Post Syndicated from Bruno Giorgini original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/messaging-and-targeting/email-authenctication-dmarc-policy/
Amazon SES: Email Authentication and Getting Value out of Your DMARC Policy
For enterprises of all sizes, email is a critical piece of infrastructure that supports large volumes of communication. To enhance the security and trustworthiness of email communication, many organizations turn to email sending providers (ESPs) like Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES). These ESPs allow users to send authenticated emails from their domains, employing industry-standard protocols such as the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). Messages authenticated with SPF or DKIM will successfully pass your domain’s Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) policy. This blog post will focus on the DMARC policy enforcement mechanism. The blog will explore some of the reasons why email may fail DMARC policy evaluation and propose solutions to fix any failures that you identify. For an introduction to DMARC and how to carefully choose your email sending domain identity, you can refer to Choosing the Right Domain for Optimal Deliverability with Amazon SES The relationship between DMARC compliance and email deliverability rates is crucial for organizations aiming to maintain a positive sender reputation and ensure successful email delivery. There are many advantages when organizations have this correctly setup, these include:
- Improved Email Deliverability
- Reduction in Email Spoofing and Phishing
- Positive Sender Reputation
- Reduced Risk of Email Marked as Spam
- Better Email Engagement Metrics
- Enhanced Brand Reputation
With this foundation, let’s explore the intricacies of DMARC and how it can benefit your organization’s email communication.
What is DMARC?
DMARC is a mechanism for domain owners to advertise SPF and DKIM protection and to tell receivers how to act if those authentication methods fail. The domain’s DMARC policy protects your domain from third parties attempting to spoof the domain in the “From” header of emails. Malicious email messages that aim to send phishing attempts using your domain will be subject to DMARC policy evaluation, which may result in their quarantine or rejection by the email receiving organization. This stringent policy ensures that emails received by email recipients are genuinely from the claimed sending domain, thereby minimizing the risk of people falling victim to email-based scams. Domain owners publish DMARC policies as a TXT record in the domain’s
_dmarc.<domain> DNS record. For example, if the domain used in the “From” header is example.com, then the domain’s DMARC policy would be located in a DNS TXT record named _dmarc.example.com. The DMARC policy can have one of three policy modes:
- A typical DMARC deployment of an existing domain will start with publishing
"p=none". A none policy means that the domain owner is in a monitoring phase; the domain owner is monitoring for messages that aren’t authenticated with SPF and DKIM and seeks to ensure all email is properly authenticated
- When the domain owner is comfortable that all legitimate use cases are properly authenticated with SPF and/or DKIM, they may change the DMARC policy to
"p=quarantine". A quarantine policy means that messages which fail to produce a domain-aligned authenticated identifier via SPF or DKIM will be quarantined by the mail receiving organization. The mail receiving organization may filter these messages into Junk folders, or take another action that they feel best protects their recipients.
- Finally, domain owners who are confident that all of the legitimate messages using their domain are authenticated with SPF or DKIM, may change the DMARC policy to
"p=reject". A reject policy means that messages which fail to produce a domain-aligned authenticated identifier via SPF or DKIM will be rejected by the mail receiving organization.
The following are examples of a TXT record that contains a DMARC policy, depending on the desired policy (the ‘p’ tag):
This policy tells email providers to apply the DMARC policy to messages that fail to produce a DKIM or SPF authenticated identifier that is aligned to the domain in the “From” header. Alignment means that one or both of the following occurs:
- The messages pass the SPF policy for the MAIL FROM domain and the MAIL FROM domain is the same as the domain in the “From” header, or a subdomain. Reference Using a custom MAIL FROM domain to learn more about how to send SPF aligned messages with SES.
- The messages have a DKIM signature signed by a public key in DNS at a location within the domain of the “From” header. Reference Authenticating Email with DKIM in Amazon SES to learn more about how to send DKIM aligned messages with SES.
The rua tag in the domain’s DMARC policy indicates the location to which mail receiving organizations should send aggregate reports about messages that pass or fail SPF and DKIM alignment. Domain owners analyze these reports to discover messages which are using the domain in the “From” header but are not properly authenticated with SPF or DKIM. The domain owner will attempt to ensure that all legitimate messages are authenticated through analysis of the DMARC aggregate reports over time. Mail receiving organizations which support sending DMARC reports typically send these aggregated reports once per day, although these practices differ from provider to provider.
