Home  › Marketing › Strategies

The Identity Crisis and E-Mail Authentication: Finding Your Identity

  |  December 6, 2004   |  Comments

We’re further from fixing the e-mail identity crisis than anyone wants to admit. Five ideas for mitigating the delivery risks.

SPF (define), Sender ID, Domain Keys, Identified Internet Mail (IIM), client SMTP validation (CSV), and, bounce address tag validation (BATV). What is this alphabet soup? These are just six of the proposed sender authentication schemes that might someday represent your identity as a sender.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this identity crisis lately. I spent the past month attending a variety of events that culminated with INBOX East in Atlanta. Although no one could agree on one sender solution, a few things were consistent across all these events.

We’re Not There Yet

The endless discussion of sender identity, accreditation, and reputation offers the sobering realization we’re further from fixing the spam/spoof/phish problem with one standard than anyone wants to admit. Although it’s wonderful to see the love among the ISPs and MTA (define) vendors, everyone is still protecting his pet project.

Yahoo’s Domain Keys is gaining traction with other ISPs, but it’s nearly identical to Cisco’s IIM. Can’t we just put our corporate interests aside and agree on one standard?

Many agree for sender authentication to work, we need to take a cryptography-based approach, such as Domain Keys. But rolling that into SPF/Sender ID doesn’t seem likely in the near term. One big stumbling block is users with sender addresses different from their sending domains, such as a business traveler connecting through an Internet café or other WI-FI hot spot. Perhaps in those exceptions, we use something like challenge/response. But to suppress a spammer on the move, this isn’t an ideal solution or very different from what we have today.

Little Marketing Input

There was a general absence of real-world implications on good-guy marketers just trying to get their mail out. Not that we didn’t discuss it; heck, I moderated a panel on it. But there weren’t many marketers in the room to join the discussion.

The Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC) was present, representing the email service providers (ESPs) large and small, but the conversations seemed to be dominated by the ISPs and mail infrastructure vendors. Even concepts such as reputation leaned more toward the blacklisting types of services rather than the white variety favored by permission marketers. We shouldn’t build a world of sender standards on the presumption of guilt before innocence.

Open to the Public

Perhaps the public debate we’re having on these probable solutions is too public. Didn’t anyone notice the spammers in the room or the possibility of phishers dialed into the FTC authentication summit? Perhaps we need to make the secret sauce a little bit more, well, secret. Shouldn’t we check identities and reputations at the door before letting people in? Maybe not, because that would likely require yet another standards body to put that solution in place.

The whole notion of open identity standard is predicated on the broad distribution of these authentication systems. Let’s not fool ourselves. It won’t take spammers long to get on board with them. It just means identity without accreditation and reputation doesn’t do us much good. If you think these identity debates are heated, wait until we tackle reputation. But more on that another time.

Mitigate Delivery Risks

There are many well-intentioned, smart people working hard to solve this identity crisis. To paraphrase a recent presidential candidate: This is hard work; these are tough problems. Until it’s all figured out, what should you do? Here are some ideas to help mitigate delivery risks in the near term:

  • Work with an ESP that has working relations with the large ISPs. There are tons of great ESPs out there.

  • Identify delivery problems by working with a delivery auditing services provider, such as Return Path, Piper Software, Pivotal Veracity, or EnhanceRate.

  • If you aren’t publishing SPF records and want to be whitelisted with AOL, start publishing those records now. Go here to learn about AOL’s specifics.

  • Concerned about getting mail delivered to Hotmail or MSN, especially those critical transactional messages? Look into Bonded Sender.

  • Most important, adhere to all those good permission email marketing practices, such as bounce suppression, list hygiene, and dedicated IP addresses for commercial and transactional mail.

These are just a handful of ideas to start out with.

Good luck finding and securing your identity. Let me know how it works out.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!


David Daniels

For more than 20 years, David has been an industry proponent. Direct Magazine said David is "one of the most influential experts in email marketing, if not the most influential." Co-author of "Email Marketing An Hour A Day," David has held senior level positions at Forrester and JupiterResearch, Apple, Anthropologie, MacWarehouse, Proteam, and retailers that dotted the early days of CompuServe. David advises many industry organizations including the OTA, DMA, eec, and has been a contributor to the Weekend Today Show on NBC. Learn more about connected marketing and download free research with registration here. Follow David on Twitter @emaildaniels and learn more at www.relevancygroup.com.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.




    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...