mailmodo-hamburger

What Is DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) & How Does It Work

Suryanarayan Pal
BySuryanarayan Pal

8 mins read

Kings in the old times would send letters to each other with a stamp. If the stamps were intact, it would indicate that the letter had not been tampered with. Similar to the stamp, to ensure that email content is not tampered with, a DKIM signature signs email message headers.

This guide covers everything you need to know about DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), explaining how it works and the significant benefits it offers for email security.

What is DKIM?

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an email security standard that ensures messages are not modified while travelling between the recipient and sending servers. DKIM permits organizations to take responsibility for transmitting a message in a way a recipient can verify.

The organization can be the originating website, intermediary, etc. Their domain reputation is the basis for evaluating whether or not to trust the message for delivery.

When an email arrives at the recipient's server, the server checks for a DKIM signature in the email header field. It then uses the publicly available key from the sender's DNS to verify the signature.

It helps ensure that parts of the message haven't been altered during its journey from the sender to the recipient's server.

Bonus Tool: Use DKIM Checker to identify possible issues and fix them.

What is a DKIM signature?

DKIM gives emails a signature header that is added to the email and secured with encryption. Each DKIM signature contains all the information needed for an email server to verify that the signature is accurate, and a pair of DKIM keys encrypt it.

The signature looks something like this:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; q=dns/txt; c=relaxed/simple; s=mpd3pejeeqmlqs7ztigzi2y23flpbcyg; d=mailmodo.com; t=1660826081; i=@email.mailmodo.com; h=Content-Type:List-Unsubscribe:From:To:Reply-To:Subject:Message-ID:Date:MIME-Version; bh=FBdoN7RR/uuaFsk9yZaueugs8lII6HyF3+PDrHFBgtM=; b=GOl88uQNxDM2iCkM5bQPPI8rasQr08GlNDZ8A+hJxHDKrWoJWw4xYGZRNR8+ko6L rDpzN892Phjmrb5kwhCIeTJmI3m7PWnj4CrEjZds+Q+g+2PBqcWK73QxN+F5wXggGuD oRr7cAA1MgpJWdYYdNB5b9g/rCI2++EVsKUXtWTI=

The originating email server has the "private DKIM key," which can be verified by the recipient email services or ISP with the other half of the keypair, called the "public DKIM key."

These signatures travel with the emails and are verified along the way by the email servers that move the emails toward their final destination.

Why should you authenticate emails with DKIM?

DKIM is among the top three must-have authentication protocols, and that's for good reason, as it impacts the deliverability and reputation of your domain.

Some of the reasons behind getting your domain DKIM authenticated are as follows:

Get this pre-send checklist to hit send with confidence

An interactive checklist to send error-free emails

  • Prevents sender impersonation

In the absence of DKIM, hackers can easily forge your email address and send malicious emails that appear to come from you. DKIM acts like a digital security shield, verifying the sender's identity and preventing email spoofing. This protects your brand reputation and safeguards your users from phishing attacks.

  • Protects your domain reputation

DKIM prevents spam emails from being sent via your domain. When DKIM signing authenticates your emails, every outgoing message will hold the DKIM signature. This message's signature will ensure that the email content is not tampered with.

  • Lands you in the good books of ISPs

Email service providers (ESPs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) rely on various measures to ensure email security. DKIM is a critical factor in their evaluation. Having a valid DKIM signature portrays you as a legitimate and trusted sender.

The better your sender's reputation will be, the more you'll land in the recipient's inbox, leading to higher deliverability.

  • Demonstrates commitment to security

Implementing DKIM showcases your dedication to secure email communication. This transparency fosters trust with your audience and assures them that you prioritize their safety. DKIM-authenticated emails appear more professional and reliable, leading to better engagement and response rates.

How does DKIM work

DNS lookup web query Mailmodo.png DKIM is added as a signature to your email headers once it's verified by both the sender and receiver's server.

The signature is verified using a private and public cryptographic key. The private key is safe and hosted on your server or your ESPs. As it's private, only you can have access to it.