What does a typical DMARC deployment look like?
A DMARC deployment is the process of:
- Ensuring that all emails using the domain in the “From” header are authenticated with DKIM and SPF domain-aligned identifiers. Focus on DKIM as the primary means of authentication.
- Publishing a DMARC policy (none, quarantine, or reject) for the domain that reflects how the domain owner would like mail receiving organizations to handle unauthenticated email claiming to be from their domain.
New domains and subdomains
Deploying a DMARC policy is easy for organizations that have created a new domain or subdomain for the purpose of a new email sending use case on SES; for example email marketing, transaction emails, or one-time pass codes (OTP). These domains can start with the
"p=reject" DMARC enforcement policy because the policy will not affect existing email sending programs. This strict enforcement is to ensure that there is no unauthenticated use of the domain and its subdomains.
For existing domains, a DMARC deployment is an iterative process because the domain may have a history of email sending by one or multiple email sending programs. It is important to gain a complete understanding of how the domain and its subdomains are being used for email sending before publishing a restrictive DMARC policy (p=quarantine or p=reject) because doing so would affect any unauthenticated email sending programs using the domain in the “From” header of messages. To get started with the DMARC implementation, these are a few actions to take:
- Publish a p=none DMARC policy (sometimes referred to as monitoring mode), and set the rua tag to the location in which you would like to receive aggregate reports.
- Analyze the aggregate reports. Mail receiving organizations will send reports which contain information to determine if the domain, and its subdomains, are being used for sending email, and how the messages are (or are not) being authenticated with a DKIM or SPF domain-aligned identifier. An easy to use analysis tool is the Dmarcian XML to Human Converter.
- Avoid prematurely publishing a “p=quarantine” or “p=reject” policy. Doing so may result in blocked or reduced delivery of legitimate messages of existing email sending programs.
The image below illustrates how DMARC will be applied to an email received by the email receiving server and actions taken based on the enforcement policy:
Figure 1 – DMARC Flow
How do SPF and DKIM cause DMARC policies to pass
When you start sending emails using Amazon SES, messages that you send through Amazon SES automatically use a subdomain of amazonses.com as the default MAIL FROM domain. SPF evaluators will see that these messages pass the SPF policy evaluation because the default MAIL FROM domain has a SPF policy which includes the IP addresses of the SES infrastructure that sent the message. SPF authentication will result in an “SPF=PASS” and the authenticated identifier is the domain of the MAIL FROM address. The published SPF record applies to every message that is sent using SES regardless of whether you are using a shared or dedicated IP address. The amazonses.com SPF record lists all shared and dedicated IP addresses, so it is inclusive of all potential IP addresses that may be involved with sending email as the MAIL FROM domain. You can use ‘dig’ to look up the IP addresses that SES will use to send email:
dig txt amazonses.com | grep "v=spf1" amazonses.com. 850 IN TXT "v=spf1 ip4:188.8.131.52/22 ip4:184.108.40.206/22 ip4:220.127.116.11/18 ip4:18.104.22.168/20 ip4:22.214.171.124/20 ip4:126.96.36.199/19 ip4:188.8.131.52/20 ip4:184.108.40.206/19 ip4:220.127.116.11/19 ip4:18.104.22.168/22 ip4:22.214.171.124/19 -all"
Custom MAIL FROM domains
It is best practice for customers to configure a custom MAIL FROM domain, and not use the default amazonses.com MAIL FROM domain. The custom MAIL FROM domain will always be a subdomain of the customer’s verified domain identity. Once you configure the MAIL FROM domain, messages sent using SES will continue to result in an “SPF=PASS” as it does with the default MAIL FROM domain. Additionally, DMARC authentication will result in “DMARC=PASS” because the MAIL FROM domain and the domain in the “From” header are in alignment. It’s important to understand that customers must use a custom MAIL FROM domain if they want “SPF=PASS” to result in a “DMARC=PASS”.
