Forbes Technology Council | An Executive Guide To Email Hygiene: Secure Communication And Boost Business Value

Originally posted on Forbes here

Written by Michael Arcamone, Founder and CEO of InQuest

In today’s digital world, email remains a crucial channel for businesses to communicate with clients, partners and employees. At the same time, cybercriminals realize this and place significant focus on exploiting this channel to conduct attack campaigns against businesses of all types and sizes.

Depending on what report you read, over 90% of data breaches are the result of a phishing email. Ensuring the security and authenticity of these email communications is vital for maintaining trust, protecting your organization’s reputation, generating business value and preserving revenue.

Here, I aim to provide executives with an overview of email hygiene and the essential protocols that help secure their email communications: DKIM, SPF, DMARC, BIMI and MTA-STS, as well as the potential impact on their organization’s bottom line if they fail to implement these safeguards.

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail)

DKIM is an email authentication protocol that uses cryptographic signatures to verify the integrity and authenticity of an email. It confirms that the email was sent by an authorized server on behalf of your domain and has not been tampered with during transit. Implementing DKIM enhances your organization’s email security and reputation, reducing the likelihood of your messages being categorized as spam or ignored and giving recipients greater confidence in the legitimacy of emails originating from your domain.

SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF helps prevent email spoofing and phishing attacks by allowing domain owners to specify which mail servers are authorized to send emails on their behalf. The SPF record, published as a TXT record in the domain name system (DNS), contains a list of authorized IP addresses or hostnames.

When an email is sent, the receiving mail server checks the SPF record of the sender’s domain and compares the sender’s IP address against it, helping to verify the legitimacy of the email and reducing the risk of fraudulent emails from a specific domain.

DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting And Conformance)

DMARC builds upon the foundations of DKIM and SPF, allowing domain owners to specify how receiving mail servers should handle unauthenticated messages. It provides a reporting mechanism that enables domain owners to monitor and analyze their email traffic, identify potential security threats and adjust their email authentication policies accordingly. Implementing DMARC enhances your organization’s email security by reducing the risk of email spoofing and phishing attacks that could damage your brand and credibility.

BIMI (Brand Indicators For Message Identification)

BIMI is an emerging email authentication standard that allows organizations to display their brand logo alongside authenticated emails in recipients’ inboxes. By combining DMARC, DKIM and SPF, BIMI helps to reinforce your organization’s identity, enhancing trust and brand recognition. Implementing BIMI can improve email deliverability and engagement rates, while providing a visual cue that helps recipients easily identify legitimate messages from your organization.

MTA-STS (Mail Transfer Agent Strict Transport Security)

MTA-STS is an email security protocol that enforces the use of secure, encrypted connections between mail servers when exchanging emails. By implementing MTA-STS, your organization can mitigate the risk of email interception and protect sensitive information from being exposed during transit. This protocol is especially important for organizations that handle confidential, sensitive or proprietary data, helping them to ensure that email communications remain secure and compliant with relevant regulations.

Business Impact And Value

Adopting these email authentication and security protocols not only enhances your organization’s cybersecurity posture but also contributes to tangible business benefits. By implementing these protocols, organizations can expect the following positive impacts.

1. Improved Email Deliverability: Authenticating your organization’s email increases the likelihood that your messages reach recipients’ inboxes, avoiding spam filters or being blocked by email providers. This improves the effectiveness of your communication, marketing and sales efforts, potentially leading to increased revenue.

2. Enhanced Brand Reputation And Trust: By securing your email communications, your organization demonstrates a commitment to cybersecurity and protecting sensitive information. This fosters trust with clients, partners and employees, enhancing your brand reputation and customer loyalty.

3. Reduced Risk Of Phishing And Spoofing Attacks: The implementation of email authentication protocols on emails delivered from external senders helps protect your organization from cyber threats such as phishing and spoofing attacks. These attacks can lead to financial losses, reputational damage and compromised data. By mitigating these risks, your organization can save on potential costs related to security breaches, data loss and remediation efforts.

4. Increased Customer Engagement: By using BIMI to display your brand logo in recipients’ inboxes, you provide an additional layer of visual trust and recognition, making it easier for customers to identify legitimate emails from your organization. This can lead to increased customer engagement, higher email open rates and improved conversion rates for your marketing campaigns.

5. Compliance With Industry Regulations: Ensuring secure and encrypted email communication can help your organization meet regulatory requirements and industry best practices, such as GDPR, HIPAA or PCI DSS. This reduces the risk of noncompliance penalties and demonstrates a commitment to protecting customer and partner data.

Bottom Line

Maintaining robust email hygiene is essential for organizations to protect their reputation, brand and sensitive data from a variety of threats targeting email. By implementing and combining these email authentication protocols, you can significantly enhance the security and deliverability of your organization’s email communications while generating tangible business value.

As an executive, understanding these protocols and investing in their implementation will contribute to the overall cybersecurity posture, trust and success of your business.