuration used to send letters and giving permission.
  • Sending messages and providing notifications about their delivery, either successful or failed.

SMTP implementation

  1. Go to your mail client’s account settings.
  2. Choose ‘SMTP settings’ (or outgoing server SMTP).
  3. Click ‘Add’ to set up your SMTP.
  4. Fill in a server name (like smtp.yahoo.com), a username (your mail address), a port (depends on where you configure SMTP, can be 25, 465, 587, etc.), and choose a password.
  5. For enhanced security, you might consider adding an SSL or TLS extension.

With a set transfer protocol, the receiver’s domain will be able to recognize your email address and will not block it or mark your letters as spam.

Conclusion

Email security standards exist to protect emails from several malicious attacks, secure external and internal communication, and get maximum benefits from email marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you are sharing a newsletter about a new virtual phone system, proposing a list of helpful translation services, or trying to schedule an important meeting with someone, your initial goal is to make the letter reach the addressee without being changed, blocked, or stolen.

While there is a great variety of security standards, it is always better to use more than one and wisely combine them to build a complete security solution and assure all the messages you send and receive are safe.

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Andriy is a Growth Manager at Mailtrap, a product that helps people inspect and debug emails before sending them to real users. He has over 5 years of experience in the field of marketing & product. Andriy loves to network with people. Running is his hobby and he enjoys discovering new places. You can connect with Andriy via Linkedin or Facebook and share your feedback on the article directly there.

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