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Powerful new antiphishing weapon DKIM emerges

DKIM standard attracts Cisco, Google, PayPal and more

By , Network World
February 11, 2008 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Spoofers, spammers and phishers, beware.

There's a new gun in town, and some of the Internet's most powerful companies -- including Yahoo, Google, PayPal and AOL -- are brandishing it in the ongoing battle against e-mail fraud.


Deploy DKIM in three simple steps.
Read how Microsoft and Yahoo’s e-mail security technologies stack up.


The new weapon is called DKIM, an emerging e-mail authentication standard developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force. DKIM, which stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail, allows an organization to cryptographically sign outgoing e-mail to verify that it sent the message.

DKIM addresses one of the Internet's biggest threats: e-mail fraud. As much as 80% of e-mail from leading brands, banks and ISPs is spoofed, according to a report released in late January by the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance (AOTA). AOTA analyzed more than 100 million e-mails from Fortune 500 brands sent over a five-month period.

"It's a critical need that IT professionals look at e-mail authentication as a competitive advantage to protect their brands and their customers from these exploits as well as to protect their employees from spoofed or forged e-mail coming into their networks," says Craig Spiezle, chairman of AOTA.

DKIM proponents say the standard is an important step in rebuilding consumer confidence in e-mail. (Compare Messaging Security products.) 

"DKIM increases the trust with which people can regard their e-mail," says Jim Fenton, a distinguished engineer with Cisco and one of the authors of the standard. "DKIM isn't going to put an end to phishing, but I'm confident that DKIM is going to make it harder for phishing attacks to occur."

Under development since 2004, DKIM is finally reaching a critical mass. It's expected to be widely deployed this year, particularly in financial services and e-commerce firms. Early adopters include Bank of America, American Greetings and Cisco.

"My guess is that probably half of the Fortune 1000 will be DKIM signing in 2008," predicts Greg Olson, director of product management at Sendmail, which started shipping a DKIM-compliant e-mail appliance in November.

"I do feel that 2008 is the year when things are going to come together for DKIM," says Patrick Peterson, vice president of technology for IronPort, an e-mail appliance vendor that supports DKIM (see more supporters) . "We have the Internet standard. We have a tremendous amount of vendor support . . . DKIM is solid as a rock."

How DKIM Works

DKIM allows an organization to insert a cryptographic signature in outbound e-mail and associate that signature with its domain name. The signature travels with the e-mail regardless of its path across the Internet. The recipient of the e-mail can use the signature to validate that the message came from the organization’s domain name. (For more on how to deploy DKIM.)

"Right now, a receiver of a message has no confidence that the message they are receiving is from whom it claims to be from," Olson explains. "DKIM is a way to permit a receiver of a message to validate that a message is, in fact, from whom it claims to be from."

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