Email security relies heavily on strong authentication measures to combat fraud and protect against unauthorized senders. An important aspect of this is ensuring that your DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) policy is in place and aligned properly.

Despite strict processes, there are occasions when alignment issues arise with SPF (Sender Policy Framework), a key component of DMARC. Discovering that the sender’s domain—which is crucial for establishing email authenticity—is not properly authenticated can be concerning.

In this article, we will explore various causes of SPF and DMARC alignment failures, understand why these checks might fail, and provide guidelines on how to correct them. Let’s delve into the details.

What is DMARC and SPF Alignment?

DMARC relies on two email authentication protocols: SPF and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail).  DMARC alignment ensures that the email sender’s domain is authenticated, thereby proving the legitimacy of the email and potentially improving its deliverability.

SPF aligns with the domain found in the “Return-Path” header, while DKIM aligns with the domain found in the “DKIM-Signature” header. Both should match the domain in the “From:” header to satisfy DMARC alignment.

For SPF (Sender Policy Framework) alignment issues lets focus on these two primary email headers:

  • The “From:” header
  • The “Return-Path” header

SPF Alignment refers to the synchronization of these headers within an email. It means that the domain values found in both headers must be in tune. SPF Alignment ensures that the domain specified in each header matches the domain specified in the other.

email envelope icon on a digital screenCourtesy of Canva /  Igor Kutyaev

Reasons For SPF Alignment’s Failure

Below are some common causes for the SPF alignment failure-

1. Multiple SPF Records

When multiple SPF records are published for a domain, it leads to SPF alignment failure, creating confusion about which record to authenticate or verify against.

2. Email Service Provider’s Settings

Incorrect or misconfigured settings within the email service provider’s platform can result in failure in SPF alignment, particularly if the provider’s configuration doesn’t align with the domain’s SPF record.

3. Wrong SPF Record Configuration

Errors in configuring the SPF record for a domain, such as missing or incorrect syntax, can cause SPF alignment failure when the SPF record does not accurately represent the authorized sending sources.

4. Bounce Management

Inefficient handling of bounced emails can cause an SPF alignment fail if the bounce management process disrupts the alignment of the SPF headers in forwarded or replied emails.

5. Forwarding

When emails are forwarded, SPF alignment can fail if the forwarding process alters the SPF headers or if the forwarding server’s SPF status doesn’t align with the original sender’s SPF record, leading to SPF misalignment.

Person using a laptop, encountering an SPF alignment error.Courtesy of Canva /  Stagestock

How to Fix It?

Below are some pointers to fix “SPF Alignment Failure.”

Review SPF Records: Ensure your domain’s SPF record is accurately configured. Check for any mistakes in syntax or missing authorized sending sources. Merge multiple SPF records into a single record if necessary.

Update Your Email Service Provider Settings: Verify that your email service provider’s settings align with your domain’s SPF record. Adjust any configurations within the provider’s platform to ensure proper alignment with SPF requirements.

Correct Forwarding Setup: If forwarding is causing SPF alignment fail, consider implementing solutions such as SRS (Sender Rewriting Scheme) to preserve SPF alignment across forwarded emails. You should also use forwarding methods that do not interfere with SPF headers.

Bounce Management Optimization: Review and optimize your bounce management processes to avoid disrupting SPF alignment. Ensure the bounce messages preserve SPF headers and do not alter the email’s SPF status.

Test SPF Alignment: After making changes, use SPF testing tools to verify SPF alignment. These tools can help identify any remaining issues and ensure that SPF alignment is successfully restored.

Monitor and Maintain: Regularly monitor SPF alignment status and address any issues promptly. Keep track of changes in email infrastructure or configurations affecting SPF alignment to maintain consistent compliance.

Final Thoughts

Addressing DMARC and SPF alignment involves identifying and rectifying underlying issues. By implementing the measures outlined above, you can enhance your email security and deliverability.

Struggling to navigate the complex world of SPF alignment on your own? InboxAlly is here to simplify the process for you. With our advanced email deliverability solutions, you can effortlessly ensure your SPF records are perfectly aligned, avoiding common pitfalls that lead to alignment failures. Say goodbye to email deliverability issues and hello to hassle-free communication. Explore how InboxAlly can secure your email infrastructure today.