7 min.

Why are abuse attempts on the rise? Because, right now, the recipients are more vulnerable. Let’s look at the steps companies can take and the advantages of DKIM, DMARC, and—in the future—BIMI systems.

Cybercriminals always try to exploit tough times to convey their frauds, be it phishingscams, or other types of abuse. The weeks we’ve been experiencing are indeed no exception.

What’s the basis for this “momentum” of cybercriminals? They hope that a reception filter will loosen up during these weeks, which is a baseless hypothesis, and that the recipients will become more vulnerable and inclined to interact with the communications in their inbox.

This second hypothesis is actually founded, as shown in our previous blog post. There, we reported how March opening rates and clicks were significantly higher than the averages for the rest of the year.

We have always been at the forefront of the fight against all kinds of abuse by e-mail by adding to the discussion and doing everything in our power to prevent the spread of fraudulent communications. Today, we want to give you a more precise idea of what phishing attempts look like, plus some indications on how to stand up against cybercrime.

MailUp has built solid, global relationships with ISPs and blacklists over the years. We all constantly share information on policies, practices, and issues. Anyone wishing to help MailUp provide a better service or to collaborate is welcome. Please, write us at abuse@mailup.com.

Phishing cases reported during the current emergency

We’ve became aware of numerous abuse attempts, even if they didn’t affect the MailUp infrastructure. These can be grouped into two macro categories:

1. Phishing attempts disguised as institutional communications. You will find several examples of such attempts in this post.

2. Malware transmitted via a site similar to the Johns Hopkins University infection map.

Our SpamHaus friends summarized the general situation in this blog post.

Best practices to defend yourself against phishing

Albeit with the awareness thatphishing cannot be fully resolved, let’s glance at best practices that can discourage (if not even prevent) this type of problem:

  1. Always try to make your brand identity recognizable in the messages you send. This may seem trivial but it is not: those who do phishing, even if they try to replicate your logo, can never 100% copy all the details that are part of your digital identity.
  2. Do not use “lookalike” or “cousin” domains in your official communications. If recipients can expect communications from domains such as “brandname-email.com”, then they could mistakenly consider legitimate domains that aren’t (e.g. “brand-name-email.com” or “brandname-mail.com”). Always use your domain and, if you would like to differentiate the flows, adopt subdomains (email.brandname.com), as indicated in the best practices published by the M3AAWG.
  3. Be aware of which domain is used in the DKIM signature and, if possible, try to align this domain with the one you use as the sender.
  4. Publish an appropriate DMARC policy (quarantine / reject) to safeguard the reputation of your domains. Although attackers will continue to use similar domains, their chances of deceiving recipients will be significantly reduced. Further, this will make you ready to make the best use of the news of the E-mail Marketing ecosystem (BIMI, for example) in the future.

Are you wondering what the DKIM, DMARC, and BIMI abbreviations mean? Let’s shed some light on this.

Authentications: what they are and what they’re for

DKIM

DKIM (acronym for DomainKeys Identified Mail) is an e-mail authentication system. By adding an encrypted signature, it makes receivers able to verify whether the message has been altered, at least in its fundamental fields, between sending and receiving.

Namely, our public key DKIM must be added to your web domain settings and a specific signature is added to all the e-mails we send for you.
The encryption of this signature is based on some elements of each sent e-mail and is, therefore, unique for each message. When analyzing your e-mail, the receiving mail server will decrypt the signature with the aforementioned public key. It will then generate a new hash string based on the same elements. The e-mail will be considered DKIM-authenticated, if there’s a match between the decrypted signature and the new hash string. Here’s a DKIM signature example:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; s=transactional; d=mailup.com;
h=From:To:Date:Subject:MIME-Version:Content-Type:List-Id:List-Unsubscribe:Message-ID; i=news-it@mailup.com;
bh=eFMbGLxi/7mcdDRUg+V0yHUTmA1F4EXExVBQxIxBr2I=;
b=ra3pGFHHvCr9OZsm9vnOid……..Yj00/+nTKs=

If the message has a valid signature (i.e., not manipulated), then the signing domain—identified by the d=tag—will communicate who you are to the receivers that will then handle the mail accordingly. The reputation assessment systems of the main Mailbox Providers have increasingly given weight to this identifier compared to others (e.g. the IP). Nowadays, some providers (such as Gmail) allow for monitoring the reputation based on this identifier. In short, this has become a mandatory element for communication delivering.

DKIM configuration occurs through the configuration of DNS records. This is not a difficult operation. However, it’s impossible to have a standard personalized signature for all customers precisely because having a DKIM signature is mandatory.

For this reason, all major ESPs use one or more signatures of their service domains. This grants a best practice compliance but produces a sort of “shared reputation” among all customers in that cluster. Now, this may not be optimal in certain cases (especially if some customers have much larger volumes or perform lower than others).

For this reason, the MailUp platform offers the chance to use your own domain as a DKIM signature. We are available to all customers through our deliverability consultancy for those who seek further information or require help in configuring DKIM records. 

Protect your mailings

Not a MailUp customer yet? Contact us

DMARC

Essentially, DMARC allows a domain owner, who is also the sender of e-mail messages, to ask e-mail providers not to deliver unauthorized messages that appear to come from their domain. As you may have guessed, this is a useful mechanism to prevent phishing and spoofing attacks.

From a technical point of view, DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) is a DKIM and SPF authentication-based system that helps the receiving servers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Libero, etc.) know what to do when a message can’t be authenticated. To do so, it allows the e-mail sender to publish a “policy” to instruct the receiving servers on how to manage any authentication problems. Further, DMARC provides a reporting mechanism for the actions taken, based on the policy. This way, it coordinates the results of DKIM and SPF and specifies under which circumstances the sender e-mail address, which is often visible to the final recipient, can be considered legitimate.

Financial institutions and other companies subject to phishing and spoofing attacks can best protect themselves by implementing a DMARC policy.

Incorrectly configuring a DMARC record can have a substantially negative effect on deliverability, not only for e-mails sent through us but also for all communications sent by a DMARC-enabled domain (e.g. employees’ e-mails to external receivers). Meaning, we recommend that you consult a deliverability expert for a DMARC policy proper implementation.

BIMI

BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification) represents the near future of E-mail Marketing.

Currently, it has been adopted only by the Verizon Media Group (in other words, Yahoo! & AOL) but with a commitment by Google. BIMI is a vendor-independent standard that allows brands to display their verified logo in the recipient’s inbox for fully authenticated e-mails (DMARC).

BIMI encourages major brands to adopt adequate e-mail authentication, particularly DMARC, when they send mass messages to consumers. Senders who commit to implementing DMARC are rewarded with the display of their logo. This enhances both recognition and trust.

In summary

As you may have noticed, our advice is to take control ahead of time. We’re sure that this series of implementations is destined to bear fruit in terms of abuse protection and sending quality.

In fact, just sending is not enough. Spam, outdated databases, and wrong settings can reduce the delivery rate and damage your brand’s reputation. To protect yourself from risks you can count on the Deliverability Suite services. Its customized configurations and constant monitoring will always keep your deliverability safe.

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