For example, an Amazon SES-verified example.com domain will have the custom MAIL FROM domain “bounce.example.com”. The configured SPF record will be:
dig txt bounce.example.com | grep "v=spf1" "v=spf1 include:amazonses.com ~all"
Note: The chosen MAIL FROM domain could be any sub-domain of your choice. If you have the same domain identity configured in multiple regions, then you should create region-specific custom MAIL FROM domains for each region. e.g.
bounce-eu-west-2.example.comso that asynchronously bounced messages are delivered directly to the region from which the messages were sent.
DKIM results in DMARC pass
For customers that establish Amazon SES Domain verification using DKIM signatures, DKIM authentication will result in a DKIM=PASS, and DMARC authentication will result in “DMARC=PASS” because the domain that publishes the DKIM signature is aligned to the domain in the “From” header (the SES domain identity).
DKIM and SPF together
Email messages are fully authenticated when the messages pass both DKIM and SPF, and both DKIM and SPF authenticated identifiers are domain-aligned. If only DKIM is domain-aligned, then the messages will still pass the DMARC policy, even if the SPF “pass” is unaligned. Mail receivers will consider the full context of SPF and DKIM when determining how they will handle the disposition of the messages you send, so it is best to fully authenticate your messages whenever possible. Amazon SES has taken care of the heavy lifting of the email authentication process away from our customers, and so, establishing SPF, DKIM and DMARC authentication has been reduced to a few clicks which allows SES customers to get started easily and scale fast.
Why is DMARC failing?
There are scenarios when you may notice that messages fail DMARC, whether your messages are fully authenticated, or partially authenticated. The following are things that you should look out for:
Email Content Modification
Sometimes email content is modified during the delivery to the recipients’ mail servers. This modification could be as a result of a security device or anti-spam agent along the delivery path (for example: the message Subject may be modified with an “[EXTERNAL]” warning to recipients). The modified message invalidates the DKIM signature which causes a DKIM failure. Remember, the purpose of DKIM is to ensure that the content of an email has not been tampered with during the delivery process. If this happens, the DKIM authentication will fail with an authentication error similar to “DKIM-signature body hash not verified“.
- If you control the full path that the email message will traverse from sender to recipient, ensure that no intermediary mail servers modify the email content in transit.
- Ensure that you configure a custom MAIL FROM domain so that the messages have a domain-aligned SPF identifier.
- Keep the DMARC policy in monitoring mode (p=none) until these issues are identified/solved.
Email Forwarding There are multiple scenarios in which a message may be forwarded, and they may result in both/either SPF and DKIM failing to produce a domain-aligned authenticated identifier. For SPF, it means that the forwarding mail server is not listed in the MAIL FROM domain’s SPF policy. It is best practice for a forwarding mail server to avoid SPF failures and assume responsibility of mail handling for the messages it forwards by rewriting the MAIL FROM address to be in the domain controlled by the forwarding server. Forwarding servers that do not rewrite the MAIL FROM address pose a risk of impersonation attacks and phishing. Do not add the IP addresses of forwarding servers to your MAIL FROM domain’s SPF policy unless you are in complete control of all sources of mail being forwarded through this infrastructure. For DKIM, it means that the messages are being modified in some way that causes DKIM signature validation failure (see Email Content Modification section above). A responsible forwarding server will rewrite the MAIL FROM domain so that the messages pass SPF with a non-aligned authenticated identifier. These servers will attempt to forward the message without alteration in order to preserve DKIM signatures, but that is sometimes challenging to do in practice. In this scenario, since the messages carry no domain-aligned authenticated identifier, the messages will fail the DMARC policy.
- Email forwarding is an expected type of failure of which you will see in the DMARC aggregate reports. The domain owner must weigh the risk of causing forwarded messages to be rejected against the risk of not publishing a reject DMARC policy. Reference 8.6. Interoperability Considerations. Forwarding servers that wish to forward messages that they know will result in a DMARC failure will commonly rewrite the “From” header address of messages it forwards so that the messages pass a DMARC policy for a domain that the forwarding server is responsible for. The way to identify forwarding servers that rewrite the “From” header in this situation is to publish “p=quarantine pct=0 t=y” in your domain’s DMARC policy before publishing “p=reject”.
Multiple email sending providers are sending using the same domain
Multiple email sending providers: There are situations where an organization will have multiple business units sending email using the same domain, and these business units may be using an email sending provider other than SES. If neither SPF nor DKIM is configured with domain-alignment for these email sending providers, you will see DMARC failures in the DMARC aggregate report.
