How is e-mail sender authentication used and misused?

Tatsuya Mori*, Yousuke Takahashi, Kazumichi Sato, Keisuke Ishibashi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

8 Citations (Scopus)


E-mail sender authentication is a promising way of verifying the sources of e-mail messages. Since today's primary e-mail sender authentication mechanisms are designed as fully decentralized architecture, it is crucial for e-mail operators to know how other organizations are using and misusing them. This paper addresses the question "How is the DNS Sender Policy Framework (SPF), which is the most popular e-mail sender authentication mechanism, used and misused in the wild?" To the best of our knowledge, this is the first extensive study addressing the fundamental question. This work targets both legitimate and spamming domain names and correlates them with multiple data sets, including the e-mail delivery logs collected from medium-scale enterprise networks and various IP reputation lists. We first present the adoption and usage of DNS SPF from both global and local viewpoints. Next, we present empirically why and how spammers leverage the SPF mechanism in an attempt to pass a simple SPF authentication test. We also present that non-negligible volume of legitimate messages originating from legitimate senders will be rejected or marked as potential spam with the SPF policy set by owners of legitimate domains. Our findings will help provide (1) e-mail operators with useful insights for setting adequate sender or receiver policies and (2) researchers with the detailed measurement data for understanding the feasibility, fundamental limitations, and potential extensions to e-mail sender authentication mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 8th Annual Collaboration, Electronic Messaging, Anti-Abuse and Spam Conference, CEAS 2011
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event8th Annual Collaboration, Electronic Messaging, Anti-Abuse and Spam Conference, CEAS 2011 - Perth, WA, Australia
Duration: 2011 Sept 12011 Sept 2

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series


Conference8th Annual Collaboration, Electronic Messaging, Anti-Abuse and Spam Conference, CEAS 2011
CityPerth, WA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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