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2/1/2008
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Email Authentication Reaches 'Tipping Point'

Authentication and Online Trust Alliance report says 55 percent of emails are authenticated

For once, some good news on the anti-phishing and anti-spam front: Over half of legitimate email worldwide is now being authenticated, according to the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance (AOTA).

The AOTA is now calling on all consumer e-commerce and financial services Websites to join the crowd.

The AOTA, a nonprofit whose board members include representatives from Bank of America, IronPort (a division of Cisco Systems), Microsoft, MX Logic, and Symantec, yesterday released its findings on the state of email authentication as a means of protecting brands from spoofing, spam, and phishing exploits.

In conjunction with the report, the AOTA is urging all enterprises to deploy email authentication at the top-level corporate domain within the next six months as a way to protect themselves and consumers.

Fifty-five percent of legit email sent worldwide from over 15 million domain holders is authenticated, according to the AOTA report, including 51 percent of the Fortune 500 consumer-facing brands; 52 percent of the Fortune 500 consumer-facing financial services brands; and 54 percent of Internet retailer top 300 brands. More than 1,300 FDIC-member banks are also doing authentication, and over 100 marketing and technology vendors now support the Sender ID (SIDF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) authentication standards for email.

"Email authentication has now surpassed the tipping point, and we are encouraged with improvements in all key areas of measurement," says Craig Spiezle, chairman of AOTA and director of internet security & privacy at Microsoft, which helped develop SIDF. "The latest adoption data and industry collaboration is a testament to how these organizations are stepping up to protect their brands and consumers."

But phishing is obviously still very much alive and well, with Storm botnet-based hosts seen now sending out phishing emails, experts observe. More sophisticated "whaling" attacks target high-level executives and wealthy end-users; and this week, a spate of universities in the U.S. reported spear phishing attacks. Meanwhile, phishing toolkits are readily available and easy for the bad guys to deploy. (See Researchers Expose 'Stupid Phisher Tricks', Researchers, Vendors Gear Up for Whaling Attacks, and Storm Botnet Turned Toward Phishing Attacks.)

AOTA says organizations should adopt one or both of the two main authentication standards, DKIM and SIDF, and that the two are complementary.

ISPs such as AOL, Bell Canada, GoDaddy.com, Google Gmail, Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail, and Yahoo! use email authentication today, AOTA noted in its report, but "there is considerable room for improvement in the adoption rate amongst all ISPs." AOTA suggests that ISPs delete or block email that fails authentication rather than storing it in junk email folders.

Online brands that do not use email authentication could face major consequences down the road, according to the report, including lack of trust, loss of customers, lost revenue, and brand damage.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

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    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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