DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) is a tool that helps protect email domains from being used for spam or phishing. But what about the privacy of the data involved in DMARC? Here’s a simple explanation.

What Are the Privacy Considerations for DMARC?

When using DMARC, there are a few things to keep in mind to protect privacy:

  • Data Exposure: DMARC reports can include private data. Aggregate reports are limited to DMARC policy results, authentication information, and identifiers involved in DMARC validation. However, failed-message reports can contain message content and trace header fields. This means that the entire message, including sender and recipient identifiers, can be exposed to the report recipient.
  • Information Disclosure: Domain owners requesting reports will receive information about mail claiming to be from them, including mail that was not actually from them. This means that information about the final destination of mail, which might otherwise be hidden by intermediate systems, will be exposed. Also, when message-forwarding arrangements exist, domain owners will receive information about mail forwarded to domains that were not originally part of their messages’ recipient lists.
  • Privacy Policies: The entity requesting the disclosure of information is the domain owner, not the mail receiver. This might not fit within existing privacy policy provisions. Some providers view DMARC reporting as similar to complaint reporting about spamming or phishing and treat it similarly under their privacy policy. Mail receivers are encouraged to review their reporting limitations under such policies before enabling DMARC reporting.
  • Report Recipients: A DMARC record can specify that reports should be sent to an intermediary operating on behalf of the domain owner. This could be a third party monitoring mail streams for abuse and performance issues. Whether this is allowed depends on the mail receiver’s privacy policy or terms of use. Both domain owners and mail receivers should review their own internal policies to understand if they constrain the use and transmission of DMARC reporting.
  • Traffic Analysis: There’s some potential for report recipients to perform traffic analysis, which could reveal metadata about the receiver’s traffic. Receivers need to consider this before sending reports to a third party.

Remember, this is a simplified explanation. In reality, using DMARC involves a lot of complex processes and technologies, and protecting privacy requires careful consideration and planning. But hopefully, this gives you a basic understanding of the privacy considerations involved in using DMARC.

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