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What is SPF Hosting?

Hold on, don't break out the sunblock just yet. We're talking about a whole other kind of SPF here. This is about Sender Policy Framework, which sounds kind of official and drab, but once you understand what it is, you'll see it's good for you, just like sunshine is in small doses. Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records help keep spam out of your inbox, but may be a little cumbersome to create depending on your hosting provider.

Why It's Needed

When Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) was first devised as a way to send electronic messages, security was not one of the main concerns. As email became widely used, however, so did the threats to security.

In particular, SMTP has no way of ensuring that an email is from who it purports to be. In any email client, you can specify the name that will show up in the Sender field. You can even specify the email address that will show up when you send an email. These techniques are often used by malicious hackers to spoof, or forge, emails and lure unsuspecting victims into replying, clicking on a link in the email or some other action that would allow the hacker to gain access to their machine, accounts or personal information.

As these threats continued to develop, and gain in popularity and complexity, so did the need to add a layer of security and verification to SMTP.

How It Works

SPF is what helps combat this by providing a mechanism for email validation. It works by giving site administrators the ability to specify which hosts can send email from a domain. This information is included in the Domain Name System (DNS) records for that domain, in the form of a TXT record.

Once those specifications are made, mail exchangers can refer to the DNS to verify incoming mail is being sent by a host that has been allowed on that domain.

SPF Benefits

Implementing SPF can result in a number of benefits.

One significant benefit is the reduced likelihood of a domain being blacklisted by spam-filtering software. If spammers continually forge emails that appear to come from the same domain, eventually spam-filtering software will blacklist that domain, disregarding all emails from it. Implementing SPF reduces a domain's attractiveness to forgers and spammers, since it makes it easy for mail exchangers to quickly differentiate between valid and invalid email from a domain.

For the users of a particular domain, SPF can help cut down on the amount of backscatter. Backscatter is the bounced emails rejected by a mail receiver due to their being flagged as spam, or unsolicited email. Since SPF usually reduces the number of forged or spoofed emails that appear to come from a domain, as well as provides a mechanism for mail receivers to reject obvious forgeries, a reduction in backscatter is a natural side-effect.

In addition, if servers utilize SPF, mail receivers can use that information to build whitelists of legitimate addresses and domains.

How to Implement It

To add an SPF to your domain, you have a few options. You can often add an SPF through your domain registrar account. This is the company through which you originally registered your domain name.

If you've registered your domain through your hosting provider, you may also have access to create an SPF through your hosting account. This is especially the case if your hosting account is a virtual private server (VPS) or a dedicated server.

Some hosting providers, however, require that you request the addition of an SPF record, and they will add it for you. On the one hand, this may be convenient if you're unsure how to create an SPF record yourself, but can also be a hindrance if you want or need an SPF record created right away, but must wait for your hosting provider to respond to your request.

Points to Remember

Although it adds a layer of complexity, in terms of set up and maintenance, SPF can be a valuable resource in combating spam and email spoofing. In theory, the more companies and organizations use SPF, the greater the reduction of spam and spoofed emails, as SPF will allow organizations to build whitelists and easily disregard invalid and unsolicited email.

Check with your hosting company, as well as your domain registrar, to see what is involved in modifying your DNS records with the necessary SPF information.

SPF Frequently Asked Questions

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