- Analyze the DMARC aggregate reports to identify other email sending providers, track down the business units responsible for each email sending program, and follow the instructions offered by the email sending provider about how to configure SPF and DKIM to produce a domain-aligned authenticated identifier.
What does a DMARC aggregate report look like?
The following XML example shows the general format of a DMARC aggregate report that you will receive from participating email service providers.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?> <feedback> <report_metadata> <org_name>email-service-provider-domain.com</org_name> <email>[email protected]</email> <extra_contact_info>https://email-service-provider-domain.com/> <report_id>620501112281841510</report_id> <date_range> <begin>1685404800</begin> <end>1685491199</end> </date_range> </report_metadata> <policy_published> <domain>example.com</domain> <adkim>r</adkim> <aspf>r</aspf> <p>none</p> <sp>none</sp> <pct>100</pct> </policy_published> <record> <row> <source_ip>192.0.2.10</source_ip> <count>1</count> <policy_evaluated> <disposition>none</disposition> <dkim>pass</dkim> <spf>fail</spf> </policy_evaluated> </row> <identifiers> <header_from>example.com</header_from> </identifiers> <auth_results> <dkim> <domain>example.com</domain> <result>pass</result> <selector>gm5h7da67oqhnr3ccji35fdskt</selector> </dkim> <dkim> <domain>amazonses.com</domain> <result>pass</result> <selector>224i4yxa5dv7c2xz3womw6peua</selector> </dkim> <spf> <domain>amazonses.com</domain> <result>pass</result> </spf> </auth_results> </record> </feedback>
How to address DMARC deployment for domains confirmed to be unused for email (dangling or otherwise)
Deploying DMARC for unused or dangling domains is a proactive step to prevent abuse or unauthorized use of your domain. Once you have confirmed that all subdomains being used for sending email have the desired DMARC policies, you can publish a ‘p=reject’ tag on the organizational domain, which will prevent unauthorized usage of unused subdomains without the need to publish DMARC policies for every conceivable subdomain. For more advanced subdomain policy scenarios, read the “tree walk” definitions in https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-ietf-dmarc-dmarcbis/
In conclusion, DMARC is not only a technology but also a commitment to email security, integrity, and trust. By embracing DMARC best practices, organizations can protect their users, maintain a positive brand reputation, and ensure seamless email deliverability. Every message from SES passes SPF and DKIM for “amazonses.com”, but the authenticated identifiers are not always in alignment with the domain in the “From” header which carries the DMARC policy. If email authentication is not fully configured, your messages are susceptible to delivery issues like spam filtering, or being rejected or blocked by the recipient ESP. As a best practice, you can configure both DKIM and SPF to attain optimum deliverability while sending email with SES.
About the Authors
|Bruno Giorgini is a Senior Solutions Architect specializing in Pinpoint and SES. With over two decades of experience in the IT industry, Bruno has been dedicated to assisting customers of all sizes in achieving their objectives. When he is not crafting innovative solutions for clients, Bruno enjoys spending quality time with his wife and son, exploring the scenic hiking trails around the SF Bay Area.
|Jesse Thompson is an Email Deliverability Manager with the Amazon Simple Email Service team. His background is in enterprise IT development and operations, with a focus on email abuse mitigation and encouragement of authenticity practices with open standard protocols. Jesse’s favorite activity outside of technology is recreational curling.
|Sesan Komaiya is a Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services. He works with a variety of customers, helping them with cloud adoption, cost optimization and emerging technologies. Sesan has over 15 year’s experience in Enterprise IT and has been at AWS for 5 years. In his free time, Sesan enjoys watching various sporting activities like Soccer, Tennis and Moto sport. He has 2 kids that also keeps him busy at home.
|Mudassar Bashir is a Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services. He has over ten years of experience in enterprise software engineering. His interests include web applications, containerization, and serverless technologies. He works with different customers, helping them with cloud adoption strategies.
|Priya Singh is a Cloud Support Engineer at AWS and subject matter expert in Amazon Simple Email Service. She has a 6 years of diverse experience in supporting enterprise customers across different industries. Along with Amazon SES, she is a Cloudfront enthusiast. She loves helping customers in solving issues related to Cloudfront and SES in their environment.