What is SPF?

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an email authentication method that verifies if a person or company sending an email is genuinely who they appear to be. 

For example, almost everyone has received a scam email with a tempting offer to buy a product at a vastly reduced price or to get something free. 

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How does SPF work? How SPF prevents fraud Do email marketers need to use SPF? Conclusion

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There’s a wise old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.” SPF works to prevent these types of fraudulent and scammy emails.

How does SPF work?

The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which mail servers use to send mail, lacks any email authentication method that accurately validates the identity of the original sender. 

The Sender Policy Framework uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to validate and authenticate the identity of a sender to prevent fraud, phishing, and spam.

SPF works by identifying the authorized IP addresses with permission to send email from a given domain. A domain owner established SPF by adding the authorized IP addresses to the DNS record by modifying its DNS TXT record.

When email is sent to a receiving mail server, it will use the information contained in the email header to compare the sending IP address with the authorized IP addresses included in the domain’s SPF record, then generates an SPF response message:

  • Pass: The email comes from a valid source. (“Pass” responses do not generate a bounced message reply.)
  • Softfail: The email may not be from a valid source.
  • Fail: The email does not come from a valid source.
  • Neutral: -The data is inconclusive in determining whether the email is coming from a valid source.
  • None: The requesting domain has no SPF record.
  • Error: There is an error processing the SPF.
  • Unknown: There is an error processing the SPF.
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How SPF prevents fraud

Email addresses are tempting targets for scammers, hackers, and other unauthorized parties who can use your brand’s reputation to trick recipients into handing over personal information or unknowingly installing malware.

Implementing the Sender Policy Framework as an email authentication method helps mitigate against scamming and phishing attempts. 

In the event an unauthorized party sends mail that appears to be from your domain, the receiving mail server will check the sender’s IP address against the list of authorized IP addresses included in your SPF record. If there isn’t a match, the email is marked as suspicious or bounced.

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Do email marketers need to use SPF?

Email marketers who fail to use or properly configure SPF can suffer deliverability issues that make it difficult to reach your subscribers and customers.

SPF can be combined with DKIM, another email authentication method that uses cryptographic keys to verify that an email is authentic and doesn’t contain a fake message.

Proper SPF records and DKIM settings are also necessary for domain owners to adopt and establish DMARC. DMARC is an email security policy that authenticates emails and allows domain owners to set rules that define what happens if an email cannot be authenticated.

Conclusion

Because SMTP lacks any email authentication process, criminals can hijack your email address to send fake emails, scams, and spam. This can negatively impact your brand’s reputation and deliverability, hampering the success of your marketing campaigns.

The Sender Policy Framework is a basic email authentication tool that receiving mail servers use to verify the authenticity of the sender. By adding a list of authorized IP addresses to your DNS records, you can help prevent and mitigate against fraud and phishing to protect your sender reputation and deliverability.

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