The Risks of Email Allowlisting: A Question of Cybersecurity

By July 14, 2023 No Comments

Many businesses encounter issues with email deliverability at one point or another. This could range from customers not receiving their order confirmations, to partners not receiving crucial project updates. It can be frustrating and often, the quickest solution seems to be allowlisting. Allowlisting essentially means allowing all inbound emails from specific IP addresses or domains to bypass spam filters and be delivered directly to the recipient’s inbox. While this may solve the immediate issue of deliverability, it also opens the door to potential cybersecurity risks. Here’s why.

1. Bypassing Security Protocols

The first and foremost reason is that whitelisting essentially disables the security protocols for the allowlisted senders. Spam filters, despite sometimes overstepping and blocking legitimate emails, are a crucial line of defense against phishing attacks, malware, and spam. By allowing certain emails to bypass these filters, you are potentially opening up your organization’s systems to these cyber threats.

2. Susceptibility to Spoofing Attacks

Spoofing, where an attacker disguises themselves as a legitimate sender, is a common form of cyber attack. If an attacker manages to spoof an email from a whitelisted sender, their email would go straight into the recipient’s inbox. This could potentially lead to harmful links being clicked or sensitive information being divulged, which can lead to breaches of security.

3. The Risk of Compromised Senders

Even if the sender is legitimate, there’s always the risk that their systems might be compromised. A allowlisted sender that gets hacked can unknowingly start sending out malicious emails, which your systems would automatically let through because of the allowlist status. This risk is especially high in an age where cyber attacks are increasingly sophisticated and widespread.

4. The Permanence of Allowlisting

Allowlisting is often seen as a permanent solution, when in reality, it should be a temporary measure at best. As relationships with clients, vendors, or partners change, it’s important to update the allowlist accordingly. If not, you may be allowing potentially harmful emails from former contacts through your spam filters.

5. Difficulty in Monitoring and Control

Lastly, the more senders you whitelist, the harder it becomes to manage and monitor all of these different sources of inbound email. This increased complexity makes it more difficult to identify and respond to potential threats, putting your cybersecurity at greater risk.

So, what’s the alternative?

For businesses experiencing issues with email deliverability, a more balanced solution is needed. There are ways to improve deliverability rates without compromising security. This can include optimizing your email content to avoid spam filter triggers, setting up correct SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records, and ensuring your email service provider has a good reputation.

It’s also important to invest in advanced cybersecurity solutions that can better differentiate between legitimate and harmful emails. These can include AI-powered email security solutions that not only rely on known blocklists or allowlists, but also analyze the content, sender reputation, and behavior patterns to identify potential threats.

In conclusion, while alowlisting may seem like an attractive solution to email deliverability problems, it introduces significant cybersecurity risks. In the long run, it’s more beneficial to invest in comprehensive email security solutions and deliverability best practices. Always remember, the protection of your digital assets should never be compromised for the sake of convenience.