To validate the DKIM signature, ISPs look at the public key hosted on your organization's DNS record. This record is public and can be accessed by anyone to verify the legitimacy of your sender's domain.

The process looks like this:

A domain owner publishes a cryptographic public key as a specially-formatted TXT record in the domain's overall DNS records.

1. On the sender's server end:

When an email is sent, the domain generates a private key. This key contains all the information the mail server needs to verify your messages.

2. On the receiver's server end:

When the recipient server receives a DKIM-signed email, it utilizes the public key published to DNS to check the source message and the message body. It is done to check if any changes were made during the transit.

Once the recipient server verifies the signature with the public key, the message is deemed authentic. After that, it is passed on to the ESP.

3. Verification of DKIM signed messages:

For any email, the signature from DKIM is like a tamper-proof seal. The signature shows that it has come from the original domain and hasn't been tampered with. Every email sent is attached with a signature, which is specially configured by the email servers to use the DKIM.

What is a DKIM record?

When an email is sent, there may be an intervention in the pipeline by a hacker. This may result in the email content getting forged. So, to address this issue, anti-spam bodies have conceptualized the DKIM record.

This happens with the help of a simple encoding and decoding method as follows:

Sender level

The email combines with a private key available at the sender server software to form an email signature. This signature is sent to the recipient along with the actual message.

Recipient level

There's a Domain Name System (DNS) record published in the world, available as the public key. The DNS record looks as follows:

m1._domainkey.yourdomain.com | TXT | v=DKIM1\; p=MIGfMA0GCSqGSIb3DQEBAQUAA4GNADCBiQKBgQDPtW5iwpXVPiH5FzJ7Nrl8USzuY9zqqzjE0D1r04xDN6qwziDnmgcFNNfMewVKN2D1O+2J9N14hRprzByFwfQW76yojh54Xu3uSbQ3JP0A7k8o8GutRF8zbFUA8n0ZH2y0cIEjMliXY4W4LwPA7m4q0ObmvSjhd63O9d8z1XkUBwIDAQAB

In the above example, "v" is the DKIM version, and "p" is the public key. This public key encodes the email signature, and the incoming email is compared with the decoded email. If the two match, that indicates the email hasn't been tampered with.

Note: If DKIM isn't passed, no authoritative action is taken. The email will still get delivered. But, if DKIM fails, the deliverability still gets impacted as ISPs might take it as a negative signal and land your emails in the junk folder.

How to set up your own DKIM key

Here's what you need to do to set up your own DKIM key with DNS configuration.

  • The signee must add the code in the appropriate agent to perform signing, and they ought to modify their DNS administrative tools to allow the creation of DKIM key records.

  • A validator must add the code to the appropriate agent and then feed the result into the portion of their system needing it, like a filtering engine.

  • A valid signature doesn't imply that the mail is acceptable for delivery. Acceptability requires an assessment phase. Therefore, signature validation results are fed into a vetting mechanism, which is a part of the validator's filter.

You can read more about the deployment of DKIM here.

DKIM for AMP email approval from email clients

If you want to reap the benefits of sending out interactive AMP emails, you will have to get whitelisted with Yahoo Mail, Gmail, and Mail.ru, which support AMP emails.

For a successful whitelisting of your sender address, these email clients require DKIM.

How do DKIM, DMARC and SPF work together

Email security is crucial, and DKIM, SPF, and DMARC are three protocols that work together to fight email fraud and ensure your emails reach the intended inbox. Here's a breakdown of their roles:

  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail): DKIM acts like a digital signature for your emails. It adds a special code to the email header that verifies the sender's identity and checks if the message content has been altered during transit.

Think of it like a tamper-evident seal on a package.

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework): SPF creates an authorized list of email servers allowed to send emails on behalf of a specific domain. This helps prevent email spoofing, where someone forges the sender's address to make it appear from a trusted source.

Think of it like a doorman checking IDs – only authorized servers can send emails for that domain.

