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Posts Tagged ‘smtp’

Save Yourself From “Yourself”: Stop Spam From Your Own Address

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

I just got junk email … from me!

It is surprisingly common for users to receive Spam email messages that appear to come from their own address (i.e. “joe@domain.com” gets a Spam email addressed so it appears to be from “joe@domain.com”).  We discussed this issue tangentially in a previous posting: Bounce Back & BackScatter Spam – “Who Stole My Email Address”?  However, many users wonder how this is even possible, while others are concerned if their Spam filters are not catching these messages.

How can Spammers use your email address to send Spam?

The way that email works at a fundamental level, there is very little validation performed on the apparent identity of the “Sender” of an email.  Just as you could mail a letter at the post office and write any return address on it, a Spammer can compose and send an email address with any “From” email address and name.  This is in fact extremely easy to do, and Spammers use this facility with almost every message that they send.

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Email Encryption Showdown: SMTP TLS vs PGP vs S/MIME vs Portal Pickup

Monday, May 29th, 2017

While messaging apps may have become more popular over the last ten or so years, email remains an important method of communication, particularly for business. Despite its common use, there are many security problems associated with regular email:

Message Tampering

False messages are a significant threat, particularly when it comes to business and legal issues. Imagine someone else sends an email from your account – how can you prove it wasn’t you? There are many viruses that spread in this way, and with regular email, there is no concrete way to tell whether a message is false or not.

Email Encryption

Normal emails can also be modified by anyone with system-administrator access to the SMTP servers that your emails pass through. They can alter or completely delete the message, and your recipient has no way of knowing if the message has been tampered with or not.

In the same way, messages can be saved by the SMTP system administrator, then altered and sent again at a later time. This means that subsequent messages may appear valid, even if they are actually just copies that have been faked.

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How do I fix the reputation of my IP address?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

It happens — you’re sending email messages without issue, and then suddenly they’re not being delivered, or they’re being tagged as spam.  A little digging reveals that the problem is that your “IP reputation” is now poor, and you need to fix it somehow.

This is our latest “Ask Erik” question, from Angelo Correa or Living Legacy, Inc.

How do I fix the reputation of my IP address?

What is IP Reputation?

Email service providers (e.g. AOL, Gmail, LuxSci) and email filtering systems (e.g. Barracuda, McAfee, Proofpoint, SenderScore) collaborate on and track the sending of unwanted email in order to reduce the blight of email spam that continues to plague the Internet.  Some of the significant factors that they track include:

  1. Quantity of email sent from your IP address
  2. The spam-like characteristics of these messages (based on spam filter analysis)
  3. The number of spam complaints by recipients of these messages
  4. The number of messages sent to invalid recipients or honey pots. Honey pots are email addresses that do not belong to real people and only exist as traps for senders who have acquired these email addresses via web site scraping or some other illegitimate manner.

Put together, these factors end up determining the reputation of that IP address with respect to the sending of email messages.  If the reputation becomes poor, then spam filters will start to quarantine or reject your messages, resulting in poor deliverability.

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Is Email Encryption via Just TLS Good Enough for Compliance with Government Regulations?

Monday, August 24th, 2015

There are many ways to encrypt email, TLS being the simplest and most seamless.  With SMTP TLS (the use of TLS encryption to secure the “SMTP Protocol” used for the transmission of email between computers), messages are transported between the sender, recipient, and all servers securely.  TLS is a layer that fits seamlessly over “regular email” to ensure transport email encryption when supported by both the message sender and the recipient.  With SMTP TLS, sending a secure message works and feels the same as sending any other email message.

“It just works.” That is the ideal combination of security and usability.

SMTP TLS for Email Encryption

However, SMTP TLS only solves the problem of email encryption during transmission from sender to recipient.  It does not in any way secure an email message while it is at rest, whether while in the sender’s “sent email” folder, queued or backed up on the email servers of the sender or recipient, or saved and stored in the email recipient’s folders.  While SMTP TLS is really easy to use, it is important to consider if use of SMTP TLS alone is “good enough” for companies to comply with the many U.S. government laws which apply to email.

When it  is “good enough,” organizations may opt for the seamless simplicity of TLS over the added complexity of other modes of secure email communication.

In this article, we shall examine the security afforded by SMTP TLS and compare that to other modes of email encryption such as PGP, S/MIME, and Escrow (i.e. picking up your message from a secure web portal).  We shall then look at many of the most important laws (HIPAA, GLBA, Sarbanes-Oxley, SB1386, NASD 3010, FRCP, SEX 17a-4, FINRA, and PCI DSS)  to see what is said or implied about using “Just TLS” vs. other, stronger forms of encryption.  We won’t spend a lot of time explaining each law; if you are interested there are innumerable articles on the web for that.  We  focus only on what they say or imply about encryption for email transmission and storage.

The short answer is that many of these laws outline various requirements for email storage, archival, and retrieval for legal proceedings without specifically delineating requirements for the encryption of those messages.  So, use of TLS is just fine with respect to those.

For PCI compliance, avoid email if at all possible; however, if you must use email for sending credit card data, “Just TLS” is not sufficient.

For the rest, the burden ends up being on each individual organization to decide for itself the level of encryption appropriate to protect sensitive data.  Use of encryption methods that provide protection for data at rest can mitigate liability in the case of a breach, but they are not mandated.  There are also ways of protecting data at rest that do not involve more onerous methods of email encryption.

Indeed, your internal risk analysis may find that “Just TLS” is best in some cases and methods that provide explicit data-at-rest email encryption are warranted in others.

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The Case For Email Security

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

We all know that regular email is insecure; however, it may surprise you to learn just how insecure it really is. For example, did you know that messages which you thought were deleted years ago may be sitting on servers half-way around the world? Or, that your messages can can sometimes be read and modified in transit, even before they reach their destination? Did you know that forging email is very, very easy?  Can you trust what you read in an email?  Email security was never designed in to the internet from the beginning and as a result, many different solutions have evolved to plug the multitude of resulting issues.

This article is designed to teach you about how email really works, what the real email security issues are, what mitigations to these are generally in use, and what else you can to to protect you email.

Case for Email Security

Information security and integrity are centrally important  as we use email for personal and business communication: sending confidential and sensitive information over this medium every day. While you are reading this article, imagine how these security problems could affect your business, your personal life, and your identity…. if they have not already.

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