How ADP and Facebook battle bad e-mail

Each day cyber-criminals around the world manage to unleash untold millions of spoofed e-mails that fake well-known brand names to try and fool victims that receive this fraudulent e-mail into opening malware attachments or visiting malware-laden websites. To fight this scourge, security managers at companies like Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and Facebook that want to protect e-mail users and their brand name ramp up defenses against phishing.

Of growing importance in the phishing battle is participating in the growing global cooperative effort known as DMARC, which started just over a year ago. DMARC stands for "Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance," and it involves adjusting e-mail servers to publish DNS mail records using supported standards that include Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail.

"We're a massive target for the fraudsters," explains V. Jay LaRosa, senior director in ADP's global security organization in the division called the chief security officer's converged security architecture group. ADP's business services include payroll processing, and fraudsters target many an unwary victim by sending out deceptive e-mail that appears to concern ADP accounting.

[Background: Google, Microsoft and others putting the kibosh on phishing e-mails]

"DMARC is critical to us," says LaRosa, saying ADP is DMARC-enabling its e-mail infrastructure so that fake ADP e-mail can be filtered out across the world because it is blocked by the growing number of service providers supporting the DMARC process. Today, it's estimated that 60% of the world's e-mail boxes are protected under the DMARC process, which means fake e-mail can potentially be blocked and filtered out before it hits the mailbox of any intended victim.

With assistance from partners such as Agari which aggregates e-mail phishing reports that are made available through the DMARC process, ADP can discover how widespread abuse of its corporate brand name is in terms of phishing.

ADP is still implementing the e-mail server changes needed to implement DMARC to protect e-mail users, and "We've seen a dramatic decrease in the impact of phishing," says LaRosa. But while things are proceeding well, one main question that remains is how to bring the DMARC protection system to include outside services such as Salesforce.

Facebook also says DMARC is an important weapon in that fight.

"We accept mail for our users and we've implemented DMARC," says Mike Adkins, Facebook messaging engineer, "Our users have entrusted us with a lot of personal information and keeping their accounts secure is important to us."

Ramping up to adhere to the policy-based DMARC filtering process to protect Facebook users was fairly easy and carried out in less than a month because we "don't have a far-flung infrastructure," Adkins says.

The automated DMARC reports sent to the anti-fraud security team at Facebook through the supporting e-mail filtering eco-system that now exists have added much more visibility into how the Facebook name gets abused in phishing spam from fraudsters. And each day, Adkins says Facebook takes phishing information it gets and shares it with third-party vendors it calls upon around the world to shut down phishing operations whenever possible.

"This gives us information to try and shut down phishing operations," Adkins says. So-called "takedown vendors" which Adkins declined to specify work on behalf of Facebook around the world to get in touch with hosting providers, for example, that are hosting any identified phishing pages.

Unfortunately, many of these phishing pages have been inserted into legitimate web sites owned by unwary businesses, sometimes by hacking these business servers. However, there are also dedicated servers for phishing, too.

Some hosting providers are more responsive than others and move quickly to remove phishing content, Adkins points out. All in all, DMARC and processes such as phishing takedown efforts are needed in the constant battle to keep the billions of phishing e-mail messages circulating out of the mailboxes of their intended targets.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: emessmer@nww.com.

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