5 Tips and Best Practices to Verify Email Sender Identity

Learn the greatest threats to your email communications and how to better verify email sender identity to protect your business and customers.
lookalike example

There is one unifying factor common to 89% of phishing scams: The sender of the email almost always hides behind a fake identity, typically impersonating a brand or a specific person to trick users into trusting the message. This is why verifying and validating sender identity is so integral to the fundamental mechanisms and advancement of email security.  

Let’s dive into the three fundamentals you need to understand about sender identity and the role it plays in phishing. 

What Is Email Sender Identity?

Sender identity, aka who sent the email: Email sender information in the “From” field includes the sending domain name, email username, and sometimes the name of the person or generic account that the sender ties to this account, such as “John Smith” or “Amazon Tech Support.”

email sender identity

To date, the security industry has struggled to keep the lid on email fraud because it’s focused so heavily on understanding the content of email. But the more we double down on filters, link blacklisting, and other forms of content-based controls, the more the bad guys come up with new content variations that bypass these filters. 

And yet, most companies are not putting enough focus on strong sender identity policies—despite the fact that deceptive identity is the primary technique used by phishers. 

This mismatch between threat and response allows the majority of phishing attacks to reach users’ inboxes.

How Bad Actors Manipulate Sender Identity to Dupe Recipients

It’s surprisingly easy for attackers to manipulate the identity of an email. There are three ways this can be done: exact-domain spoofing, lookalike domains, and open signups.

Exact-domain spoofing 

With exact-domain spoofing, attackers appear as legitimate senders coming directly from the company’s own domain. In other words, they simply put an actual company email address in the “From” field of the phishing message. For most domains, this will be delivered in exactly the same way a legitimate message is, no matter where it was actually sent from.

exact domain example

Lookalike domains 

Attackers don’t necessarily have to spoof the exact domain to hit their target. Many use lookalike or cousin domains to get a “close enough” counterfeit of a brand or person’s email identity. For example, they may be able to trick plenty of users simply by registering something like w1dgets.com or wdgets.com to pass off as widgets.com.

This frequently works because of the way humans process information — filling in numbers and letters smoothly and unconsciously when they scan a word with missing or transposed letters. 

lookalike example

Open signups that use a recognizable name 

Another effective and simple method attackers use to fake sender identity is the open-signup attack. Also known as a “friendly-from” attack, this technique uses a generic email account on any number of trusted cloud email providers, while assigning a “safe” looking fake display name to that address.

How to Better Verify Email Sender Identity

1. Implement DMARC, SPF, and DKIM

  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance): DMARC guarantee that emails align with established policies and provides visibility into unauthorized use of your domain. By setting up DMARC, you can specify how your domain handles emails that fail SPF or DKIM checks.
  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework): SPF allows domain owners to specify which IP addresses are allowed to send email on behalf of their domain. It helps prevent attackers from sending emails from unauthorized IP addresses.
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail): DKIM adds a digital signature to your emails, allowing recipients to verify that the email hasn’t been altered in transit and that it indeed comes from your domain.

2. Use Advanced Email Filtering Solutions

Deploy advanced email filtering solutions that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze and identify suspicious patterns and anomalies in email sender information. These solutions can detect subtle variations and inconsistencies that might indicate a phishing attempt.

3. Regularly Monitor DMARC Reports

Regularly review DMARC aggregate reports (RUA) to gain insights into who is sending email on behalf of your domain. These reports can help you identify unauthorized senders and take corrective actions to mitigate the risk of email spoofing.

4. Use Email Authentication Services

Consider using specialized email authentication services that provide comprehensive management and monitoring of your email authentication protocols. These services can help double-check that your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records are correctly configured and enforced.

5. Conduct Security Audits

Perform regular security audits of your email infrastructure to identify and address vulnerabilities related to email sender identity. These audits should include a review of your email authentication practices and an assessment of your overall email security posture.

Verify Sender Identity with Valimail

Implementing strong email authentication measures like DMARC, SPF, and DKIM, and leveraging advanced filtering and monitoring solutions reduces the risk of fraudulent emails reaching your users.

Valimail is here to help. Our comprehensive email authentication solutions simplify the process of verifying sender identity to guarantee only legitimate emails reach your customers’ inboxes.

Sign up for a free demo today to learn how Valimail can protect your business, customers, and brand reputation.

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