E-mail Authentication

By now every marketer has learned that Internet service providers (ISPs) take e-mail authentication quite seriously -- with Microsoft leading the charge with Sender ID. Microsoft is using a stick, not a carrot, to make e-mail senders get on the authentication band wagon. E-mailers who do not publish a proper sender ID record are now going to find themselves in the bulk mail folder at Hotmail and MSN, as well as have a big fat disclaimer thrown on top of their e-mails from Microsoft warning users that the source of the e-mail can't be authenticated.

I'm a big fan of authentication. Here are some positive aspects of authentication:

- It WILL make a big dent in spoofing, phishing, and fraud, right away. Why? Because those particular elements of the 'Internet Axis of Evil' are identity-based. Therefore, identity authentication will either stop those things, make it easier for consumers to steer clear of them, or make it easier for law enforcement to go after them.

- It WILL NOT make a big dent in spam right away. Why? Because spam is much more nuanced than fraud. If I'm Microsoft, and I know that you are the particular sender of an e-mail into my network, that's all good and well. But I might not have any idea if I want to accept that mail. Another way of saying this: Spammers can publish sender ID records too.

- It WILL lay the foundation for longer-term spam solutions. Why? Because it is important to understand exactly who is sending mail into a network in order to answer that next question of "do I want to accept your mail?"

Authentication is the precursor for both reputation and accreditation. Once ISPs can identify who you are, they can decide whether they like you or not. Lots of factors play into this decision, including complaint rates, identity stability, unknown user volume, security practices, unsubscribe policies and more.

When it comes to reaching the e-mail inbox, one thing is clear: It is not automatic, nor is it an easy path. Vigilance is required by all e-mail senders to make sure they are keeping up with the technologies and best practices necessary to keep their customers happy -- and avoid negative perceptions by e-mail receivers making filtering decisions.

Disclosure: Return Path owns Bonded Sender and Sender Score, two accreditation services.