With technology making revolutionary advancements, the rate of cybercrime has subsequently increased in the last decade. With hackers coming up with new ways and means to trick company employees, to find a digital route into the company assets, basic knowledge on spoofing is not enough anymore.
Base-level education on email spoofing includes impersonation of an organization or executive by cyber attackers to get employees to disclose their confidential information like corporate ID or password. This information thus provided enables hackers to gain easy access into the company’s databases and accounts, draining their finances, and leaking valuable data.
As per a survey conducted by Forbes magazine on email spoofing statistics, cybercriminals send out around 1.3 Billion spoofing emails every single day. Cybersecurity analysts conducted detailed studies worldwide to disclose chilling statistics on email spoofing:
- 22% of all data breaches in 2019 were due to email spoofing.
- 88% of all organizations from 2019-2020 experienced phishing attacks due to spoofed email domains.
- 96% of all phishing attacks are carried out via email spoofing.
- 56% of all hackers rely more on stolen corporate credentials from employees tricked via spoofed email domains, than malware attacks.
Hackers are moderating methods to trick users, which goes beyond just impersonating the company’s executive email domain. Sometimes, employees may even receive an email from their own email address as cybercriminals try imitating the victim itself.
This has increased the chances of falling prey to phishing attacks, dispersing confidential information, and hampering security at your workplace.
How does Email Spoofing Take Place?
Hackers and cyber attackers take a corporate email ID and create a forged email address using that ID, to give the impression that the email has been sent the exact same email domain. Cybercriminals generally make use of weak links and vulnerabilities such as poor email domain authentication protocols in the company to forge emails.
Statistics disclose that around 40% of all leading organizations lack proper email domain authentication. Email domains generally operate via SMTP, which is the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, a communication protocol that enables the transfer of mail via digital platforms.
However, SMTP is not programmed with an automated email authentication mechanism. Cybercriminals exploit this vulnerability in order to create spoofed emails by making minor changes in the IP addresses that are very difficult to track by inexperienced people.
Scanning the operating system for viruses and malware and changing the password for your email address is a temporary solution and not an effective preventive measure.
Therefore, it becomes imperative to implement certain programs and mechanisms to ensure a well-rounded protocol for email domain authentication and nullify the chances of falling prey to a phishing attack.
Solutions for Protection Against Email Spoofing
SPF ( Sender Policy Framework)
SPF or sender policy framework is a coherent system for email authentication. SPF functions by confirming and checking the sender addresses before the email is redirected into the receiver’s inbox.
This way the authenticity of the email is confirmed by checking whether the domain that the email is being delivered from has a valid IP address.
How does it work?
The IP address is matched with the DNS records of all the email domains that the organization uses for transferring mails to their respective employees.
The DNS record contains a detailed list of all the valid IP addresses for a specific email domain used by the company for the exchange of official information and communication. While the SPF record enlists all the functional email domains used by the same. If the sent email fails to match the data present in the SPF record, it is automatically classified as a forged or spoofed email.
DKIM (Domain Key Identified Mail)
Domain Key Identified Mail is a unique authentication mechanism used to check email authenticity and reduce the chances of receiving spoofed emails. DKIM functions by using a cryptographic or signature-based tool to implement efficient email domain authorization.
This, in turn, ensures that during the entire route taken by the email, from the sender to the receiver, the features of the particular email have remained unaltered. It helps the recipient confirm whether the email has been sent from the valid source or has it been impersonating the mentioned source to conduct a phishing attack. This guarantees that the data is authentic, and it comes from an authorized source.
How does it work?
DKIM has access to the DNS TXT records of the email domains of the company. When an email enters the system it is assigned a unique identification key by this mechanism, which is verified against the public key in the DNS TXT records, after which a DKIM signature is included in the email header.
The records are updated from time to time on the basis of new senders, and an unlimited amount of data can be stored. When this email enters the receiver’s server, instantly, the DKIM signature is drawn out from the email header.
The header of the mail now contains the domain name as well as a selector that incorporates the signature ( public key) of that particular email in the DNS TXT record. The public key will then be used to validate whether the data in the email has remained unaltered, and hence check for authentication.
DMARC (Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance)
One of the most advanced methods implemented for email authentication is DMARC, which allows the receiver to know whether the received email is verified against the SPF and DKIM records. DMARC is a 21st-century tool which enables employees at organizations to detect spoofed emails going from their domain, independently.
DMARC is a comprehensive email authentication protocol, which keeps email domains secured by a step by step procedure for running a thorough scan on every aspect of the sender ID before the email lands in the receiver’s inbox.
How does it work?
After the email leaves the sender’s server, the SPF is verified via detailed checks run on the DNS records to match the sender’s email domain against all valid sources that the company can legally send emails via.
Furthermore, the assigned DKIM signature is also verified against the DNS records. Finally, the fate of the email depends upon the DMARC policy which can be set to “none”, “quarantine” and “ reject”.
In case of a none policy, the spoofed email lands in the inbox of the employee, in case of a quarantine policy the same is lodged into the spam box. If the DMARC policy is set to “reject”, the spoofed email is redirected into the trash bin.
A spoofed email is much more dangerous and harder to detect than a phished email since the email address in the former looks identical to the original email address. It is not possible for an employee to understand whether the received email is authentic or forged.
Therefore to gain protection from email spoofing and tackle phishing attacks, a well-rounded email authentication tool should be a part of your organization’s workplace security policy, to prevent emails from forged addresses from entering into your employees’ inboxes.