Email Isn't Simple Or Safe, And Most Solution Providers Shouldn't Try It Alone

Back in the old days, email was simple: It was hosted in a closet somewhere on the premises, with the biggest concerns being uptime and spam.

Today, "things are terrible," said Matt Grove, manager of Rackspace's email anti-abuse development team, in a tech talk at the NexGen Cloud Conference & Expo on Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif. NexGen is produced by CRN's parent, The Channel Company.

If you don't know what DMARC, or DKIM, or SPF are, you should partner with an email provider like Rackspace, Grove strongly urged NexGen attendees. Rackspace's flagship hosted email product can be white-labeled, allowing resellers to brand the service as their product.

[Related: Google Executive: Change 'Not Optional' For Channel To Keep Up With Customer Digital Transformation]

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Rackspace and other ISPs are part of a community that works together to fight email threats, finding out best practices years ahead of the general public through that community.

"There's a lot of money in email, a lot of bad guys in email, a lot of challenges in email," Grove told attendees.

In the current threat environment, with email "under constant attack," no one even cares anymore about spam.

The bigger threats are phishing and malware, account compromises and fraudulent sign-ups, Grove said.

With a cloud-based solution, users get far more sophisticated protection than most companies can afford, gaining the services of dedicated email security experts and taking advantage of economies of scale, Grove said.

That protection not only involves the software technology that protects email but also the scale of the operation. Larger hosting environments see more and varied attacks. When a company like Rackspace sees an attack against one of its customer accounts, it can use that information to protect others.

Rackspace also deploys software that's not available to purchase, which it calls "the abuse system."

That proprietary technology receives thousands of events per second across its global infrastructure, and can flag mailboxes acting out of character, the "changes in behavior that show when something is bad," Grove said.

There's a lot of simple software to be found online that helps hackers, often organized crime, to break into accounts. Malicious actors can download a tool like Sanmao, give it a list of mailboxes, buy their own mailbox and executive a naïve brute-force attack.

"The sophisticated ones are scarier," Grove said.

But Rackspace and some other providers can see those attacks and block their IP addresses without freezing its customers' email accounts.

"They get the protection without any of the hassle," Grove said.

Grove's talk was a wake-up call for some partners attending NexGen Cloud.

"What I pick up is things to think about when I'm talking to my clients, certain threats and concerns, that I have an obligation to bring to my clients so they know what the threats are," said Ethan Millrood, chief marketing officer at GO2, a solution provider based in Springfield, Pa.

Grove's presentation illuminated how easy it was for attackers to find the tools necessary to mount abusive attacks against email accounts, Millrood told CRN.