  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance): DMARC relies on DKIM and SPF to tell email providers what to do with emails that fail authentication. DMARC gives domain owners more control over how unauthenticated emails are handled (e.g., quarantine or reject).

Think of it like final instructions – DMARC tells email providers what action to take if an email fails the DKIM or SPF check.

Working together:

While each protocol plays a specific role, they work together for better email security:

  1. DKIM verifies the sender and checks for tampering.

  2. SPF verifies if the sending server is authorized for that domain.

  3. DMARC instructs email providers on how to handle unauthenticated emails based on DKIM and SPF results.

2.png

By implementing all three protocols, you significantly enhance email security, protect your domain reputation, and ensure legitimate emails reach inboxes.

Is Mailmodo compatible with DKIM authentication?

Yes, Mailmodo is compatible with DKIM. Our email specialists team helps you understand the importance of security certifications and build your IP & domain reputation for high email deliverability.

We help our users set up DKIM without any hassle to help them get whitelisted for AMP email from email clients.

Final takeaway

Security certifications increase your sender's reputation and provide you with better email deliverability. But, DKIM alone doesn't alone help you achieve that. Other authentication protocols, such as SPF, DMARC, and BIMI, are also required to leave a great impression on the ISPs.

To help you, we have written a complete guide on email authentication protocols. Go check it out and make your emails spoofing-free.

FAQs

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) is used to verify the authenticity of email messages by enabling a domain for digital signatures. This cryptographic signature allows receiving mail servers to confirm that an email message was sent from an authorized sender and that its content has not been altered during transit. DKIM helps prevent email phishing attacks and enhances email security and trustworthiness.

The DKIM key is provided by the organization or entity that owns the domain from which the emails are being sent. This could be a company, organization, or individual responsible for managing the DNS (Domain Name System) records of the domain. The DKIM key is used to generate a cryptographic signature for outgoing emails, which is then verified by receiving mail servers to ensure the authenticity of the sender and the integrity of the email content.

DKIM verifies the authenticity of the sender and the integrity of the email content using cryptographic signatures. SPF (Sender Policy Framework) checks if an email originated from an authorized server. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) builds on SPF and DKIM to specify what actions email providers should take on unauthenticated messages.

DKIM is not mandatory for sending emails, but its implementation is highly recommended for organizations. Email providers increasingly use DKIM validation to determine the legitimacy of incoming emails. Failure to authenticate through DKIM can sometimes lead to emails being flagged as suspicious or routed to spam folders, affecting overall deliverability rates. Therefore, while not mandatory, DKIM significantly enhances email credibility and security measures.

If a DKIM key is compromised, an attacker could potentially send malicious emails that appear to come from the affected domain. To mitigate this risk, organizations should regularly incorporate DKIM key rotation and monitor for any unauthorized use or signs of compromise.

Share this article
copy link
like/dislike
Linkedin logo
Twitter logo
Facebook logo
Whatsapp logo
Pinterest logo
mail logo

What should you do next?

Thanks for reading till the end. Here are 3 ways we can help you grow your business:

2_e7e11ef835
Get smarter with our email resources

Explore our email marketing guides, ebooks and other resources to master email marketing.

1_6f8cd1f355
Do better email marketing with Mailmodo

Send app-like interactive emails with forms, carts, calendars, games, etc. to boost email ROI.

3_44e5481591
Talk to an email expert

Get a 30-min. free email consultation with a Mailmodo expert to optimize your email marketing.

Get 3X conversions with interactive emails

Group_1110166328_c98d897e88

Get 3X conversions
with interactive emails

Check.svg

Create & send interactive emails without coding

Check.svg

Put revenue on auto-pilot with pre-built journeys

Check.svg

Save time with AI-powered email content creation

1000+ businesses grew with Mailmodo, including

Frame_1110165681_3_b26b1a7573
Group_1110165532_1_bf39ce18b3
Ellipse_Gradientbottom_Bg
Ellipse_Gradientbottom_Top
gradient_Right