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How to Protect Your Domain Reputation in 2022

Sales and marketing leaders have embraced digital practices for years, yet the pandemic forced these leaders to take a closer look at what tools were actually performing and what was needed to pivot and survive. Overnight, digital went from a nice-to-have to an outright necessity for all organizations. As the majority of customer communications were pushed to online-only, organizations need to ensure they are taking every step necessary to protect their customers and employees from fraudulent online activity. Their very brand reputation depends on it now more than ever. 

In fact, according to the InfoSec Institute customers are 42% less likely to engage with an organization after a phishing attack. This can lead to significant losses in revenue with the 2019 Thales Access Management Index finding that domain and website spoofing was responsible for $1.3 billion losses in a single year. Your bottom line all comes down to trust. If your customers are trusting you with their personal information, you need to demonstrate that you’re going to protect it and effectively bolster your defenses against hackers and spammers.

To protect and improve customer trust, especially as it pertains to email marketing and digital communications, you must hone in on your domain reputation. Domain reputation is more of abstract art than an exact science; it’s about cultivating a positive opinion of your domain in the context of email. 

Not sure where to get started?

Here are three proactive steps you can take to protect your domain reputation, thwart scammers and make the most of your email marketing efforts: 

Implement Authentication Protocols 

Email authentication is crucial to identify and address illegitimate messages. In this sense, authentication refers to techniques and protocols that provide verifiable evidence that an email is coming from a legitimate source. This is essentially the email’s way of proving the message came from who the sender claims to be by validating IP address authorization and domain ownership. While that may sound simple, leveraging authentication protocols to protect your domain reputation is a multi-step process: 

  1. Implement Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM): Respectively, these provide protection by authorizing IP addresses to send emails and add digital signatures validating the content and transport integrity of your messages. These protocols aren’t the be-all end-all; they won’t stop bad actors from spoofing your display name or tell your mailbox provider (MBP) what to do with unauthenticated emails, so they must be layered in with additional protection. 
  2. Implement Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance, or DMARC: DMARC addresses exact-domain spoofing and phishing attacks by preventing unauthorized use of your domain in the sender address of email messages. With DMARC, you can tell your MBP how to treat messages that are unauthenticated. 
  3. Receive, monitor, and interpret DMARC reports: These reports provide crucial insight into the authentication results sent from your domain, helping to identify potential domain spoofing and keep track of bad actors sending emails under your name. 

Segment Your Domain Usage 

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Implementing email authentication protocols is a standard method of protecting your domain reputation. But scammers are constantly finding new ways to get into your customers’ mailboxes, so you’re going to have to think outside the box if you want customers to trust you. How do you do this? Consider segmenting the usage of your domain in addition to getting those protocols in place. 

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Create different domains that serve different purposes for your communications. Use one domain or subdomain for your corporate mail, another for your transactional e-commerce messaging, and another for peer marketing messaging. For extended protection, ensure your messaging software or service provider employs Transport Layer Security (TLS) during the transmission of your messages. But don’t stop there – redirect those domains to a legitimate website you operate and employ Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection for all your legitimate websites to signal trust to your recipient visitors. SSL is a protocol that encrypts data between a user’s device and the system they’re contacting over the internet. Employing it will demonstrate to your visitors their interactions are protected through encryption and that you have complete control over every domain.  

Acquire Close Cousin Domains 

If you really want to ensure your domain is protected, you need to beat hackers at their own game. Think beyond the domains you actively use for your business and acquire close cousins. These can be simple typos of your website that bad actors tend to use when they’re trying to misuse your brand for phishing. 

If you work at Validity, for example, maybe you want to acquire typo domains like  “Vaiidity.com” or variants such as  “Validitynetwork.site” just to be safe. You may even acquire domains that could be disparaging in nature such as “validitysucks.com”. Registering domains defensively is a common practice for banks – defensively registering dozens or even hundreds of domains that could potentially be misused. Make sure you take it a step further and publish SPF authentication records that do not authorize any messages for these close cousin domains. This is called a “null SPF record” and will help recipients easily identify and reject messages that could be phishing. 

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Conclusion 

With so many of sales and marketing efforts taking place over email these days, your organization needs to evolve with the times. There’s no such thing as a completely secure system – that’s the nature of technology. But by taking advantage of authentication protocols, segmenting your domains and acquiring their close cousins for good measure, you will prove to your customers that their personal information is safe in your hands and ultimately protect your domain reputation. 

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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