What’s the Difference Between SPF and DKIM?

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The inception of modern email was both exciting and problematic. We don’t have to tell you the kind of positive impact email has had on society, but it came with a lot of security risks as well. Email is in its hundreds of thousands of years old, and in all that time one thing has remained constant: if you receive an email from someone, there’s no easy way to tell whether the information in the message is accurate. Maybe your friend really did send that chain letter; or perhaps their account was compromised. A new generation of email security has emerged in the last few years with the ability to provide greater assurances for recipients that their email is arriving intact, and that it’s actually coming from the stated sender. This generation is composed of two systems: Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) and Sender Policy Framework (SPF). Whether you’re managing large organization with thousands of domains or an individual with a few websites, DKIM and SPF are critical to any email security program. This strategic white paper provides strategic guidance for enterprise administrators and mid-level staff on how to set up, maintain and troubleshoot DKIM and SPF for maximum security

What Is DKIM?

DKIM helps to protect your domain by validating the From email address against the actual sending IP of the message, ensuring that your mail is legitimate. This means it can help reduce spam complaints and susceptibility to phishing attacks. It also aims to eliminate any potential for spoofing of emails from your domain. It's a security standard used to verify the authenticity of an email message. This doesn't necessarily mean that the message was sent by the person who appears to have sent it, but it does mean that the sender wasn't simply pretending to be someone else. For instance, if someone were to use your name as an email address or forge your company's domain name and send emails from this fake address, DKIM would be able to identify this fraudulent activity and let the receiving mail servers know.

DomainKeys Identified Mail, or DKIM, is a method to verify that an email message has been sent by a validly-configured email server. It does this by generating a digital signature tied to a specific domain that can be validated using a public key published in the DNS records for that domain. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an email validation process that adds a digital signature to company emails to detect spoofing. It prevents outsiders from sending out emails with forged sender information. Another lesser-known benefit that DKIM offers is that ISPs, like Gmail, can use this information to build a reputation score for your domain.

If you’ve got top-notch sending practices such as high engagement, low spam, and minimal bounces, you’ll get a higher score, which improves your trust and reputation with ISPs. If you’ve scored low with poor practices, it’s less likely your emails will be delivered correctly, almost guaranteeing that they’ll end up in that lowly spam folder nobody checks.

What Is SPF?

The Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an email validation method designed to detect when your domain name is being used in fraudulent or malicious ways. SPF allows you to specify in your domain's DNS records which mail servers are permitted to send email on your behalf, and therefore decreases the likelihood of receiving fake or fraudulent emails. Many mail servers permit relaying mail that is addressed to your domain. When your domain has an SPF record, a message coming from a different host can be routed through your server without concern that the message may be considered “spam” by other mail receivers.

SPF is short for Sender Policy Framework, and it’s an email authentication standard used by email servers to check on the legitimacy of the sender of an email. You see, there isn’t an accurate way to verify the identity of the people on one side of an email exchange. Is it really you on the other end—or someone pretending to be you? SPF prevents this kind of impersonation by creating a DNS record that publishes your legitimate domain’s allowed sender addresses.

What’s the Difference Between SPF and DKIM?

DKIM is a way to vouch for the legitimacy of an email. SPF is perhaps better known as it’s the first type of check performed, but DKIM does exist on top of that to further ensure that your domain hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands. It’s best to know about both of these methods before sending any sort of message with your domains name on it. DKIM is a set of keys that tell IPs you’re the original sender and nobody fraudulently intercepted your email.

Knowing how to evaluate DKIM and SPF signatures isn’t crucial unless you’re planning on implementing it yourself, but it is useful to know when you’re reading or writing email, or communicating with people who are using either feature. Lastly, it never hurts to be extra vigilant about verifying important emails are authentic. If you want to dig in deeper about DKIM and SPF, hover over the tabs below to find out more information. The importance of SPF and DKIM, many brands and organizations don’t properly configure them.

Among those that do, there is a great deal of confusion about how to choose the right parameters. Setting up SPF and DKIM correctly is essential for proper email delivery. With help from Microsoft, we’ve compiled this executive overview on these two protocols–what they do and how they work–in order to help you avoid common mistakes and decide which approach is best for your business.

Why Are DKIM and SPF Important for Cold Email?

When communicating with prospects and communicating marketing messages online, your domain’s reputation is everything. To make sure your messages and assets get to the inbox and not the spam folder, set up SPF and DKIM on all of your domains. Whenever you send an email from your domain, SPF ensures that it comes from a server that has been authorized to send email for that domain. DKIM gives you more credibility by adding a digital signature to messages.

This way if anyone attempts to tamper with the content, it will be visible in the message headers and consequently not deliverable. SPF and DKIM work together to prove that an email is really from the domain it claims to be from. SPF is a DNS record verified by your Domain Name Server (DNS) that lets Google know which messages sent from your domain should be considered legitimate. DKIM uses cryptography to add a digital signature to messages when they are sent. This signature is validated by DKIM when the mail lands in your inbox.


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