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Email Initiatives Primer

Emerging Email Initiatives

There has been a lot of discussion recently on changing the way email works in order to address the problems of spam. Early adopters are concerned about which initiatives will ultimately be widely adopted and whether the adoption process will cause significant disruption to person-to-person email delivery.

These initiatives can be broadly categorized as:
Sender Authentication
Email Accreditation and Reputation Systems

Sender Authentication

A large percentage of spam employs tactics such as spoofing or "phishing" - making the email look as if it is coming from a reputable sender. Sender authentication initiatives are designed to enable receiving email systems to determine if the sender of an email is using a forged email address.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
SPF involves adding an entry in the internet Domain Name Server (DNS) registry specifying which mail servers are allowed to send emails for a specific domain. Recipient email servers will query these name registries to ensure that the sending server is indeed authorized to send email for the specific domain. SPF is currently the most widely adopted sender authentication protocol and SPF specifications have been published as an Internet Draft at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Sender ID
The Sender ID framework is a sender authentication scheme that combines certain features of an earlier Microsoft initiative called Caller ID with SPF.

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
DomainKeys is similar to SPF and Sender ID in that they leverage the DNS to perform sender authentication. But unlike the other technologies, DomainKeys uses digital signatures to add an extra layer of verification. DomainKeys offers a more granular and secure approach to sender authentication, such as on a per-user level, but with a higher cost in terms of technical complexity.

Email Accreditation and Reputation Systems

Authentication of emails alone is not enough to determine if a sender is legitimate or not. Recipients have to be able to identify the track record of a sender in order to determine whether to trust messages originating from the sender. This need is fueling a budding industry to accreditate and track the reputation of emailers.

Goodmail Systems CertifiedEmail
Goodmail Systems aims to create a class of email that consumers can identify as safe and trustworthy by displaying a CertifiedEmail identifier next to the email. Volume senders pay a fee per-email for the privilege and in return participating ISPs exempt the emails from the junk mail filter. Currently CertifiedEmail has been adopted by AOL and Yahoo!

ISIPP SuretyMail
The SuretyMail program is an email accreditaion service. SuretyMail provides ISPs and spam filters with a set of metrics on emailers and allow the receivers to determine whether to block or accept email from a sender. ISIPP works with a variety of ISPs and has an arrangement with AOL to accreditate email from non-profit senders.

Sender Score Certified
Sender Score Certified is an email certification service provided by Return Path in conjunction with TRUSTe. Previously known as Bonded Sender, the service has removed its bond requirement and currently operate as a whitelist based service. Sender Score Certified counts MSN Hotmail as one of many domains and ISPs that uses its whitelist to determine privileges given to incoming email.

Habeas is an email deliverability company and offers a set of solutions to mailers looking to improve their deliverability rates into customers' inboxes. Habeas operates its own whitelisting service which is being used by MSN Hotmail.

Vanquish Email Bond
Vanquish requires senders of unsolicited email to post a cash bond in order to get the attention of the recipient. If a recipient judges the mail to be illegitimate, the recipient clicks on a "penalty button" and the sender loses the bond. The cash gets divided between the ISP, recipient, and Vanquish. The Vanquish model forces senders to evaluate the value and relevance of the offers that they are sending to the recipient.

* Officially referred to as Domain Name Server

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