What is DKIM?

Email marketing is the business of building connections with people, and trust is a core part of that process. However, to build the kind of trust you need for customer relationships to thrive, a certain amount of assurance is required.

The online landscape contains many risks, with malicious third parties out to deceive and exploit unsuspecting users. Email spoofing, the act of forging a sender’s address, is a common threat and phishing attacks are common. Thankfully, protocols exist to protect users from falling victim to such acts of fraud.

DKIM is one such protocol.

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What is DKIM? How DKIM works Is DKIM similar to SPF and DMARC? Why is DKIM important? Setting up DKIM for your domain Conclusion

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What is DKIM?

DomainKeys Identified Mail, or DKIM, is an email authentication protocol. Its function is to enable mail transfer agents to verify that the sender of an email is the domain owner.

DKIM authentication makes it possible to determine when a sender’s address has been forged so that users can avoid falling victim to spam or phishing scams. It also verifies that email has not been tampered with while in transit. However, it is important to note that DKIM does not encrypt the data within the message itself.

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How DKIM works

To enable email authentication, DKIM uses an encryption system and leverages the Domain Name System (DNS). There are two separate keys in use with DKIM: A public key and a private key.

When the domain owner sets up DKIM, they generate the two cryptographic keys. The public key is then added to the DNS in the TXT record. The private key is used exclusively by the sending mail transfer agent (MTA).

When dispatching an outbound email, the sending MTA generates a unique string of text, called a hash value, encrypts it, and adds it to the header of the message. This is known as a DKIM signature.

Upon receipt of the message, the receiving mail server uses the DKIM signature for DNS lookup, locating the public key of the sender domain and using it to decrypt the DKIM signature. It then checks that the sender information in the email matches the record in the DNS.

If the two are the same, the message is delivered. If the DKIM check fails, the message may be sent to the recipient’s spam folder or could even be blocked altogether.For this reason, a DKIM alignment failure can be detrimental to email deliverability.

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Is DKIM similar to SPF and DMARC?

SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are all standards for email authentication, though there are slight differences between them.

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is an email authentication protocol that enables senders to specify which IP addresses are permitted to send emails from a domain. 

DKIM provides verification that messages haven’t been altered. Because DKIM uses encryption rather than relying on a list of IP addresses, it is considered a higher level of authentication than SPF.

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) unifies the functions of both SPF and DKIM and enables domain owners to specify how messages are handled if they fail authentication.

Why is DKIM important?

DKIM helps provide recipients with an assurance that you are who you say you are, but it also has benefits for you as a sender.

For one, DKIM helps you assert the legitimacy of your brand. Although DKIM isn’t mandatory, setting it up demonstrates responsibility and accountability. That reflects on the part of your organization and lowers the chances that your messages end up in spam folders.

Moreover, using DKIM to authenticate your messages helps you gradually build a reputation for your domain. Improving your reputation with internet service providers (ISPs) over time will ultimately have a positive effect on your email deliverability.

Setting up DKIM for your domain

As an email marketer, you should set up DKIM authentication for your outbound emails. 

Fortunately, doing this is relatively straightforward, although the exact steps may vary depending on your domain host. Using Google as an example, the steps for setting up DKIM are as follows:

  1. Sign in to your account with your relevant domain registrar (e.g., Google, GoDaddy, etc.) and locate your domain management page.
  2. Select the domain where you intend to use DKIM, then click the relevant prompt to generate a new record and choose the DKIM key settings you want. It is recommended to use a 204-bit key where possible.
  3. Click on “Generate.” This will create a DNS TXT that you will add to your DNS.
  4. Turn on DKIM, then verify that DKIM signing has been correctly enabled.

Conclusion

Cybersecurity is a major concern, so there is essentially no reason not to use DKIM for your outgoing messages. By setting up a comprehensive authentication protocol for your emails, you help protect yourself and your subscribers from third-party interference, allowing you to focus on building and nurturing customer relationships.

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