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8/23/2017
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Phish Bait: DMARC Adoption Failures Leave Companies Exposed

More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies leave customers and brand names vulnerable to domain name spoofing as a result of not fully implementing DMARC.

More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have not fully adopted Domain-based Message Authentication, Report & Conformance (DMARC), leaving customers, business partners, and brand names exposed to phishing and other attacks that impersonate corporate email domains.

DMARC is a standard technology designed to verify whether an email is from the domain it claims to be from. It creates a whitelist of verified senders, and ensures only authenticated emails are delivered; fake messages are deleted before users see them. It can also be used to see how scammers are misusing corporate information in their attacks.

The email verification standard is the product of a 2007 experiment by Yahoo and PayPal to prevent account-credential phishing. A group of industry organizations including Google, Bank of America, Agari, and others scaled the experiment into what came to be known as DMARC in 2012.

Researchers at Agari recently analyzed public DNS records to learn about corporate DMARC adoption and policies. Their findings, published in the Global DMARC Adoption Report, reflect an overall failure to deploy DMARC across Fortune 500, FTSE 100, and ASX 100 companies.

There are multiple levels of DMARC adoption: Monitor, where unauthenticated messages are monitored but delivered to inboxes; Quarantine, where unauthenticated emails are moved to spam folders; and Reject, which blocks all unauthenticated messages from delivery to any folder

Two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have not deployed any level of DMARC, according to the report. One-quarter has adopted the Monitor level, 3% have implemented the Quarantine policy, and 5% use Reject.

Monitor level watches for DMARC abuse but does nothing to prevent it, meaning companies can collect information but consumers are vulnerable. DMARC adoption is of little use unless companies use Quarantine or Reject, which is why Agari reports 92% of the Fortune 500 is not protecting customers even though 25% have adopted the Monitor policy.

Patrick Peterson, Agari founder and executive chairman, desecribes DMARC's Monitor level for a healthcare consumer this way: "Until the organization she does business with says 'quarantine the phish' or 'reject the phish,' they're not actually protecting her and she's still vulnerable," he says.

Two-thirds of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 have not published any DMARC policy, 26% use Monitor, 1% have adopted Quarantine, and 6% have implemented Reject. Of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) 100, 73% have not adopted any level of DMARC, 23% use Monitor, 1% use Quarantine, and 3% have implemented Reject.

"It definitely shocked me," says Peterson of the low DMARC adoption rate.

There are several reasons companies are hesitant to pursue full DMARC adoption or haven't deployed any level of policy. The dominant reason is education, he says. There are many security teams in the Fortune 500 that still don't understand how DMARC works. Oftentimes these companies are wary of new tech and don't want to be the first to try it. This is the case for DMARC, even though the technology has been around for more than five years, Peterson says.

"This is new and different," he explains. "Whether it's easy or hard or there's playbooks or there aren't … any time they have something new and different, a lot of them run for the hills because they tend to be more conservative. They don't like new and different, they like tried and true."

Some security teams understand DMARC but don't fully grasp the harm and abuse going on in company email channels. Business employees see email as their highest ROI form of communicating with customers and prospects, says Peterson, but security teams often don't.

When they learn how widespread email security problems are, they realize how much business process change is necessary before email is "no longer the wild, wild West," he notes. Those without strong leadership will opt to wait on DMARC adoption and say, "let's worry about this later."

It's time for more CISO leaders to "wade into the business" and take control of the situation, says Peterson. The take-charge mentality is necessary to push DMARC implementation, both within the business and across the industry. There is a majority adoption rate in the business services, financial, technology, and transportation sectors.

Peterson points to financial services as a "champion" for DMARC. Industry leaders Bank of America and JP Morgan, both involved in its creation, demonstrated its workability to other businesses and motivated them to use DMARC as well. If other organizations and industries took the same leadership profile, he says, DMARC adoption would increase.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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